technology profile - automation
Designer Wall Switches
Exploring the plethora of design-friendly options.
By Steve Panosian
IN A RECENT ARTICLE I WROTE, Automate the Experience, I discussed home lighting automation and control. My wife and I had converted our kitchen, dining and living room into one great room, but the only missing element was automation, so setting the room’s lighting involved the manual adjustment of a half dozen wall switches for dimming or turning them on and off. I know, I know, I write for a technology design magazine and I’m living in the dark ages (yes, pun intended!).
Since writing the article, it became apparent that we needed to do something. The two separate thermostats and the existing array of light switches located on the hallway wall were a bit busy looking and nothing matched aesthetically. Consolidating the two separate heating and HVAC thermostats for a Smart Thermostat was an easy choice — despite the design and temperature display landing on the techy-looking side as far as we were both concerned. But problem solved, as we begin to ponder the myriad choices of light switches and the related lighting control options for the upper-level great room — exploring the world of smart switches and enjoying some level of automation has revealed many different design options.
technology meets design
For me, exploring the options for something as simple as a light switch turned into the fascinating realization that technology does in fact meet design. The design options offered by what I would consider familiar brands include exciting switch and wall plate options that either blend into or accent any room décor. Functionality-wise, there has been an emergence of touchless switches and an increase in compatible solutions that support several AI/Machine Learning voice control options, too.
As mentioned, there are more compelling modern designs than ever before. The folks at Legrand, for example, offer their Radiant Wave touchless switch that responds to a simple ‘wave’ hand motion. It is evident that technology drives the cool factor, but there is a clear trend for designer-friendly switches that blend into the wall and allow the eye to focus on design specifics instead of distractions. Sort of like The Frame TV from Samsung, Art mode when it's off, TV when it's on. These wall switches also aesthetically disappear into a room's decor.
I talked with Phil Prestigomo, Director of Industrial Designer and User Interfaces at Legrand, about how Legrand goes about the design process when they develop a new series of products.
"Legrand’s products are the touchpoints with the built environment, at the intersection of technology and décor. Our products allow interior designers and their customers to create their desired environment."PHIL PRESTIGOMO
DIRECTOR OF INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER AND USER INTERFACES | LEGRAND
Phil: "At Legrand we start by trying to understand our customers better. If they are homeowners or professionals we strive to build empa¬thy and design solutions that meet their needs. Our design process on the digital and physical side starts with research. The process is rooted in using methods that get the ‘why’ behind customer choices and satisfaction. Design is tasked with defining what will positively impact the customer, whether it is improving an existing product with a new feature or creating a whole new product category. Methods like ethnography, interviews, performance testing (and more) all play a part of getting to know your customers better. Building your foun¬dation on your customer insights leads to designing better product experiences."
Steve: Does Legrand talk to interior designers about the look, feel and functionality?
Phil: "Absolutely! Collaborating with our counterparts in the inte¬rior design field is a priority. Whether you are designing a new hotel room, residence or retail space we want to un¬derstand your goals and priorities. Legrand gives our interior design partners solutions that enable them to create better experiences for their customers. Legrand’s products are the touchpoints with the built environment, at the intersection of technology and décor. Our products allow interior designers and their customers to create their desired environment."
Steve: How does Legrand choose color options? In other words, how exactly do new products come about?
Phil: "We are always watching markets and trends. In North Amer¬ica we are a part of a worldwide design team. Sharing and collaboration with our design counterparts from France, Italy and Asia is foundational to our internal design process. With an eye to local tastes and needs we incorporate the best thinking from around the world. Proposing, researching and designing new products while making sure our collections offer comprehensive finish and color options for any design style."
Then, as I mentioned earlier, we move to more technolo¬gy-driven designs, there is no touch, no waving, no physical interaction. Lutron offers a keypad that takes control to the next level featuring the growing popularity of Josh.ai, a lead¬er in smart home voice control. For the less techy who want to expand lighting control in their homes without having to rewire switches, Lutron’s Caséta wireless series switches set the bar for reliable wireless performance and an easier instal¬lation solution that does not require an electrician to install 3-way switch wiring — these switches simply use the magic of Wi-Fi control.
Here are a few examples of what we’re considering now that we’ve decided to get rid of the wall clutter and streamline our lighting control with simple scenes and the all-important All-Off button!
Lutron Caséta wireless switches
Lutron offers a variety of sensors to meet the needs of any space, including sensor switches, dual-circuit switches and dim¬mer sensors. They are ideal for rooms where lights are acciden¬tally left on, such as an office, or rooms that you often enter with your hands full, such as a laundry room or supply closet.
Lutron’s Sensor Selection Tool provides solutions for figuring out the right sensing technology and system functionality. It takes the guesswork out of the equation, so finding the right part number and installation guide is a breeze.
A fast installation and a high-quality cost-saving option, the Caséta Wireless lighting switches feature Lutron’s patented Clear Connect® technology. It is proven to be dependable when compared to other wireless devices. It operates in a quiet frequency band that is free of interference, the result¬ing experience is a wireless dimmer that is not affected by other wireless products. It just works!
The Caséta App and Smart Bridge are the foundations for creating a connected home system. The homeowner can both monitor and control lights (shades and thermostats, too) from anywhere, so your customers are always in touch with their home. The system can be expanded and integrat¬ed with the best-in-class products available from brands like Amazon, Apple, Sonos and Xfinity. Programming of person¬alized scenes is possible for controlling multiple lights and shades together at the touch of a button. Create a “movie” scene that dims lights and lowers shades as the movie be¬gins. Or create a “goodnight” scene that turns off all the lights and closes shades before you drift off to sleep. Control lights, shades and temperature in the comfort of the home or from anywhere in the world so lights are not left on, or shades are not left open when you are away.
Speaking of away, it is easy to schedule lights and shades to adjust automatically at set times of the day. Turn on the porch light at sunset and turn it off at sunrise. Turn lights on to a soft level and slightly raise shades every morning as you head into the kitchen for coffee. The geofencing feature controls lights based on your location. Geofencing will turn them off once you are out the door and turn the lights on when you come home.
The Smart Away feature randomly turns lights on and off during the evening when you are not home. You can man-ually trigger this feature in the app at your convenience or automatically trigger it if geofencing is turned on.
Perhaps a designer’s dream, the Black Nova wall plate interface elegantly blends into the room’s design. Their switch-plate choices include crafted premium materials like marble, wood and crystal and the technology makes it possible for one switch to manage the functions of all switches in a room. Black Nova offers four design collections that can be customized making buttons and control layout flexibility its singular design attribute. Their online configuration tool simplifies the personalized design choice process.
The Black Nova design tool process begins with the selection of a design collection, then choosing the material and color, key layout format, the desired function keys, a style selection, an option for a design engraving, the buttons and backlight color, the communication protocol (example: Crestron RS485), and ends with a preview of your custom-designed wall plate. Wow!
Forbes & Lomax
Established in 1987, Forbes & Lomax is a British-based company with a reputation for high-quality design among architects and designers. Their elegant glass, nickel and brass switches of the 1930s were no longer available and the modern equivalents were unsuitable for the prestigious projects that interior designers were working on at the time. So, Forbes & Lomax launched The Invisible Lightswitch®, a simple, transparent acrylic plate allowing the wallpaper or paint to show through, with a stylish metal toggle switch in the center. These switches are able to combine an attractive classic design influence with all the advantages of modern technology. Today, the line offering consists of high-quality switches, sockets and dimmers in a variety of finishes to suit the demands of both traditional and contemporary architects and interior designers. You should visit forbesandlomax.com/usa to experience at least their online catalog.