I’ve been intrigued by the Nest thermostat for several years. From the photos and store promotions I’ve seen, it looks like a beautifully simple device with elegant design. So when my friend Tom told me he had recently bought one, I was eager to hear how he liked it. As it turns out, the Nest is a masterpiece of not just one type of design, but three.
While it has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a smart home gizmo, one of the Nest’s biggest strengths is its intuitive minimalism. Turning the dial right or left changes the temperature just like an “old-fashioned” thermostat. Designed to save energy, it can be scheduled to adjust the temperature throughout the day, and can even program itself based on the settings you choose regularly. When you’re not home, it can turn itself down automatically. You can also control it from anywhere with a smartphone app.
That, and it looks really cool.
But Nest Labs has designed more than just a product — they’ve carefully crafted every step of the user experience. Tom was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to install, especially after the trouble he had with his last thermostat a few years earlier. His wife was even more amazed after she watched him set up the Nest in just seven minutes.
Getting there is half the fun
The creators of the Nest clearly understand that no set of “one-size-fits-all” instructions will work for every homeowner. If you own a house built in the 1930s, you’ll have a different experience than if you built a new one last year. The company also has to handle the standards of more than 20 countries, plus multiple languages.
This is made possible by a seamless blend of three disciplines: graphic design, industrial design, and user experience design. A lot of thought has been given to what a person who’s never installed a thermostat is going to encounter at every stage of the process. They’ve anticipated everything you’re likely to see, what questions you might have, and most importantly, what could cause you to stop and say “I’ll deal with this later.”
The user experience starts before you even open the package. A carefully-placed label near the pull tab instructs you to check your home’s compatibility by visiting a website before you break the shrink wrap. The site is simple, and works equally well on a desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device. It instructs you to remove the cover of your current thermostat, then shows you several clear visuals of everything the Nest doesn’t work with. This can save you a lot of time and frustration up front.
If everything checks out, the site prompts you to identify the wires your system has. Depending on your response, it might ask other questions, like whether you have a “jumper” wire (and helpfully providing an illustration explaining what that is). Finally, it produces a customized color diagram that shows you exactly where to place each of the wires you have when you install the Nest. In just a few minutes you’ve become an expert installer for your own home — and you still haven’t opened the box yet.
From this point on, you have several paths to choose from. If you’re more comfortable working with a printed manual, the installation guide included in the box is pretty awesome. (Imagine that — a manual for a technology product included in the box!) It was obviously written by a smart person who can communicate clearly and who understand that you’re probably not an electrical engineer. It’s filled with accurate and relevant illustrations, helpful tips (wrap loose wires around a pen or pencil so they won’t fall back into the wall), and even a small sheet of stickers you can use to label the wires.
And if it all still sounds too complicated, there’s a card in the box with information to help you find a professional installer.
Don’t stop now
Everything else you might need is also included. Will an unpainted part of the wall show when you attach the Nest? Don’t run out and buy paint (or wait for a year to continue), just snap the base onto the included trim plate to cover that unsightly patch. There’s a mounting plate for attaching the Nest to an electrical box, screws for different options, and a pretty good screwdriver in case you need one. The unit itself even has a built-in level so that you can orient it properly.
I could tell you a lot more — like how easy it was for Tom to program the thermostat, how well it plays with smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and even how it knows when sunlight hits its surface — but you get the idea. From start to finish, the Nest’s creators have intentionally designed every aspect of the process to minimize confusion and prevent frustration. The result is a highly satisfying product experience in a category that doesn’t often enjoy user-focused treatment.