A vision for a connected water filtration system.

What might a connected water filtration system look like? What features would it have? What value would if create for its users? Let's find out - this is my vision for a connected and intelligent water filtration system. 

Why choose something this random?

A short time ago I was in a conversation with a friend of mine who has a water purifier and we discussed how awesome it would be to have it connected with an application, must like Nest Thermostat. After we had finished our conversation I thought to myself, well most of the design challenges with onboarding the user, hardware & software interaction and connection flows I've dealt with before. Would be a cool little side project. Given I was looking for a new design challenge I took it upon myself to architect and design one of the first, or the first?, connected water purifier. At least in theory.

I've based the hardware on Amway's eSpring and started with the premise that they release a new model with 802.11a/b/g/n 2.5Ghz & 5Ghz as well as Bluetooth 4.0. Main components of this project would be, a mobile app, a web app & the device itself.

The Process

Part One - pre-design

  1. Research existing device marketing, technology & company
  2. Research existing user problems & pain points
  3. Talk to a few water purifier users
  4. Draft new requirements for applications

Part One is made up of items that will help us design successfully. We need to first understand the market, users, and find our problems to solve for before we create design solutions for them. I think these are important things that oftem get missed by designers. Doing the work upfront with help construct contraints and provide direction to the upcoming designs. 

Part Two - design & post design

  1. Design Mobile Applications
  2. Design Web Application
  3. Basic User Testing
  4. Interation and Conclusion

Part Two is about the design, flows visuals, and the solutions to our user's pain points. We'll get into wireframes, visuals, and how our users will obtain value through the interacting with the applications. 

I think it's important to understand the device and business around it. It's my belief that a UX Designer and Product Manager are becoming one in the same. In smaller organizations they could very well be the same (my work at Pivothead reflects this). While I don't have access to the team that actually makes the eSpring device, I can do research into the product. If I was given this project as a their team member, I would be spending as much time as I could with the development team, the marketing team, the software team and the sales team. I would then research and understand what the user needs are. I'd meet users, collect data, interview and talk to the support team on what user's pain points are. I'd want to understand as much as I can around the product and from those who use the product in order to design a solution to acheive user goals as well as business goals. 

Research

Current Device Marketing

The first thing that I needed to do was to research water purifiers, specifically the Amway eSping (the base of this project). The eSpring comes in two different configurations: above counter and below counter. For the purpose of this design challenge I am going to focus on the above counter version. 

Here are some bullet points that Amway provides in there marketing material:

  • Cleaner, clearer, better tasting water right from your tap
  • Better quality water
  • Independently verified and certified by the NSF
  • Cutting edge technology
  • Backed by over 25 years of research, patented technology and sold in at least 40 countries/territories
  • Simple installation and ease of use
  • Easy maintenance and single cartridge replacement
  • Superb quality, value, and environmentally preferred

 

My feeling on the overall marketing of the device is a scientific approach. Their website shows labs, scientists, talks about being certified and uses a bit of biology terms. Great, so this is a good start as to how the tone of the marketing in the application and customer experience that we can bring into the UX of the mobile app.

Current Device Technology

After getting a feeling for how Amway is marketing the device I moved onto my favorite part, the technology. The device itself is fairly straight forward. It's a carbon filter that surrounds a UV light. These pairing treats the water as it passes. Amways lists the eSprings main technology points as follows:

  1. Ultraviolet Technology - 80 millijoules (units of measure) per square centimeter
  2. Carbon Filter Technology
    • Effectively reduces over 140 possible health-effect contaminants.
    • Traps particulates 300% smaller than the width of a human hair.
    • Treats up to 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of water in one year – enough for an average family of six. 
    • Allows beneficial minerals like calcium, magnesium and tooth-decay-fighting fluoride to pass through the carbon block filter and remain in the water.

  3. Monitor Technology
    • ...LED display that shows the status of the system and the amount of life remaining in the cartridge. Audible and visual warning cues signal when it’s time to replace the cartridge.
    • ...monitor resets automatically which means there are no buttons to push. It is so advanced, it automatically "reads" the life of any cartridge inserted, whether that cartridge is new or partially-used.

  4. Smart Chip Technology
    1. The system uses “smart chip” technology to keep track of the ultraviolet lamp* and the carbon- block filter’s life.
  5. Inductive Coupling

    • The system is designed to be durable, with an easy-to-replace cartridge. It also only switches the bulb on when water is flowing, which saves energy and allows the water to remain tap temperature.

 

You can read their full site here. But for now I've picked out parts that will be relevent to the application we are designing. We now know a decent about about what the current device can do and what we might be able to do with adding wireless connectivity to the device. 

Company

I think it's also important to research the company. While I would be a "team member" if I was employed by Amway, currently I can just look in from the outside. So, what can we learn about the company. 

  • Global company - operates in over 100 markets
  • America, China and Australia are its biggest markets
  • The eSpring does very well in Malaysia
  • The method of which it sells - Direct

 

I think these are the most important items in regards to this device and applications. We'll need to keep localization in mind when desiging the system and applications. This device is sold in a few primary markets and would utilize English, Chinese & Malaysian (from the information I could find). We'll focus in English and Chinese. While I can't speak Malaysian, I do read & write Chinese.

Pain Points & Value

In researching pain points I talked with both water purifier users as well as read reviews on Amazon. From my experienece reviews can be poloarized however they offer insight in what issues users are having and any feeling they may have. Some users won't say these things to tech support, interviewers etc. The interviews I conducted are far from formal. I know both of these users and we just had a casual conversation about their devices. But the take aways are fairly clear. 

User #1

  • Male 35-40
  • Father - 2 children under 10
  • Homeowner
  • Under counter water purifier
  • Purchased to improve well water 
  • Self install

 

Summary: There were two main points that User #1 made. First, the device was expensive. While needed for the treatment for well water, the device was an extra expendature with their recent home purchase in the countyside. The second main point related to filters. I asked User #1, how he would know when the filter was expired. His answer was, I won't. A family consuption of water can vary for day to day. The filter having a end of life based on several factors it's easy to see that there is no way to really know or estimate when the filter would need to be changed. Without a direct investment of time (checking the filter constently). 

User #2

  • Female over 50
  • Mother - 2 children over 20 (not at home)
  • Homeowner
  • Under counter water purifier
  • Purchased to provide safe drinking water
  • Paid install 

 

Summary: There were a few main points that User #2 talked about. One, a company that she pays manages the device, its service and operate. A gentleman will come and test the water with some sort of paper strip and tell her it's working. This gentleman will also change the filters when nessicary as well as maintain the device mechanically if need be. User #2 pointed out that she does not know when the filters need to be changed nor really knows it working other than when the gentleman comes to test and confirm that it is. 

Amazon Reviews

I've worked closely with support teams who are on the day to day front-lines of customer/user interactions and while I couldn't get that type of information for this project, I turned to something that I still think is valueable. Even though they can be quite polarized and jaded I think it helps frame the pain points a bit better and provide some supporting information.

Review #1 - We've learned a few things in this review. This user can't tell whether the device is working or not. Echoing some earlier comments from my conversation with users. Also, 4-5 times in 3 years. Let's pick 5, so that's about every 7.2 months this user installs a new filter. 

Review #2 - Interesting. The wrong filter. That's a new issue. It appears that using a wrong filter, perhaps not a genuine Amway fiter will cause linking and a poor expereince. This might be contributed to because of the cost of the filter. I'm going to go out on a limb here but possible reasons to buy a 3rd part filter might be cost and ease of purchase. 

Review #3 - So again, expensive. I think this is going to be something we will have to address in the design. While we can't lower the cost I think there are other things we can do. Instructions sound complicated, that's great to know. And also taking them step by step, looks like I'm going to have to take a look at those instructions. Expensive and complicated, code for I don't think I'm getting enough value for my money and there probably is too much learning cost involved in this device for me to spend the time.

Brain Storming & New Requirements

I've researched the current device, its marketing, technology and company. I've talked with a few users about their current water purifier expereince. And I've researched reviews on Amazon about the current device. From there I've drafted a new list fo requirements for the new application and cloud platform.

First let's look at a summary of what we found.

  • Device appears expensive
  • Device can be complicated
  • Users don't know if the device is working
  • Users don't know when to change the filter
  • Users can purchase the wrong filters or 3rd party filters

 

Keep in mind, these are current pain points that we will leverage the new connected features to solve. We'll be able to bring even more value to the users with additional features. First let's see how we can solve these initial problems. 

Brainstorming & Idea Formation

Device appears expensive

Requirement #1: Show the user increased value of the device. If I tried to sell you a 500$ knife and gave you a demo of it slicing a piece of paper, would you think that's an expensive knife? What if I tried to sell you a 500$ knife but showed you it could cut granite, what would your preception then be of the price? We as humans know the importance of safe drinking water. I don't think anyone can argue that. And if you do the math, I'm sure that the cost of a replacement filter or the device is justified because it's keeping drinking water safe for the entire family. But users are still bringing up the cost of the product. Perhaps they think their device can only cut paper. 

A good solution to this probem is education. Building in some education on water, what makes it safe, how the device is performing it's duties, how it's keeping their familes safe and so on and so fourth will increase the value of the device in the eyes of the user. With an increased value, the filter cost doesn't seem like such a bad expense to incure to keep everyone in the house healthy. We could build some sort of water intake tracking features into the application as well.

Device can be complicated

Requirement #2: Simplify onboarding, setup, filter changes and operation. There are some comments about the instructions, setup and changing filters. I think it's only good practice to bring in the instructions that are printed and included in the box and pull them into a setup flow in the app. As well as a flow for changing the filter and also troubleshooting. With an application we are able to show the user information that they need now or even before they need it. We can annimate setup instrucitons and even include videos. It's much more interactive if done correctly will cut down on tech support's time helping users in there areas. 

Users don't know that the device is working

Requirement #3: Put users at ease by providing in depth status on the device. The top of the device gives a basic LED display as to the devices current state. We can take that as the base, add in more interactive and in depth status reports and give users more peice of mind about their drinking water being safe because the device is operating. According the User #2 in our conversation a hired gentleman tells her that the system is operational. Why can't our app become this person? Status updates, test results, operational status, warranty status and even consumption status. Your personalized water filtration professional inside your pocket. 

Users don't know when to change the filter

Requirement #4: Add in device learning, auto shipped replacement filters and on-time information and instructions. Without setting a reminder, would you remeber a date 7 months out? Perhaps you would, but many users this take mental capacity that they don't have the bandwidth for. What better way to solve this issue but with a learning device. The device knows how many gallons/liters that it should be able to filter before the filter goes bad. From there we can measure the daily useage and then estimate out the date that a filter might expire. Not only that but we can prepare to show the user a video/instructions on how to change the filter before they need to change it. We can remind them to purchase a new filter in the near future. I think along with improving the filter notifications we can improve the app/device notifications to the user to improve the preception of value as well as the value that the platform creates for the user.  

Users can purchase the wrong or 3rd party filters

Requirement #5: Add in device learning, auto shipped replacement filters and on-time information and instructions. One thing you'll notice is that with the eSpring you can get 3rd party water filters. From reviews they tend not to fit and not work properly. On the busines-side it's in Amways interest to keep users purchasing genuine filters for a number of reasons. We can do the first step of all of this by notifying the user to purchase genuine filters from a authorized rep or dealer. Going one step beyond just reminding the user about purchasing a new filter we can automatically ship one out to them. By using the online portal to become a recurring billing platform we can now take payment information and automatically ship users filter if they have opped into this feature. Users get shipped a filter without the hassle, Amway sells a genuine filter and it's even possible that this will cut costs and allow for cheaper filters in the future. We can still notify them about arrival and present them with the instructions that they need in order to change out their filter before they go looking for them.

With recurring billing one business advantage is we can now estimate future revenues and filter production based on the amount of users that are signed up for this service. Which is quite valuable. 

Moving Forward

Now that we have some new sets of requirements that are based off some research. The next step would be translating them into a design plan so we know what the main flows and screens are.

  • Device onboarding flow
    • Device setup - Physical installation
    • Device setup - Online account & device connection
    • Account setup - Recurring payments & notifications
  • Water usage feature flow - Household size, age, water intake requirements
  • Purchase filter flow - Opt in, payment, shipping etc
  • Changing filters - manual, notification, auto shipped filter
  • Device status screens - UV, filter, working status, flow, temp, water metrics, annimations
  • In app notifications - usage, status, summaries, filter life, water intake goals
  • Instructions & support - guide, instructions, in app support (Zendesk integration), one stop shop for interacting with support.

 

Within the above flows and design we need to satisfy the above requirements. Which I think they should. Now we start to break down each of the above areas into actual designs. Let's put together some wireframes. 

Part Two Coming Soon

For me this is a side project away from my daily work as a Product & UX Designer @Pivothead. Feel free to get in touch