Thermostats Suck – Yet with a bit of design they could be better

Most of the thermostats on the market seem to be built to the cheapest possible price, without at all considering there’s an end user. The end user wants to be able to control the heating in their house easily. Ideally without reading a 100 page manual. Some would say a full touchscreen display, wifi and an app would magically fix things. But, realistically what we need are thermostats where designers have actually designed something human.

Every thermostat I’ve ever used, the most I can figure out is how to turn on the boiler roughly when I need it. I know you can you program different settings, but it’s too complex. Even setting the date and time on a unit is too much.

Thermostats Suck on a fictional thermostat featuring a 4 line LCD display and a rotary encoder wheel which can be clicked

Recently looking at 3D printers, the Ender 3 is very popular and yet it’s base model doesn’t have a touchscreen. However, the controls are very easy to use. Taking the same controls and putting them into a thermostat would probably be an improvement.

Cost

With thermostats, which aren’t “smart home thermostats”, cost of components is very important. In our example, the dial control (or Rotary Encoder) can be purchased with additional support components, in the US for $4.50. Even cheaper is directly in china at $0.48, and that’s for a consumer to buy. A multinational corportation making thousands and thousands of units would get a discount.

Although, the same design could be produced with 3 buttons. One for Up, another for Down and another for select. The unit I currently own has 5 buttons, so this would make the cost slightly cheaper.

The screen is likely the big price jump. For some reason most of these units use very basic LCD displays which only allows a very crude information display. A 4 line display in China is around $2.49.

I imagine power consumption plays a large role in why such a display is chosen. E-Ink displays exist for this, however the price almost doubles to around $4.90.

These price increases might have made the manufacturer less likely to want to include them. Especially when the whole unit is between £20 and £55 depending on the actual model being used. Amusingly the manual for the unit I have lists “User Friendly” as one of it’s main features.

Smart Devices

One such argument for supposedly improving the design of thermostats is by making them “smart”. This then increases the prices dramatically, which is way beyond the price any private landlord would pay for their tennants to end up using.

Apart from the concerns over Google having access to data from nearly every aspect of your house, you can add further information as to the temprature of your house for only £219. They’ll even offer them on finance.

While it’s nice to be able to heat your empty home on the way home in the cold you are heating an empty space until you get home. Also the joys of a device which requires an internet connection in order to even allow you to use it, meaning you could be left in the cold.

Realistically, a well thought out thermostat for me would likely be wireless, so I can take it wherever I am in the house and I can adjust the desired temprature on a dial. Or if I want to heat the house on a brisk cold morning, a very simple programming menu would allow me to do so.

If this even demanded the capability of an app to do so, this would be an interface where the thermostat could be connected to via Bluetooth, the new programming transferred, and then left to itself to work. As a bonus, this could even set the correct time as my phone will have the correct time automatically.

Really, I just want a place where nearly every thermostat available can be picked up and programmed without needing to read a 100 page manual.

Comments

Got any questions or additional commentary on this post? Please sent them to me on Twitter, or complete the contact form. I’d love to discuss more on these ideas. This is likely the first of many rants about the sucky design of common household devices.


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Joe

I like pushing buttons to make seamless, almost invisible experiences for people. It's a little abstract of a vision, but it's entirely possible.