On the Little Modern Devices Some of Us Can’t Live Without

February 13, 2020
We’ve all noticed them: the little contemporary objects that are finding a home in even the most traditional interiors—the ones our generation can’t seem to live without. Nestled among our prized possessions, their futuristic features are hard to miss: smooth surfaces, rounded corners, pale finishes. Oh, and they speak (and listen, watch and learn).
Unsurprisingly, Google’s growing suite of high-tech products, Google Nest, appeals across generations and tastes. There’s a thermostat, television streaming device, video doorbell, surveillance camera, wifi router, smoke alarm—and the familiar range of voice products known as Google Home (“OK, Google, tell me a joke!”).
They sync up and communicate to one another, like a little personal army of intelligent accessories fashioned to keep you safe and informed (entertained, even). So we had to ask: How do they design a one-look-fits-all piece of equipment? And for those of us already cozy with the current offerings: what’s next?
Google Nest’s Director of UX, Kate Freebairn, graciously answered all our questions.
Google's new Nest Mini and Nest Wifi, released in 2019.

When it comes to home devices, how do you decide what design will appeal to everyone? Or does function come first?

We have an incredibly talented industrial design team who, over many years, has created and refined a design language that can be applied across many different product categories and feels unique to Google’s brand.
The team is always evolving and growing. You can see this in the new products we launch each year: there is a familiar style along with a fresh new perspective that works and clearly showcases our brand. For example, our new Nest Mini and Nest Wifi are beautiful examples of our 2019 products.
Our team focuses on a few key aspects when we design a product to make sure that our products feel bold, human and optimistic. Even something like the fun pop of color on the bottom of this year’s new Nest Mini is bold enough to feel unique to our vision for design.
The team looks across specifically at each product they design, being very thoughtful about where and how it might be used, how it might be installed, and how long it might be in use, all while taking into account the amount of time it will be in someone’s home.

What are the biggest design considerations (and challenges) for Nest, present and future?

Sustainability is a huge theme for us now and in the future, and this will continue to be a significant priority.
Affordability is another. We are dedicated to making products and experiences that more and more people can access.
Accessibility and inclusivity are also important. We aim for our products to be easy to use and access for as many people as possible, and work hard to ensure that all people will find our products helpful in their homes.

How would you describe your core demographic?

Our demographic is broad, from homeowners to renters and college students, and our portfolio represents a broad range of products for a broad range of customers, at a variety of price points. We also pay attention to the ways in which trends and needs shift. For example, an interesting insight we’ve seen recently is that women are making many of the decisions for household purchases.

With voice and display seamlessly integrating themselves into our day to day, what’s next?

Home devices will continue to evolve, blending into the home and becoming more natural and every day. It will not be so much about individual devices as it will be about whole home experiences and how products will seamlessly work together to help people manage their home, keep their families safe, be comfortable and be entertained.

For someone unfamiliar with smart home products: why should they make the switch?

One approach is to start with the Nest Mini and get familiar with the Google Assistant and all it can help you with. From there, start exploring the doorbells, cameras, displays and smoke detectors (this one is particularly useful if you rent).
It usually starts with just one product and being delighted. As you add more products, it will just light up more experiences.
This interview has been edited and condensed.