Great user experiences are paramount in the marine integration industry
May 2, 2023 - There's a truism in human interactions: First impressions stick. When you meet another person, you size them up immediately — in fact, you'll likely form an opinion about them in as little as seven seconds during that initial interaction.
Daniel Kerkhof has discovered that the same holds true for an electronics brand. That's why Kerkhof — director of Crestron Marine — understands how important an intuitive, elegant, and reliable user interface can be, especially when it's part of a superyacht. "Nine times out of ten, that's the only part of an installation that the owner actually sees," he says. "Everything else is behind the scenes."
Great design is top of mind on these projects, says Kerkhof. "This is not like an average house — it's a seven-star hotel on the water. Every detail in the vessel is thought out by somebody who's very familiar with that individual part." Kerkhof notes that Crestron walks the shipbuilding team carefully through all the available products — for instance, a keypad, whether that might be a Crestron next-generation Horizon® keypad or a Black Nova device.
"On the other hand, the big thing that I always advocate for is that we need to keep in the back of our heads that it's the end user who's going to, via those panels, actually control the system," cautions Kerkhof. "It needs to stay understandable. It needs to stay easy. Somebody needs to be able to walk into a room and within a second know, 'This is what I need to do to turn on the lights or to open up the shades' or whatever they want to do. And what I've seen in some projects is that despite deploying keypads that were very, very beautiful, it was impossible for somebody to know exactly what they needed to do."
The "Mom Test"
Kerkhof uses the "mom test." "Can my mom walk into a stateroom and immediately know how to turn on the lights?" he asks himself. It's why Kerkhof is a fan of the Crestron Horizon keypads that were recently updated. "We have a range of options that give the user a lot more functionality and feedback," he says.
The challenge? Beta testing in real-world applications is no mean feat in the marine industry. "You're not going to get an actual end-user to experiment with a keypad for an hour, right?" says Kerkhof. Finding the right device — and its setup — comes from conversations with those "in between," according to Kerkhof. "We'll speak to the owner's rep, a consultant, the guys at the shipyard who are obviously very experienced with these kinds of projects."
For any marine integration project, the discovery includes a conversation about the end user's home: "We ask them what they're used to," Kerkhof notes. And from there, we come up with something that fits the wishes of the interior designer and still works intuitively — and reliably — from a technical perspective." Of course, user interfaces will include more than keypads — touch screens are often a must for spaces where greater functionality is needed. (For more on the art of programming those devices, see our article on the work done by the team at ClearSphere.)
In many cases, however, these yachts function as charters and spaces where an owner's guests may be accommodated for days or weeks — and that means the approach to any project is something of a blend of "home" and "hotel." Controls need to be easily understandable not just for the owner but for anyone who might be aboard.
Custom Programming for All Aboard
There is, of course, another user of these interfaces — the crew — so the overall project needs to include more complex interfaces (often touch screens in these instances) with many more "bells and whistles," Kerkhof notes. "In the most advanced integrations, the yacht's ETOs (Electro-technical Officers) have the capability to create custom buttons for the end user. Does the owner want to watch a specific football match? The ETO might add a football icon to the control in the lounge where the owner prefers to watch his favorite club, and a single touch calls it up."
ETOs, of course, need to be very familiar with the backend of the system — an integrator can't roll a truck to the middle of the ocean, of course. "Crestron offers training for ETOs," notes Kerkhof. One of the keys to all of this maintenance is that it's completely invisible to owner and guests. "In a yacht integration, you want literally nothing to interfere with the experience of sailing," says Kerkhof. A yacht, after all, should be a floating haven for luxury and leisure.
Keeping guests unaware of the operation of a yacht is the goal — and that includes safety and security features, too. The bigger the boat, the more pressing those aspects become: Alerts, alarms, preventative measures — all of those should be hidden from the guests when they don't need to take any action. The industry, however, needs to be constantly vigilant when it comes to evolving threats and intrusions. "Now we have to be mindful of drones," says Kerkhof — these yachts are often owned or chartered by celebrities, and the paparazzi are nothing if not inventive.
The other evolving challenge is less dramatic: the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) demands is impacting the marine business in the same way it's creating new challenges for commercial and residential integrations. Dealers and designers are coming up with novel solutions here, though: "Since the launch of HTML5, we've seen projects that include QR codes in the cabins," notes Kerkhof. "The charter guest can just come in, scan the QR code, and automatically get the page to control that room."
"It's a super easy and friendly way to interact with the technology — and no matter what kind of system or device we're working with, shouldn't that always be the goal?"