Online educational resource on achieving indoor environmental quality with radiant based HVAC systems
not for profit educational resource on simple HVAC systems.
industrial design and system ergonmics in HVAC

The evolution of North American mechanical rooms.
photo credit: Peter Kinsey

modern control appliances - hydronic heating

A modern North American hydronic system uses wall mounted control appliances which have been manufactured much like any other appliance in the home.

simple HVAC systems is all about perception
The next generation of clients will look for embedded pipes.

the less we see the simpler it becomes

This is what Europeans currently see in their boiler rooms when the home is connected to community based district energy systems.

the perfect mechanical room

This is what a thermal comfort system looks like in a net zero energy home.

"Its not what we see but we don't see that determines simplicity."
RBean, GeoExchange 2009

"Automation is not about eliminating complexity, but effectively allocating it between the user and the system. For example, the relative ease of using an automatic transmission over a manual transmission is achieved by moving the complexity of the gear-shifting task from the user to the car. But from a technical perspective, the automatic transmission is a more complex system than the manual one. In other words, what the end-user wants isn't simplicity per se, but a simple way to access complexity."
Rob Tannen, Barclay’s 360 Magazine, June 08

Words of wisdom for manufacturers from Rob Tannen, "Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult ones to everyone else. Instead of one-upping, try one-downing."

Read the complete article.

So you want a high tech HVAC system?
Copyright 2009 Robert Bean, All Rights Reserved
Reprint this article,

Before selling or buying high tech HVAC systems consider the following:

  • There is an inverse relationship between the introduction of complexity (increasing) and available skilled labor (decreasing).

  • There is an inverse relationship between the introduction of new components and systems (increasing) and distributions ability to stock replacement parts (decreasing).

  • There is a somewhat parallel relationship between distributions ability to stock replacement parts for complex systems (decreasing) and service contractors ability to respond to complex problems (decreasing).

  • Reduced cognitive abilities, loss of manual dexterity and visual acuity are often associated later on with those who can afford “state of the art” today, but won’t be able to manage the “art” as a result of their physical and psychological state in the future – see item 1 re: availability of skilled labor.

  • It is unreasonable to expect the non technical person to compensate for products and systems which are either bad by design or manufacturing defects and/or beyond the managing capacities’ of the user.

This “10 fundamental rules for the age of user experience technology” from Andreas Pfeiffer ended up in our offices a few years back and we have since used it extensively in our presentations to drive home the point of simplicity…  

  1. More features isn't better, it's worse.

  2. You can't make things easier by adding to them.

  3. Confusion is the ultimate deal-breaker.

  4. Style matters.

  5. Only features that provide a good user experience will be used.

  6. Features requiring learning will only be adopted by a small fraction of users

  7. Unused features are not only useless, they can slow you down and diminish ease of use.

  8. Users do not want to think about technology.

  9. Forget about the killer feature.

  10. Less is difficult, that's why less is more

Further to the ten rules, there are many analogies for consumer operated HVAC systems and controls which can be drawn from Dr. Sviokla words below:

“There is a wonderful tension between the universality of use and the usefulness of a tool. Contrary to popular belief, the most powerful tools we create as humans take effort to learn to. Mathematics, language, biology, all take years to become fluent in. Put another way, any literate person can use Google in their own language — it takes seconds to learn. But the process of becoming literate takes years to master. Google "rides on top of" our ability to read and write.

One of the great tragedies of the current computer revolution is the widespread expectation that every piece of software should be easy to use. Well, easy-to-use tools such as Google are useful to everyone, but because Google assumes that people will not make the effort to learn anything, they have to provide simple — even simplistic — interfaces. If the mass public expected that they might have to do a little learning and work, Google, Microsoft, and others could provide even more powerful tools for helping knowledge workers — but our education system and culture expect nothing of us as users.”
Source/credit : Wolfram Alpha vs. Google = Power vs. Simplicity?,John Sviokla, Harvard Business Publishing, Friday May 8, 2009

HVAC systems are consumer products and those in industry who get the value of industrial design and system ergonomics will lead the way in simplicity.

"Excellent Robert! Thanks. I could have used this about 20 years ago." David S.

" had a great discussion on the complexity the mechanical room starts to take on to the average consumer.  We need to really focus on simplifying design, standardizing equipment, and cleaning up our installation work.  Our work is a consumer product and, as such, should reflect the simplicity of use that standard household appliances have.  This was my favorite talk."
Chris Koch, P.Eng., Shine Energy System

Suggested reading:

Tower of Babble, Three Rules for Designing for Humans
Get Me the Geeks" A CBS 60 Minutes Production.
Designing for Humans - Design Research, Ergonomics, Human Factors,  Usability
PDMA, Product Development and Management Association
Advanced Design Institute

Association of Professional Design Firms (APDF)
British Design Innovation
Chartered Society of Designers (UK)
Consumer Electronics Association
Danish Design Center
The Design Council (UK)
Design Exchange: Canada's Design Centre
Design Management Institute
IDI/Innovations & Development Inc.
Industrial Design Society of America

International Council of Societies of Industrial Designers (Icsid)
International Housewares Association (IHA)
Product Development and Management Association
The Raymond Loewy Foundation
I.D. Magazine
ZIBA Design

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