The New Latch App.
(or Hello Caller, We’re Listening)
By Ivan Almaral.
Since May of 2018, my team and I have worked tirelessly on redesigning the Latch app from the ground up.
This redesign is not a "re-skinning" project; it is not a "clean up and move pixels around" project; its also not a "make the app feel up-to-date" project either. This project is the real deal, a genuine attempt at creating something powerful, beautiful and straightforward that thoughtfully answered to our customers' needs.
Here's the deal; when we first designed the Latch app, we completely underestimated how many doors the average person would have access to. This meant that we didn't optimize the experience for easy sorting, searching or even organizing the many Latch Devices on their accounts. Don't get me wrong; the first versions of our app were impeccably minimalistic and easy to wrap your head around. A large and iconic circular unlock button in the center of the screen that included the name of the door associated with it. e.g., "Front Door."
…we completely underestimated how many doors the average person would have access to.
When the button was tapped, the app would unlock the specified door using a secure Bluetooth connection, given that the person unlocking was in-range of the Latch Device. (a 20-30 ft radius.)
If you had access to more than one door, merely swiping right or left would take you to the next or previous door in your "collection." This sounds perfectly logical if you assume that the person has access to three or four doors. Nonetheless as we started selling into larger and more complex buildings, a considerable portion of Latch users had access to more than ten entries, some up to forty! So you can imagine how frustrating it was to swipe till you found the right door. First to unlock your building front door, then subsequently repeating the action for the vestibule door, the elevator, the garage, the gym, your apartment and so on.
Designers, developers and product managers gathered around this problem. After going through the research, the customer support tickets, and after discussing for countless hours, I proposed a set of solutions that I believed solved the problem. It suffices to say that they all sucked. As Steve Yohanan a veteran software wizard and the team's Senior Engineering Manager noted immediately in his deep voice; "I don't like this, I don't like this at all." We needed a better answer to the problems at hand that the ones I was proposing.
I don't like this, I don't like this at all.
The same afternoon after that meeting where we discussed possible solutions, Michael Wang one of the IOS developers who was attending the sessions, without much ceremony approached us with a demo that blew my mind. It was like when you're assembling a LEGO set, and you're looking for that 2x2 white square piece for 10 minutes straight, and you finally find it right under your nose, while all this time the little cube has been nonchalantly waiting in front of you almost saying "Take your time I'll wait here for another hour you idiot".
The demo proved that sometimes the best ideas might come from the quietest voices in the room.
Mike's idea seems now unavoidable; what if we removed the burden of finding the right door from the user and we used the strength of the signal emitted by each Latch device, to automatically detect the closest door and trigger an unlock. This is no small feat technically, remember that buildings equipped with the Latch system might have many doors very close to each other. But Mike, Steve and the rest of the team were sure that we could accurately calibrate the values, so ideally simply by bringing your phone a couple of inches away from the Latch Device, on any of your doors, would do the trick. No swiping right or left, no trying to guess which door name matched what actual door, no other action than to bring your phone close and watching the magic happen. The demo proved that sometimes the best ideas might come from the quietest voices in the room. All we have to do is open the doors (no pun intended) of those rooms where products are built, to anyone passionate about creating compelling and meaningful experiences.
We immediately started working on developing this new feature and soon after, it was live on the Latch App for both Android and IOS.
We knew that just introducing this “bring close to unlock” feature was not enough. We had the responsibility to address the fact that unequivocally people wanted to have more granular control of their doors. We had to adapt to users who preferred to unlock from a greater distance so as they walked towards a door they could tap a button a few steps away and time their arrival. This meant replacing the sideways scrolling circles for a more traditional and powerful list. This would also allow us to introduce the reordering of doors, giving gradually more and more customization power to our users.
We knew that just introducing this “bring close to unlock” feature was not enough.
The mission was taking shape. Let’s design an app that was optimized for both, intuitively unlocking via the “bring close to unlock” method, and at the same time introducing a better and more robust list of doors that accommodated those who with access to less doors, want to unlock a few feet in advance by tapping a button.
We did all of this while also establishing our first atomic design system, a comprehensive style guide for all the graphic elements included in the app. We accounted for hundreds of different objects. This style guide remained consistent with our existing brand and aesthetics but also introduced hints of colors and specific items that responded to principles of accessibility and universality. For example, when using the "hold near" method, the whole background color of the app gently flashes in a blue shade when it connects to the Latch device, then momentarily green as the unlock is successful, this accompanied by mild unobtrusive haptic feedback, finally going back to the original white state. This means that when you're holding your phone at arm's length in a poorly lit hallway, or not wearing your glasses, you don't need to read the text on the screen to know what's going on. For consistency and conditioning, we also kept the sequence of colors in a top status bar when unlocking from the list of doors.
…when you're holding your phone at arm's length in a poorly lit hallway, or not wearing your glasses, you don't need to read the text on the screen to know what's going on.
Working at Latch, I’ve learned the value of shutting up and listening. This project is a product of precisely that, listening. Taking the time to understand and truly listen to what the customers’ problems are. Also trusting and hearing the ideas and feedback of passionate peers no matter their role, trade or seniority.
This redesign improved the app unlocking experience drastically, we simultaneously introduced massive improvements to other flows and sections like sharing access, managing guests, doorcodes and history. We also added a powerful feature that allows to schedule service and work orders simply with a few taps. But we know we’re far from done. We see this new version as the foundation, the inspiration and the starting point of a new way of designing and developing software products at Latch.
We are already working on new features, enhancements and above all… we are listening.
I want to thank the team involved in making this a reality: Jonathan, Kia, Luke, Lizi, Max, Mike, Nim, Sam, Si and Vicky. And specially to Gyu Won and Steve who’s untiring drive, passion and attention to detail inspire me everyday.