Yves Saint Laurent said “Fashions fade. Style is eternal”
Designers of smart tech controllers would do well to pay attention to Mr. Saint Laurent. Among this group, there are a huge number churning out trendy or bluntly functional panels that gradually turn homes into 80s sci-fi movie sets.
There is a significant group devoted to form as well as function. These people are to be commended for realising that no-one wants to sacrifice their home’s character on the altar of functionality. There are a lot of attempts in this group to create new fashions for smart home controls where there was nothing before. Glossy black screens and burnished steel are deployed to create a new look for this entirely new type of device with new design requirements and constraints. This is a huge amount better than bare functionality, but another leap of design wisdom is required before a device can truly stand out and get recommended. What is required is the recognition that Mr. Saint-Laurent was right.
Eternal style and the thermostat
Creating a new look for a new device would seem intuitive. Not only can you suit the look to the function of the product, but you can emphasize the novelty of this amazing new technology with a futuristic style. This is the logic that has led to many carbuncles throughout the years.
The eternal nature of style means that it’s possible, and often preferable, to look back on old technologies - old forms and functions – and interpret them in a new way. The makers of the Smeg fridge can attest to this, as can the designers behind all the mid-century-modern bits and bobs in Ikea.
This brings us in a somewhat roundabout way to the subject of this recommendation – Polar Bear Design and their thermostats. The company’s name indicates that they may reside more in the ... and-form camp than the purely function one. One look at their range of thermostats lets you know that they have a penchant for looking back to the designs of yesteryear with a critical eye.
Each of their thermostats and HVAC controllers is built around a large and retro-looking dial in an array of customer-selected finishes that can match the panel in general or stand out in complement. At this point, you may think that we’re making a big deal of minor details. However, in a world of characterless black screens that look like iPhones buried in walls, the dial becomes an outstanding feature (in quite a literal sense) that is worth noting.
It makes sense functionally, too. Every child of the 20th century remembers running through chilly homes on winter mornings to turn up the dial on their thermostat. Not to mention edging it down as a stringent grown up to claw back a few pounds from your energy-intensive kids.
Cue the shout of “Have you ever hear of global warming?”
The big advantage of those large black screens we bemoaned earlier is that they are hugely multifunctional. This pairs well with the flexible and intelligently adaptable nature of smart home systems. Fortunately, Polar Bear’s designs sacrifice little to nothing in function to achieve their attractive design. The controllers are hugely adaptable, with attractive burnished and engraved buttons to save different presets on. The thermostats can control HVAC systems, radiators, hot water boilers and more. They can also be integrated with a wide range of major-brand lighting controllers and other systems.
From an ease-of-use perspective, many control units confound those not familiar with smart tech. When you see a degrees sign above a big dial though, you know that you’re twiddling it one way for heat and the other for cold. This takes seconds to learn, and the controller’s big, friendly on-screen icons and numbers reinforce this ease.
Behind the scenes
Polar Bear aren’t just about pretty dials and buttons. Their range of interfaces, controller units and gateways allow for near complete control interface design. These offerings, as well as the controllers themselves, tie in excellently with Lutron and can be used to control a wide range of smart heating systems.
Our take - Bespoke design and specification
As with so many things we like, Polar Bear are all about bespoke system design in terms of both form and function. The Zentium and Ursium thermostats offer a wide variety of control panel options that can be further adapted to suit any system, as well as presented in range of characterful finishes. The function of the control system can be adapted as well, and there are many options for integration.
Creating a smart home control system that is both characterful and intuitive is a challenge. There are few offerings on the market that come close to achieving this, but Polar Bear Design is an exception. The control systems add familiarity to smart heating systems in the best way.