By: Lisa Fu
Design is core to connecting the Internet of things (IoT).
As technology continues to develop designers have grown alongside it, intuitively aligning technology with the user. Design has been around since the first drawing or object was created and interacted with. The development of design into an independent field of its own, indicates the need for an increasingly improved understanding of our interactions with technology. With the advent of the Internet of Things, a growing field of communicative technology, the role of designers has become ever-more important for realising the full potential of today’s products and services.
What is IOT?
Trying to define the IoT has often been overcomplicated when it is actually a simple concept. The IoT is the linking up of devices and sensors that consolidate information to inform an action. The more devices and sensors, the more data there is to work with, the more informed these actions can be. These informed actions can then transcend into intelligently considered user experiences where we are not just creating an IoT product for technology’s sake, but rather listening to what people need.
What is exciting about the IoT is its potential on a larger scale to become an observant ecosystem of connected devices and sensors chattering away with each other. The IoT provides us with experiences that are more perceptive, adaptive and personal.
Design enables the IoT to converge ubiquitous amounts of information into informed, digestible, and actionable choices. Choices such as picking up groceries are informed by monitoring variables such as how much food is left in the fridge, wearable health data and personal schedule.
Data needs to be human-centred and on-demand
The human element is essential when dealing with vast amounts of data and information produced by all these connected sensors. This data and information will need to be sifted, prioritised and presented in a way that is digestible and actionable. While analytics and algorithms definitely play an important role, it is also critical that, from the moment users interface with the experience, users understand it. This initial interaction is essential to the on-boarding or adoption process of the product or experience. As designers, we are responsible for ensuring that the conversations and conclusions drawn from an IoT product, works towards a seamless experience for the user that is both accessible and positive. The design process needs to inform the product or service by synthesizing responses that address both what the user needs are and what the technology can offer. The IoT has the potential to create on demand user experiences, where readily available data is converging into an actionable, preferred choice for the user.
What is it being used for and where?
Anything that can be observed, sensed and turned into data can be added to an IoT ecosystem. Perhaps it’s simply sensing movement with a motion sensor, interpreting organic spoken commands with voice recognition or even machine learning. The amount of gatherable information is unfathomable and is being used to optimise, evolve and create new products.
The design of these IoT products will affect the way we work, live and play, and the market is accumulating with connected product solutions designed to increase our everyday efficiency. There are an abundance of products to choose from at a consumer level that provide apt examples of connected products. Especially within the connected smart home lighting, security, coffee machines, air purifiers, fridges, mattress covers and almost anything able to be interacted with, that has yet to be connected, can become part of the ecosystem.
When all these connected devices start conversing with each other, this is where the truly tailored experiences happen. The alarm clock lets the coffee machine know it should be on standby, but only to start brewing when the bed lets it know that sleeping hasn’t continued. When leaving the house for a prolonged overseas trip, all the connected devices adapt without explicit instruction. The coffee machine knows not to start brewing when the alarm goes off, and the mattress knows not to warm up in preparation for sleeping time. Perhaps when staying at the hotel, preferred thermostat settings are migrated to the room’s environment control where humidity, temperature and airflow are catered for. Other environmental factors involved with visiting overseas such as jetlag are compensated by adapting personal sleep and alarm settings. All these sensors and devices are in an anticipatory conversation with each other, with little explicit instruction from the user.
While the abundance of consumer choices makes progress, all of these sensors and devices need to have relevant conversations or interactions with each other if the IoT is to provide truly personal experiences or work on larger scale in a work environment such as in warehouse operations or freight transportation.
An illustration of freight transportation monitoring by DHL
Having a proper conversation
When designing uninterrupted and effortless experiences, we must anticipate how these devices communicate amongst themselves. In this instance, ‘anticipate’ means that these devices have yet to form a universal language through which they can communicate with each other. Instead, independent companies have created independent communication ecosystems such as Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Nest Weave or Apple’s HomeKit. Whether a common language enables these different products to be interoperable, or one of these ecosystems becomes the dominant language, it still remains to be seen. Enabling these devices to talk with each other will enable products to become truly integrated and seamless for not only the end user, but also the end users within the businesses that are helping provide these products and experiences.
The IoT intertwines technology with people at a more involved and intrinsic level than ever before. The user experience of the products people will connect with will contribute to our ever-evolving and increasingly intimate relationship with technology. The future of experiences is personal and on demand.
If you want to harness your product’s potential and create amazingly designed user-centred experiences, then give us a call.