The Product Design of IoT –

As more and more ‘Internet of Things’ products come into the market, most, if not all will come with significant challenges. The key to overcoming any obstacles is to unify them into one holistic user experience; to incorporating the Physical and Digital experiences and making them work together in harmony.

Digital to Experiential

Creating a Digital and Physical product means having teams work in unison. Design and Engineering should work together side-by-side taking all aspects of the experience into consideration. This pushing and pulling with one another helps create the best product possible. Perhaps even including the engineering team in the design critiques will help them understand and have a better view of the overall journey. From ordering the product, opening up the packaging to setting up the device. How is the experience from beginning to end? This is the view point the teams needs to focus on. These are the elements that the customer interacts with and if there are any hiccups at any point in these interactions, it’s a reflection on both the product and the brand as a whole. This fantastic quote from the book “The Pixar Story” sums it up best.

Design pushes technology; technology pushes design.” — John Lasseter, Pixar/Disney

Let’s take a look at 3 core elements to creating a great User Experience in the IoT/Product world.

1. Setup

The setup needs to be easy quick, and not technically challenging. Connectivity is the main point to IoT products so making this connection process as frictionless as possible should be the main focus when creating any IoT product. Ask yourself questions like ‘What’s the unpacking process?’ And ‘How do customers unpack and start the discovery process?’. Take a look at other setup processes like the Apple Watch and the Amazon Echo.

Many IoT products will have no digital interface on them. What’s this experience like? What cues will the device give users to let them know what status the device is in? Possibly lights or even audio sounds? For example in the Disney Magic band experience, a light ring is the main form of visual feedback for park goers. Disney specifically designed the experience to not have any red lights, which would give the feeling of user error. If something does go wrong, a blue light is shown. Be sure to think in terms of screen-less interactions. Many IoT products will leverage a mobile app experience to set up these devices. These experiences are tied together, so try not to force users to jump through too many hoops to get the product up and running. In order to think holistically make sure to take these interactions into consideration, the TUI (Touch User Interface), the VUI (Voice User Interface), the GUI (Graphical User Interface) and now even the CUI (Conversational User Interface).

2. Context and Learning

Understanding and learning context will greatly improve the overall long-term usage of these IoT products. There will be a need for these products to grow and inform overtime. Applying things like Anticipatory Design techniques and removing needless choices will help add more and more value to users (ie. Nest, Tesla, Amazon Echo). In the end, most of these IoT products are stepping into the area of introducing behavioral change.

Three elements must converge at the same moment [for a behavior to occur]: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. — Dr. BJ Fogg

Looking at it from a more tactical level, ask yourself what updating the experience is like. How are you prepared to improve the software and other connections as things come on… like expandability, and connectivity (ie. Tesla).

3. Designing for Conversational Empathy

As people will live with these products every day, understanding the context of empathy becomes important. How does a product you talk to start to actually listen and understand what is being asked, versus just returning a piece of data based on input. Incorporating conversational empathy into the design of a product will need to be considered.

Take for example the recent Fast Co. Design article by Mark Wilson on AI’s lack of empathy.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher via Medium
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When designing these products, you’ll need to consider when the product should interact and send messages, and when it shouldn’t. Context will be key here so these experiences don’t become a barrier, rather add more and more value.

Conversely, some people will have no interest in having a conversation with these types of products. Designers will need to take that into consideration as well.

Truth is, I don’t want to talk to most of my products. They’re dumb utilities. Close and forget. I want a spade, not the experience of digging. — Cennydd Bowles

Its similar to walking into a store and having sales associates swarm you asking questions. Some like that experience while others what to do it on their own.

The bottom line is to always consider your target customers, and base decisions on them. At the end of the day it always comes back to value. Do what is valuable to your users, and you can overcome any obstacle presented with your IoT project.

No matter the type of IoT product it needs to add value to the end customer. If the complexity of use outweighs the value then your product will fail.

Author: Joe Johnston

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