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How To Design An IoT Experience, Not An IoT Product?

Nisha Gopinath Menon
October 11, 2017

Your devices and products might look the same as they did before they got connected and smart. Even so, they’re fundamentally different. Now they’re members of a larger community of processes, products, and stakeholders. Ensuring your products are capable of filling these new roles is a serious design challenge. You see, machine-to-machine connectivity, the forerunner of consumer-focused IoT has been around for decades. More often than not, the M2M phase of IoT applications pushed technology to address B2B market requirements. Product design considerations in that phase were not critical to persuading customers to adopt offerings. Enterprise IoT buyers seldom require great design, because most often the buyer is not the product’s end user. However, today when the application of IoT has expanded to a broader range of commercial opportunities, enterprise B2B applications have become B2B2C.

Today, while redefining their service or product experiences for IoT, businesses are often unable to see beyond the complexity. What with the proliferation of form factors and modes of interaction to massive development in software intelligence, the range, pace, and implication of this level of technological advancement is overwhelming. As brands, manufacturers and service providers hastily craft digital strategies, their strategy is often a single tactic, prioritizing technology. That of building a connected product or developing a mobile app. But you see the driving force behind success is far less about the technology than about design. So, let’s talk design.

1. User-centricity

Your users today deal with more devices, software applications and data, so every touch point must be considered. Companies must design with meticulous attention, or else risk overwhelming or annoying customers, driving the user to abandon the product. In an age when customers demand personalized and almost real-time service, designers at every level must account for more context. Keep in mind, designing for environmental context helps inform optimal design decisions. The location and lifestyle of your targeted user when using a product or service offers useful cues for feature, form and interaction development. Sensitive dynamics tend to impact the nature of the brand interaction. Keeping the user's context central to the design process also forces companies to recognize when they’re building technology for technology's sake, and consider where leveraging partners could extend the value and even create new revenue streams. Work with a team that understands the unique combination of macro and micro-interactions that add up to the whole. Ones who ensure the use of practices that lend rigor to research findings.

2. Humanization

Until a technology is organically incorporated within our life, it isn’t humanized. The IoT has the potential to humanize products like never before. Brands must strive to bring genuine personality to product experiences by capitalizing on this and investing in humanizing products to unlock emotional connections. Any half-decent brand idea will talk regarding human personality, to the extent of which consumers describe your brand as if it were a real person in the room. Tune the character you project, intellectualize through data and build emotion through semantics, content, and tone of voice. For a humanized product economy, this could prove to be revolutionary.

3. Cobble where it counts

Work or begin with what you have. Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel. Look around when building your IoT product. What are the existing systems, services, or components you have already mastered that could give your project a boost? Cobbling is a quick, smart and effective approach to entering the connected technology game.

4. The power of routine

When looking into using the power of the IoT to humanize your product, aim for a product or service that just fits into a user’s daily routine. Automation of a task they’re already doing is an easier way to find a place in their lives. Working on an IoT product unlike anything customers already use is risky.

5. Beta test

Users find functionality issues better than most testers out there. You do not want your customers digging up issues post-release, which could translate to hardware recalls. A lot more costly to fix those than simple software updates.

6. Team up with designers who understand technology

You see the Internet of Things also needs a technology-aware approach to design. Product experience now includes adapting to other products, personalization, upgrades, and big data. The design team and technology team must work closely to understand what’s necessary and what’s possible, in the design of the customer experience.

7. Building the dream team

In reality, you’ll have to outsource. The IoT product or service you're working on isn't a project you can put together in a garage. Be humble enough to recognize when your team doesn’t have all the know-how needed. You’ll need a diverse crop of developers with backgrounds in each because IoT touches both hardware and software.  

8. Test multiple prototypes

You’ll need to test multiple prototypes to assess feasibility to create a high-quality product. If you decide to go big right out of the gate, you might end up wasting resources. This will, in turn, limit your ability to cater to customers’ needs post-release.

9. Feature-less

Less is more. When in doubt, let go of that feature. An IoT product packed with features can quickly lose user-friendliness, thanks to the complex technology powering it. It might not come easily to you, but cutting out the extra frills saves you from an overly complicated interface and a resulting poor user experience. Look around at the giants in the space and absorb their design philosophy. Everything serves a purpose and doesn't distract. Take Amazon, for instance, it could've easily complicated its Dash Buttons, but they chose to stick with the simplicity of a single button.

10. Works locally

None of us have access to the Internet at all times. While designing for IoT, don’t assume your clients will have internet connectivity the whole time. Ideally, at first you would design for no internet connectivity, and then see how much functionality you can add locally before you need access to the internet.

11. What value do you bring to the table?

Don't expect to ride the trendy wave and assume consumers will buy it because it's trending. You need a unique value proposition.  A lot of IoT products in the market today have sold themselves by cutting costs and helping out the environment.

12. Onboarding

Don't forget about onboarding. Especially for less tech-savvy users, sing an IoT product for the first time can be overwhelming. Keep some time aside to spend in development to design the onboarding process with technologically-challenged consumers in mind.

13. Minimalism

Aim for a design that disappears. An essential consideration of yours while developing an IoT product should be its day-to-day visibility. Just as nobody wants a cell phone that feels like a brick in their pocket, developers should strive for stealth in place of flash when it comes to their product’s hardware. Wearable companies have done a great job of reducing the footprint of their wearables by increasing functionality and cutting size.

Thanks to the Internet of Things, a product design shift is underway from being product-centric to experience-centric. The IoT moves rapidly. Its technology landscape could transform in as little as four months. So find a team who's positioned to confidently recommend what’s best for your project from a broad and growing catalog of options. A team who understands that experience is now the product.

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Nisha Gopinath Menon