User experience and the IoT: tech should be all about humans


I remember reading about the Twittering Ferries a few years ago. This story captured my imagination and I started to explore the Internet of Things (IoT) in more detail. IoT, in essence, allows ‘Machines to speak to Machines’ (M2M), provide instruction, feedback on status, and even process artificial intelligence.

The reason the Twittering Ferries intrigued me, however, was not the M2M relationship, but rather the fact that the code behind Twittering Ferries created a means where machines were now talking to people. They used social media to facilitate communication to human beings. This has been my interest point over the last few years, and a question that has been plaguing me ever since is: “What happens to IoT when it progresses from M2M to Machines to People, or People to Machines?”

I have had the privilege of sitting on the International Advisory Board for the IoT Asia conference, which has given me massive exposure to the IoT conversation.

Historically, IoT solutions have not considered human beings in their equations and strategy roll out

Over the last few years, these discussions have provided a robust understanding of IoT into manufacturing and operational processes, but recently we are seeing more and more conversations leading towards a consumer interaction with IoT. All IoT conferences are speaking to retail tracks, user experience tracks, wearables, home automation and a host of industry that are consumer facing.

Historically, IoT solutions have not considered human beings in their equations and strategy roll out; which has proven to be a challenge, mainly because their solutions never came into contact with people, except through data dashboard and notification systems. Today, however, we are seeing products in the hands of people that are IoT dependent, but the consumer does not even understand the IoT is being used.

In most cases, the consumer has no idea who or what IoT is. A great example is that people see Uber as a mobile app that calls a taxi — they are not running around talking about a great IoT app that they just downloaded.

What Uber correctly achieved was to design a service that uses IoT concepts to provide a valuable service to people. Today, those people know Uber, not IoT. Without IoT though, Uber would not be possible.

Related: The Internet of Things is here, and it will revolve around the smartphone

So, I believe the time is now to start addressing product design, communication strategy and consumer relationships inside the IoT conversation. We need to see a stronger focus on User Experience and an understanding of people. In order to do this we are seeing that user experience and design frameworks are now becoming increasingly valuable to companies developing IoT solutions. We need to start inviting design innovators, user experience strategists and innovation agencies to the conversation.

In my exposure to IoT conferences in Africa and Asia, the conversations that are facilitating user experience design seem to focus on the five competencies of user experience. These five competencies are information architecture, interaction design, usability engineering, visual design, and prototype engineering.

It’s a robust set of competencies that will guide IoT professionals in their journey toward better user experiences. In addition, two frameworks have been presented as a means to manage user experience design. Many consulting firms use design thinking and SMART Customer Experience brings a method to merge multiple digital mechanisms into one experience.

Design Thinking in IoT

In a recent interview with Brian Ling at a Digital Swarm Event, Brian highlighted that design thinking is becoming an important part of process and product development in the IoT eco-system. Design thinking simply suggests a three-step process that remains in a continuous loop.

  • Consider the human being (user)
  • Iterate
  • Validate

Design Thinking provides a great framework to bring design and experience to the forefront of your IoT discussions.

SMART Customer Experience

A simple acronym is for focusing on the intersection between user experience and IoT is SMART — Social, Mobile, Agile, Researched, Transforming.

  • Social means that the experience connects people
  • Mobile means the experience meets people in their chosen context
  • Agile means the experience adapts to the users unique needs
  • Researched plans to understand the customer better through the experience
  • Transformation suggests that each experience should have a specific outcome planned for the experience

Design could be your competitive edge

When IoT gets so close to people that its success is based on people using the technology, then user experience becomes imperative. In fact it is becoming very clear that a strong focus on user experience could well be the competitive edge in IoT that business is looking for.



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