October 12, 2016

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User Experience Design Meets the Connected World

How state-of-the-art technology is changing the way businesses function and deliver

The buzz surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) seems to be getting louder—the ‘next big thing’ is knocking at the door. Increased application of sensors, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, and advanced cloud computing to interpret and transmit the data are architecting a smarter and hyper-connected world.

IoT, with its mobile, virtual, and instantaneous connections is truly innovation at its finest—poised to help companies leap into a connected age, with far-reaching impact. Understandably then, industries across the world are gearing up to gain faster insights and deliver innovative products and services.

However, before jumping on to the IoT bandwagon, companies must accurately evaluate their customers’ latent needs. Innovation and utility should work in perfect unison, in order to drive genuine value and improved customer experiences.

Calibrating the tool-box: Balancing innovation with intrinsic value

IoT does not exist in isolation—the value of IoT matures alongside the data and insights it generates. It exists in combination with a complex ecosystem of devices that can interoperate seamlessly to deliver unique insights into their usage and condition. Similarly, voluminous data is of little actual utility, unless it displays hidden patterns analyzing customer behavior and help predict adverse situations.

Therefore, the true adoption of IoT would involve the ability to generate, ingest, and analyze billions of disparate data streams, and glean insights from a connected environment. These insights could open doors for reshaping existing processes—consider for example, the product development process—making them more agile and optimizing the roles of people involved to improve productivity and deliver greater value.

This will also help accelerate the ‘design-test-learn-iterate’ process, ensuring that market feedback is incorporated in the makers’ product roadmap in a timely fashion. Currently, the process of gathering market feedback is disparate, cumbersome, and time consuming—and organizations are left unable to meet strict time-to-market demands, especially that of consumer markets.

A unique example of IoT-driven, interactive user interface design is Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator. This smart appliance is linked to online ordering services, can control other home appliances, display messages, and send emails. A user can check the contents of the refrigerator remotely, stream music, and even compare and manage recipes online. However, is there really a demand to have tweets displayed on our fridge door? A December 2013 report by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change tellingly revealed how among five major connected heating systems available, none were offering consumers a robust user experience.

The largely lukewarm response to recent industry innovations have sounded a clarion call on the need to evaluate, assess and streamline the way forward.

Similarly, consider the constantly expanding domain of wearables. As technology continues to become more intimate, wearables have also boosted a customer’s expectations for tailored services. Gartner predicts that while wearables are currently an immature market, by 2020, they would exceed 500 million shipments. However, as CCS Insight’s user survey reveals, despite high customer awareness, a significant proportion of wearable device owners have stopped using them as the device did not provide enough functionalities. While designing wearables, it’s imperative for companies to consider a wide gamut of challenges/factors related to user engagement and durability (including fairly long battery lives, where applicable).

For example, Jawbone’s first production run of UP bracelets were all recalled due to an improperly sized power capacitor. The brand image was salvaged to a certain extent, only because the company instituted a ‘no questions asked guarantee’, and offered a full refund.

The writing on the wall is clear—innovation merely for its own sake cannot inspire or attract customer retention; the product must hold its own unique and effective brand promise, and offer high utility.

Engineering synergy: Crafting an IoT framework that’s smart and simple

Product design and user experience are key decision influencers in the age of the digital customer. Challenges such as cross-platform design and limited connection between devices have emerged as primary areas of concern.

It is also very important that functionality may be distributed across devices, only some of which may have screens, while others may only emit sound or light signals. In some cases, device interactions are channelized via mobile apps.

Industries must therefore, move towards a sharply-tuned blueprint: a lucid and connected experience that ensures functionality and consistency across different user interfaces, as well as seamless cross-device interactions.

Remember, the device, user, and service experiences are inextricably linked in an IoT product—and without doubt, a user will be quick to discard a connected item, if it does not deliver a satisfactory experience.

Companies should strive to harness this comprehensive amalgamation—technology innovations coupled with solid design strategies—armed with a build-test-learn process. This would eventually aid the creation of an expanding and robust ecosystem.

What then lies at the foundation of this transformation? What is the essential blueprint governing the implementation of agile and concentrated IoT applications?

The answer foretells the road ahead for enlightened organizations; it is important that businesses continue to gather product-usage data, captured via multiple devices, continuously to generate insights and incorporate them in the product features. This would shrink the possibility of dissonance between designer, developer, and the final user—creating a finely-balanced value chain of consistent and top-of-the-line quality, and unmatched user experience.