What I learned connecting one million objects

Twenty years ago PCs or Laptops were the only connected objects; for a long time there were no other devices with the capacity to send and receive information over a network. In a matter of years everything changed and thousands of devices became connected. From smartphones to wearable technology and smart home appliances we have seen the rise of the Internet of things.

Kevin Ashton coined the term “Internet of things” in 1999 to describe a system where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors. Today, the number of connected objects exceeds 17 billion and it’s expected to grow to 35 billion by 2025.

I had the opportunity to work with many brands discovering the potential of IoT in several fields such as home automation, automotive, health and fitness. When doing retrospective meetings I always try to keep note of lessons learned and insights about User Experience, Operations, Big Data, Marketing, and Business.

Redefine everything you know

“IoT is the digital awareness in the physical world”.

From the very first project I discovered “awareness” was a critical factor. Awareness implies a complete rethinking of product development, tools and procedures; designers and developers need to transition fast from theory to practice, because IoT introduced new rules and is constantly pushing them to explore new boundaries of interaction forcing them to continuously work outside their comfort zone.

AmazonBasics Microwave — Amazon ©

Ux for IoT

Nest Thermostat E — Copyright Nest ©

This is a common scenario in IoT where data collected by sensors and processed by algorithms allow a status change. Designing a system that can adjust without user control is a big goal. Moving from complex interfaces to no interface reduces every pain-point, as was excellently stated in Golden Krishna’s book The Best Interface Is No Interface:

“After all, as Edward Tufte once said, “Overload, clutter, and confusion are not attributes of information, they are failures of design.”

Designing an interface is the easy part of these kinds of projects. challenges are much more likely to be related to other factors like context, mental-models, inter-usability, and coherence.

Context

Mental-models

Inter-usability

Coherence

Skills

“Doing” is the ability to get things done, moving from ideas to concrete solutions. Creating and managing a team is the hard part as managers need to orchestrate assets, information and data between designers, developers, stakeholders, and clients, in a fast-changing environment. The hard part is maintaining the experience while the project evolves; it’s easy to find a short cut, to adapt to the easy solution. Hard work means never taking the easy way but evolving the experience utilizing user feedback.

Data

Amazon Kindle — Amazon©

Think about Amazon Kindle: the service can already know your reading speed and if you stopped to read a chapter, by adding some sensors and it could register your reactions and emotions. In a scary future where algorithms can know you better than you know yourself, as reported by Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus this knowledge could be a new religion called dataisms.

Marketing

The business of belonging, a study made by IBM iX, showed top Brand Belonging performers grew revenue over six years at three times the rate of lower performing brands. IoT helps brands to create a sense of belonging, brands can monitor customer interactions and improve day by day activities, as they can anticipate user needs and be innovative. Connected objects are a bridge between customers and brands, the stronger the connection, the higher customer satisfaction will be.

Business

Photo by Ahmed Muntasir from Pexels

Companies like Rolls-Royce rent jet engines instead of selling them and use predictive maintenance to prevent deterioration. The data business is a big opportunity. For example, think about a connected car with a smog detector. This data can be useful to third parties, as car manufacturers can sell data to municipalities to monitor air quality. Fitness products are another example, as they can sell data to pharmaceutical companies in order to provide better products based on real data.

Conclusion

We are at the edge of a big shift, companies will need to embrace change and rethink every process to survive.

The connected world has just started.

UX Designer.