Smart devices that collect & use data in the real world could transform our lives—but first we’ve got to figure out how to actually use the darn things.
The technology advancements have always influenced the concept of UX design significantly. The advent of web technology had revolutionized the user interface design. The UX design became a household name with the steep growth in the number of businesses that adopted the web as an integral part of their business strategy. The smartphone and tablet devices brought the new capabilities in the computing domain. It also altered the way people think of UX design. The focus shifted from attractive design and high conversion rate to responsive design that provides seamless user experience across multiple screens and devices. However, the fundamental principle of UX design has always been the same – better user experience whenever they interact with a screen – be it desktop, tablet or mobile screen.
The advent of Internet of Things is going to bring a paradigm shift in the way companies think of UX design. It will also change how people and machines interact with other devices. The communication is no longer restricted to the humans and machines. With the IoT technology, the devices will be connected to each other, and the communication terminals will include user-to-user, users-to-machine, and machine-to-machine. In some cases, the IoT will enable communication between machines and humans without involving the screen. Also, the shape and size of connected objects will no longer be fixed.
Like other fields of technologies, the UX designers must adopt and adapt to the newer concepts of design to be relevant in the age of the IoT. Companies who have long ignored the UX design or took it as a peripheral activity will be forced to make an intensive investment in designs that facilitates better user experience between various objects and humans. The user experience design will become a mainstream business function for almost all types of businesses.
Key developments that will transform the way businesses think of UX design:
1. Change in Business Models
We have already seen the changes in the business model due to the internet. The Internet of Things will further impact the way companies are doing business today. The products and services businesses will converge. According to a McKinsey study, the vendors will rent industrial goods such as heavy machinery and equipment. They will charge the clients based on the usages of the products. Traditionally, such products are sold on a relatively higher margin. The new business model will be similar to the SaaS business model, where software is sold as a service and customers pay for the service as per their usage. Similarly, a lot of industries will witness a fundamental change due to the large scale implementation of the IoT.
When the products are sold as a service, then the companies will have no option but provide excellent service at affordable rates to stay relevant in the industry. Thus, the products and services based companies will end up selling experiences. The user experience and design will play a central role in building competitive advantage. Therefore, the UX design will no longer be the outside activity for a majority of businesses. It will be a revenue generator for the companies. The proactive executives will invest heavily in the UX design to build and sustain a competitive advantage.
2. User Interface is Vanishing
Machine-to-machine communication relies on a system of networks through which data is transmitted. Under ordinary circumstances, the devices don’t require the screen to communicate. Even the humans can interact with machines without using traditional user interfaces. The smart wristbands and other IoT-enabled devices can detect the signal and transmit the data without the need for an interface. Thus, the user interface is vanishing fast, although it will never be eliminated entirely.
For companies, it is increasingly harder to sell experiences without a user interface. Thus, the UX designers need to innovate so that they can help businesses provide experiences through multiple touch points and not just through user interfaces.
3. Lack of continuous connectivity
The user interface for websites and mobile apps are designed based on the assumption that the server will always be connected to the internet. In the case of the slow internet connection, the users expect a delay in loading of some of the elements of a site or an app. Also, when you send or delete an email, the activities are reflected across all devices on a real-time basis. However, this is not the case with IoT-enabled devices. A lot of IoT-enabled devices operate on battery. The devices are connected to the network at a specified time interval and not continuously. Thus, the devices connected through IoT operate asynchronously. It means that the data is not updated on a real-time basis. It creates a delay in the delivery of message between two objects. For instance, when you have connected a boiler pot with a mobile app and change the temperature on the app from 35 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius, the same may not reflect the temperate of boiler pot immediately. Also, if the internet connection is weak, the temperature of boiler pot may not even update.
Such disturbances in the real world will deteriorate the users’ experiences. The UX designers need to create designs, keeping this challenge in mind. Although it’s a technical issue, the designers need to come up with experience elements that minimize the inconveniences. In this sense, the role of UX designers will be more of experience managers.
4. Making Sense of the Data
IoT-enabled devices will emit an unprecedented amount of data. While the data scientists will be responsible for making sense of the data, the UX designers will be responsible for presenting the insights in a manner which is understood by the users. Giving a large amount of data and ideas that are expected to be generated from the use of IoT technology, the UX designers must have the knowledge of cross-functional roles to get the maximum benefits out of this technology.
5. Security Measures
Security is one of the primary concerns regarding the large-scale implementations of the IoT technology. While the UX designers will not be responsible for fixing the security loopholes, they will play a crucial role in enhancing the framework to address these concerns swiftly.
6.Impact of connectivity
Connectivity plays a big role. Network connectivity is another key aspect in offering a seamless IoT experience.
There are numerous options available in the market in terms of connectivity but It is important having the right connectivity solution for each use case. In some situations, low-latency and minimal data loss are very important (autonomous vehicles or weapon launch monitoring). The selection of a connectivity protocol will have a large impact on this part of the user experience.
Moreover, most industrial IoT solutions are also located outside the urban nuclei, often in remote environments or in the field, using simple devices that can lose connectivity or miss a few data points fairly easily. This situation should be considered when selecting the connectivity technology and UX designers must consider how to respond to the inevitability that some devices may be offline for a short or longer time. In this case, the user interface can take two main options: faking until the data gets through by indicating an action has been taken despite the latency or indicate that the data or an action is being processed until it is accomplished.
7. Platform experience
IoT products or solutions are built on top of an IoT platform that supports under one roof implementation of hardware, connectivity, data collection, analytics, rules, actions and application development. This requires to UX designers deeply understand of each module of the IoT platform and invest a lot of time and effort in understanding how each module impacts to design and how design could be changed or improved. Some of these platform modules are not visible to end users, which makes them easy for UX designers to ignore.
8. Third-party integrations
Third-party integrations are not always seamless. Most connected thing solutions require bringing many components (sensors, processors, controllers, platform, applications) from various vendors together, which can be hard to integrate and lead to a disjoined user experience.
IoT solutions are also always changing with old devices being replaced and new data points being added. Again, flexibility is the key to a good user experience. The underlying solution foundation, as well as the user interface and UX, must be malleable enough to adapt to these changes quickly.
The worst experience is to add a new data source and require the user to flip back and forth between two interfaces or applications rather than integrating the new data source into the same experience.
One example can be the abundance of smart home apps that don’t work together leads to a bad user experience, for instant, a user might control their sound system with one app and their lights with another, or in a more extreme case, lighting from different manufacturers may require different control interfaces.
9. Building trust
As stated above, IoT solutions take data from the physical world and virtualize it for users to make better operational decisions, but without seeing the physical situation it may be difficult for a user to believe certain data.
UX can build trust in several ways. On one side, by showing acknowledgements that allow the user to understand the status of commands and data transfer. On the other, allowing users to dig deep to get to the root of why things look the way they work. This type of transparency is critical specifically for IoT applications and provides a great user experience.
Concluding, to design a seamless user experience in the IoT product, we must not forget that:
- 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.
- Many IoT products do not have a digital interface. Possibly voice, lights, vibration or audio sounds.
- Understanding and learning context will greatly improve the overall long-term usage of these IoT products.
- Incorporating conversational empathy into the design of a product will need to be considered.
- 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.
These less visible areas of a platform are critical to pay attention during each stage of UX design and product development to render a consistent and user-friendly experience. It is convenient not to forget that UX is not only conformed by what the user can see or find directly. The basis of a valuable, attractive, usable and coherent IoT product is created by taking care of UX at less visible, system-oriented and strategic levels.