Using Design to Amplify IoT


Technology is experiencing rapid growth in the phenomenon called the “Internet of Things.” According to research from Gartner, the typical household will contain more than 500 connected “things” by 2020. One such example is the Nest thermostat, which allows users to control their home’s temperature remotely from their smartphone. Other companies have built remotely controlled locks, lights, and more.

Connecting things through wireless technology or smartphone applications is remarkably simple; and while the technology behind these devices is critical, many companies developing IoT devices neglect the one thing that can help their products become successful–the experience of the end user. And the end user’s positive or negative experience with that connected device is ultimately rooted in the success or failure in two areas: User Experience and User Interface design.

Connected devices are cool until they are too difficult to use. Often times, devices claim to simplify or solve a problem for the consumer–however, many customers find that the experience of using these connected devices is more difficult to navigate than the original problem. In that way, IoT is not an end product – connectivity should be viewed as a feature or enhancement of a product that serves a greater purpose. In order to create connected devices that actually simplify or solve problems, both the design and technology of the application need to work in tandem through the creation of a well thought out User Experience and User Interface design.

Prior to developing any IoT device, the entire User Experience should be mapped–from purchase to installation to daily use. Companies that do this well strive to eliminate as many pain points as possible and make the journey of using the device or its associated app as simple, seamless and positive as possible. Centering User Experience around real people, using  “Human Centered Design” processes has become increasingly important to success. Many companies can build a sophisticated device or app, but it doesn’t inherently have value unless users find it valuable and easy to use. And ease of use is critical to driving adoption and continued use of the device or app. When any experience requires too much thought, users tend to abandon the effort.

Once a User Experience is mapped, the User Interface–the design of the app that runs the product–should be closely aligned to eliminate frustration. Ultimately, connected devices and their apps need User Interfaces that are both comprehensive enough to provide full functionality and user friendly enough to promote widespread adoption and continued use. At the intersection of technology and user experience, good User Interface design makes all the difference. While many companies and individuals think of design as making something look good, effective user interface design requires a deep understanding of the user base and the ways in which they will interact with the device or app. Using intentional design and a designing a clear navigational path creates a positive physical and emotional connection to the user that will keep them coming back. To cite a simple example, when a user sees a red button that says GO, their mind sees STOP. Gaining an understanding of these types of simple correlations users make between color, messaging and usage of the device or app can be the difference between a successful product and one that’s shelved.

Millions of IoT devices have been built to date, and there are billions more that are yet to be built. Hundreds of companies are creating the next big thing right at this moment. But what will ultimately decide which of these products are successful isn’t necessarily the underlying technology, but being able to capture that physical and emotional connection with the user base that keeps them coming back–through good User Experience and User Interface design.

If you build it, they might come. But when they come, make sure they stay.