What does being an IoT UX Designer mean?

Exceptional Software Strategies photo — flickr

When I started to think about User Experience Design I was fascinated with the definition that Don Norman uses in every situation:

“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.
Don Normal: The term “UX”

I thought that it was so amazing to have the opportunity to shape the overall experience of a company. I could use my rational skills as an engineer, my talent to understand and communicate with people and, my passion for the business. I was already imagining my future invested in study and research, because being able to design an overall experience with a company is terribly difficult and takes time to learn how to do it.

Instead, what’s happening nowadays is dramatically wrong, people are transitioning to this field from various backgrounds and they don’t realize how huge this field is.

Just to be clear, I’m not speaking only about the agreed difference between User Experience and User Interface Design, it is already trivial. I’m speaking more about what there is deeper behind a product or service, beginning from his value proposition.

After all, we are surrounded by companies of various sizes pushing the concept of user experience design like a process where the value of a solution focuses on the tangible deliverables like “Wireframes”, “Visual Design” and “Visual Components”.

Well, I don’t really already know what is the full answer to my question in the title, but I can start to pick-up something about what an Internet of things UX designer should consider.

Technology should not be a secret for you

I’m pretty sure that you are wondering why I’m writing this very trivial thing. Nowadays, every designer needs to know about technology, even just to design a web-platform. Think about the browsers or devices that will host your product, which features they can support or simply which front-end technologies your IT department will use to implement your design. You keep into consideration those things to provide a better and valuable design.

Now, let’s just think about the IoT World for a minute. Without considering the immaturity of most of the technology, protocols and architectures that already increase the complexity, try to think about two key concepts that become relevant in this new World: reliability and latency.

What does it mean for the users? Parts of the system can be out of sync, creating discontinuities in UX (reliability). Additionally, the users expect physical things to respond immediately but in the real world it can not happen (latency).

Move the focus from usability to interusability

Again, when you design a simple web-platform you have to address all the possible interactions with your system, even if assuming that as a “UX Designer” you are only involved in designing one touch-point with the company. Now, we are moving from usability to interusability.

In the IoT World we have to consider all the interactions with multiple devices. The overall experience has to feel like a coherent service even if the devices can have different factors and input/output capabilities.

So, we should address several questions like which functionality belongs on each device? What is the user flow cross-device? Design patterns need to be generalized for the kind of devices involved and you have to design device UIs in parallel.

The IoT World also breaks the direct-manipulation principle, we have to consider it and find new solutions.

You should explore more about industrial design

Form factors and materials can impose particular requirements and there could be strong limitations to interact with the devices. It will require a strong collaboration between industrial designers and interaction designers.

So far, the designers need to shorten the gap with IT and now there is evidence that they will also have to shorten the gap with the industrial designers.

The Conceptual Model has never been so complex to understand and design

What expectations do our users have about an IoT system? How do they perceive every device involved in the system? How does it work?

IoT systems are generally complex and difficult to make easy to understand for our users, much more than a digital product or a single device. We want to be sure that our users are confident to start to use our system from the very beginning. By the way, I think that it represents one of the most important frictions for people using IoT so far.

Platform and API Design often are in the scope

Here I’ll call platform a software framework. In some cases it manages the low-level details. It makes it easy to put data from connected devices onto the internet and helps people to enable different types of devices.

Some functionalities can have a big impact on UX Design, e.g. discover and add new devices/applications, manage users and how the devices share the data. IoT gives us data like never before.

The same for the API, usually as a designer you are not involved in designing the API. It is more like designing the Information Architecture for a web-platform, you have to understand which information your users need and how you want to organize it.

Being involved in designing the platform and API allows users to have a better higher-level UX.

In this introductory article I just want to lay the foundation for understanding more about what can be the evolution of future designers. I’m actively involved in researching new paradigms to support future designers and communities.

My hope is that new IoT UX Designers will truly understand the meaning of designing for IoT. Only then can we produce valuable products for our users and we can have a big impact on the well-being of people. This is an invite for all companies and Universities to encourage people to accept the challenges of becoming an IoT UX Designer. It would be amazing to fulfill Don Norman’s definition and enhance it.