Creating Seamless Product Experiences

The #IoT (Internet of Things)-driven industrial design & user experience sandwich: why it’s all the rage and how to make it.

The number of IoT (Internet of Things)-connected devices will hit 38.5 billion in 2020, up from 13.4 billion in 2015: a rise of over 285%.” Juniper Research.

The age of IoT (Internet of Things) has made it a necessity to synchronize software and hardware product development to create a seamlessly integrated hardware/software experiences. The user experience agile process and the industrial design waterfall approach couldn’t be more different in nature. Establishing a common ground and synchronizing the two development cycles is something the industry is still figuring out.

In the past, I have been fortunate enough to help introduce user experience to a hardware product company and now, I work on developing industrial design capabilities in a software company.

Here, I will outline why hardware is so slow and expensive to manufacture, why software is much quicker to develop and more adaptable to user needs, and how to synchronize both development cycles.

The first wireless remote control -1956 Zenith Space Command

How UX is taking a bite out of ID

The first wireless TV remote control was called the ‘Zenith Space Command,’ developed by Robert Adler in 1956. When the user pushed a button on the remote control, it clicked and struck a bar, hence the term “clicker”.

The available technology guided the design. This also helps to explain why modern technology antiquated the ‘clicker’ and passed the opportunity for an integrated solution to the user experience on a commonly available device: the iPhone. The Apple TV remote is a great example of UX modernizing an otherwise antiquated product in a meaningful & responsive manner.

Adding more buttons to a remote just no longer reflects or adapts to the user experience and technology of IoT devices.

The typical hardware product is a two-part plastic piece, created for under $10.00 manufacturing cost, and sold for a 40-point profit margin (taking distribution partners’ cuts into consideration). It takes 18 months to design, engineer and test for production, and the production lifespan typically lasts two to three years before the next redesign.

This is a high dependency, front-heavy innovation process that is heavily dictated by the revenue models for physical product manufacturing. Large-scale production is typically considered to be anything above five million units per year. The cost of manufacturing tools, labor & upkeep is amortized over the unit per cost over time. So what may cost $10 per unit for five million units a year may cost $15 for two million units a year and $25 for a half a million units a year…you get the picture. What this amounts to is a very high upfront cost in time, money, and planning/dependency all before a single product has been sold.

The iterative and adaptive nature of agile software development and the traditional, high-dependency development model of consumer products (hardware) couldn’t be more different in nature.

Software product development is agile, adaptive, and iterative in comparison. It leans on defining a minimal desirable product to quickly be generated, tested, and evaluated for its efficacy in solving for the user need. There are less dependencies, fewer distribution costs and partnering involved and generally a more intimate connection with the user.

The more opportunity there is for user experience and industrial design requirements to influence each other, the greater chance you have of creating a seamless product experience.

A seamless hardware + software product experience is a direct reflection of how well the UX + ID processes are integrated. Specifically — the more opportunity there is for user experience and industrial design requirements to influence each other, the greater chance you have of creating a seamless product experience.

The more the processes are allowed to influence each other, the more integrated and seamless the end product experience will be.

It all starts with the use case!

So what’s this magical unicorn process that will synchronize industrial design and user experience into one homogenous development process?

Sadly, there isn’t one. But you wouldn’t really want that either, and here‘s why: we’ve experienced plenty of connected products that have a great feeling physical product but an underwhelming app experience. Or, a simply brilliant app, but the hardware falls apart on day two. That’s why it’s important to inculcate each respective processes’ core strengths to create a seamless product experience. The more the processes are allowed to influence each other, the more integrated and seamless the end product experience will be.

The best approach is when a user need drives both specs.

A good example comes from when I worked on solving for the user need in the scenario: “ I drove away from my garage and I can’t remember if I closed it.”

Example of a valuable use case driving product feature and creating unassailable value.

The use case drove both the hardware feature: to create an internet gateway device that connects to the router and communicates with the wifi receiver within the GDO, and the software feature: an iPhone app-device commonly available to users to operate and check status of their garage door for peace of mind. The value driving all of this was ‘peace of mind.’

If the user needs and values are clear, articulating hardware and software requirements become a much richer conversation.

In conclusion, if I were to summarize a healthy ID+UX product development cycle into a few principles it would be this:

  1. Use cases create a common ground between processes.
  2. Play each process to its strengths and don’t skip steps.
  3. The more both disciplines influence each other, the more integrated the product experience becomes.

Photo credits: Shutterstock, iMore.com, Wikipedia

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