Five Tips on UX/UI Design for the IoT

By Mitch Maiman April 30, 2015

We’re living in a connected world. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT)—devices that are part of our everyday lives that have the ability to connect online to send data, aggregate it with other content, and deliver information— “user experience” is key to identifying and providing value to businesses and consumers.

The prevalence and pervasiveness of IoT technology threatens to drown users in a sea of TMI—too much information. Or even worse, to be overwhelmed with incorrect and misleading information. Given this “perfect storm” of mass quantities of IoT enabled devices, a clear understanding and consideration of UX/UI (User Experience/User Interaction) during the creation of IoT strategies can make a huge difference in the usefulness, usability and staying power of IoT devices and the value-added services they provide.

Here are five ways that UX/UI design can improve the effectiveness of the Internet of Things.

1. A seamless communications flow is key.

In the IoT workflow, every ”thing” and every person is talking. With the aide of sensors and varied communication protocols, things are talking to things. Smart, connected devices are talking to online services, where data can be combined from multiple sources in pursuit of high value information. And both things and services are talking to people, the most important user of information delivered via IoT.

Large-scale use of IoT will rely heavily on brand-new ways of securely communicating. Fluid, secure flow of data between sensors and communication-enabled devices, applications, and people is essential to success. Yet such ubiquitous communication of data opens new channels for data corruption, theft and security breaches. With multiple modes and types of data communication combined with data from multiple sources, it is a UX/UI challenge to shield the end users from the complexity of deploying IoT devices onto diverse networks without compromising security.

2. Simplicity is essential.

With IoT-delivered data crowding the web, finding and delivering useful information of all this content in the simplest way will be crucial. In the end, it is about delivering useful, context- sensitive and timely information that is most important. A consumer or commercial user needs a reason to see clear benefits to how IoT enablement is going to provide incremental benefit. Finding clever ways of combining data from multiple sources into useful new information delivered in a simple, easy to absorb form is a key challenge for UX/UI designers. Strong UX designers have unique abilities to find new value propositions by combining multiple data streams into new, useful information while remaining sensitive to the optimized manner of distributing such information.

The challenge of simplicity extends to the lowest level of IoT appliance development. While today’s market is more tech savvy than ever, there are inherent complexities in provisioning devices onto diverse communication networks. It takes UX/UI designers talent combined with engineering team know-how to create interfaces which are simple and intuitive.

3. Security and privacy are table stakes for the survival of the IoT.

Cybersecurity and privacy issues within both the IoT infrastructure and connected “things” are of premium importance—and in some cases may drive UX/UI. With all this data floating around in cyberspace, there are valid user concerns with how the data and communication channels are protected. The challenge is for designers to provide high levels of security while not making security a burdensome process in the applications and device setup.

4. IoT data must be tailored to users unique needs.

The information delivered by IoT will be tailored to end users needs, and there are widely divergent problems to be solved. Great UX/UI designers can make all the difference in discovering the value information “gems” that can be mined from multi-source data. Elegantly- designed solutions for specific needs is the key for providing information which users see as “value added” compared to non-connected devices. Designers need to create true reasons for why an IoT enabled device is of incremental  value.

5. Effective UX/UI design for IoT technology is driving business model and product innovation.

When UX/UI and IoT technology are in sync, they also have the power to drive myriad opportunities for new business models.

For example, IPS worked with AdhereTech to help design smart pill bottles, already being used by specialty pharmacies and hospitals. The bottles have been designed for efficiency, featuring audible and visual alerts to remind patients to take their medications, as well as notifications to patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals when this does not occur.

In addition to addressing the serious health and economic problems caused by non-adherence to medications, the company has created a whole new business model around collected data regarding medication adherence. The confidential, anonymized data can be analyzed by healthcare companies, such as pharmacies, drug companies, large hospital groups, etc. The resulting analyses from thousands of connected pill bottles can also contribute to a decrease in medication non-adherence, currently a very costly healthcare issue.

As you can see, elegantly conceived UX/UI design is critical to the success of Internet of Things technology, to facilitate ease of use, analysis and review, and allow both machines and humans to “see” and use data in purposeful ways.

The best UX/UI designers are designing the entire IoT experience for fluidity, clarity, and meaning. Otherwise, IoT runs the risk of being just a deluge of TMUI—too much useless information.

Mitch Maiman is the President and Co-Founder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), building on a vision of delivering a new model for software and hardware product development that integrates the full spectrum of design and engineering disciplines to be a single-source solution.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

President and Co-founder Intelligent Product Solutions

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