It’s old news by now: the Internet of Things is the future. Thermostats, cars, watches, and even our suitcases: they are all smart and connected. And people are loving it. So making a smart and connected product is likely to be at the top of your to-do list. But if you want your IoT product to be a commercial success, there’s an array of things you need to consider before you start building.
We would like to share some worthwhile insights we’ve had while designing IoT products ourselves.
1. Always start from the user. Never from the technology.
It might seem self-evident, but it’s often forgotten. You don’t start from the available technology and wonder what you can do with it. You look inside the user’s head and design from there. Do research and find out what your target audience wants, before they even know they want it. That’s how you add actual value to their lives. That’s how you make your product impossible to ignore.
2. Choose an interface that works
Designing a connected product means dealing with a lot of data and a lot of context. A truckload of information that you need to make easily digestible. How do you make that work for the user? Which information do you show, when and how?
Do some tests. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Here are a few worthy options:
The talking or conversational interface
We used this interface for Samsonite Track&Go, which tracks your bag while travelling. It allowed us to leave out abstract buttons (e.g. Turn off) and ask the user concrete questions instead (e.g. You’ve arrived at your destination. Do you want to turn off the tracker?).
- It feels natural. The user immediately knows what he needs to do.
- It can be integrated with e.g. WhatsApp or Messenger.
- Authentication can happen through WhatsApp or Messenger, so the user doesn’t have to login.
The context-sensitive interface
We used this interface for the Brussels Airport app. Users see the right parking when they arrive or waiting times at security when they leave check-in, for example.
- You take contextual data (e.g. location, time, weather) and infer user needs.
- You present only the most relevant options.
- The product becomes simpler by taking away superfluous options.
- You might not even need a navigation anymore, like in the Coca Cola visitor centre.
This is the holy grail of interface design. A well-known case is Amazon Go: you walk into the store, take what you need and just walk out. Payment happens automatically.
- The user doesn’t have to make any decisions or give any input.
- You need to be able to anticipate the user’s needs flawlessly.
- There’s a high cost when you’re wrong.
Combining these interfaces will pay off. You could automate part of the process and leave the interface out for that, give contextual options in the next step and ask conversational questions at the end.
3. Make it modular
Your IoT product is not just connected to the cloud. It can also be connected to everything else in that cloud. This opens up possibilities, in which your API will play a crucial part. It needs to allow you to integrate your product with existing platforms out there.
Later on, your API has to be able to evolve as well. How do you make that possible? By using microservices: building a modular app out of isolated parts.
Being able to work on isolated parts instead of the entire API, makes it easier to…
- maintain and update your API.
- reuse parts of your app.
- react quickly to new devices you want to connect to.
- allow other developers to integrate your app with their platform. Free extra value!
- get realtime insights. You will be able to react almost immediately to a user’s location, for instance.
4. Design for failure
IoT involves a lot of things. So a lot of things can go wrong. For instance, if your smart thermostat is not connected to your WIFI, your heating still has to work. So always make sure you have a back-up plan or alternative option for your user.
Possible situations to consider:
- The link with another device, such as a beacon, fails.
- There is no internet connection.
- You’re working with a battery and power consumption should be limited.
5. Plan security before you start building
Security is not something you can add at the end. You need to plan it right away, so you don’t accidentally create vulnerabilities or bugs that are hard to fix later on.
Also, trust no one. Make sure you don’t give out unnecessary user information to the devices and platforms you’re connecting to.
6. Don’t underestimate user needs beyond the IoT product itself
An IoT product or service creates an ongoing relationship with your customer. They will expect you to
- keep the service running
- make the product smarter and keep improving it
- provide the necessary support and customer care
This might even imply reorganizing a part of your company and creating new job descriptions.
So, how are you getting started with IoT?
Building an application is one thing. Carefully planning ahead and designing for what happens after that, is another. And it’s essential if you want to make your customers happy and your business grow.
Ready to create some amazing stuff? Let’s get in touch!