IoT meets UX

The idea of a fully functioning Internet of Things (IoT) has manufacturers slapping tech on toasters, prescription bottles, soccer balls, and even dental floss dispensers, but how many people really need daily reminders to floss? (Dentists around the world may beg to differ).

Currently, the devices that use the IoT are merely unitaskers, performing one task, sometimes at a higher difficulty and cost (I’m looking at you dental floss dispenser). The challenge of the IoT is this — how do we embrace the technology while remaining useful in the everyday life of the consumer? So far, IoT has only provided us with limited, sporadic niche systems that are far more likely to end up being poked fun at in tech blogs than in the homes of consumers.

“We all have that photo where we made unfortunate hair decisions or wardrobe decisions, and now you’re seeing IoT go through that now,” Brian David Johnson, a former futurist at Intel and current futurist in residence at Arizona State University’s Center for Science said in an interview with AdWeek.

Starting in 2020, 50 billion connected devices will generate $9 trillion in sales and will create 600 zettabytes of data yearly. The tech industry is experiencing a bit of a gap between what we can do with this, and what is possible. Surely manufacturers should be creating products more innovative, and of wider use than just smart soccer balls?

Here’s where all this technology that is online needs to get a reality check. What the IoT is currently failing to recognize is the ever-growing importance of social design. Manufacturers are using tech for the basic sake to be using tech, they’re failing to recognize the actual user experience with that product in the first place.

Using tech for the sake of using tech is a surefire way to continue the status quo of creating sporadic, niche systems. As an industry we need to transcend this and create devices that take in consideration a consumer’s habits. We, as an industry, need to embrace design, sociology, and most importantly — people.

Consumer, enterprise, and industrial companies looking to revolutionize the IoT need to take a page from user experience design and research. User experience (UX) looks at how users interact with a device, service or product in terms of ease of use, aesthetic appeal, tech support, and more.

Pulling a few cards from Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb — usability, usefulness, desirability, and credibility, we can dive in deeper to the IoT’s issue at hand, devices simply aren’t realistic for everyday life.

In order to create the future, and actually put those 600 zettabytes of data to our best use, we need to create devices that are usable, useful, desirable, and credible.

Devices must be easy to use, if it takes an additional 14 steps to complete a simple task, we’ve lost all point and relevancy in adding the IoT to it. We must keep devices user-friendly in order to maintain relevancy and to increase their actual value.

Secondly, devices must be useful, something we need our daily lives and that provides us more benefit than without the IoT. If the product serves no purpose, it has no value and desirability.

Now, if we’ve deemed ourselves useful, and usable, we need to look at the actual desirability of the product. I’m not sure about you, but I have a really hard time justifying spending $29.99 on an automated floss dispenser when150 dental flossers can be bought, and shipped overnight to my house for $7.25 (thanks, Amazon).

Finally, we must look at the credibility of the product. Does it live up to the claims it makes? In the case of our soccerball, does it live up to the claim of improving your power, strike, and trajectory? And how does it compare to paying a soccer coach the same $200 you spent on the ball?

Now, before we mindlessly slap on technology connecting more devices to the IoT, we should take a second to pull from the world of UX. The potential of this technology, and the sheer amount of data that can be contrived from this is innumerable.

It is up to us as creators to invent technology for the future that not only revolutionizes the way we live, work and interact with our fellow man, but also keeps in mind the most important element — people.