Over the course of this three-part series on designing for real-time business, we’ve discussed a few initial business challenges and design strategies to help you get up and running with your transformation. As your business moves along the maturity curve and commits to new business models — and the connected products that support them — several new inherent challenges emerge. In this final post, we’ll discuss how brand identity, sociocultural context, real-world context and product failure must be addressed with thoughtful design practices.
Connected IoT products go beyond delivering continuous value through a physical product to include a wide range of other touchpoints. In some instances, the physical product may not have a user interface whatsoever and is entirely controlled through remote products or services. In others, the organization might leverage the power of data alone by allowing customers and partners to access it through an online portal, subscription service or other digital tool. As the number of touchpoints grows beyond just the physical product, the brand and overall experience become decentralized.
BeSafe, in partnership with Insight’s Connected Safety platform, offered Aldine Independent School District two-way communication, real-time alerts and monitoring of their 84 schools’ floorplans. The organization leveraged data from cameras, motion sensors and alarms (with minimal user interfaces) delivered to a central management app which could be accessed by staff, students and parents in the event of an emergency. The Connected Safety platform, ActiveShield, extended these capabilities by providing compatibility and integration with a multitude of public services, including police, fire and emergency medical personnel.
As ActiveShield spans multiple touchpoints, each source becomes less of a “device that does a thing” and more a part of a central ecosystem that adds value to the public safety, student life and first responders.
Viewed in this light, a hardware product can be thought of as a manifestation, or symbol, of an otherwise digital service. It becomes one touchpoint in a larger web of interconnected touchpoints, some of which are digital and some that exist only in the mind of the consumer. Users pull together their own interpretations of these different pieces to create a uniquely subjective experience.
In bringing IoT products to life, it’s your duty to not only design for form and functionality, but also to support a desired subjective experience of how your users will understand, perceive and actually use them.
This task is more likely to be achieved if your team has a shared understanding of the following:
In the midst of your transformation, you’ll likely find yourself creating a product that’s new to your company. Perhaps it’s a new physical product or, in the case of TD Ameritrade, a digital financial advisor. Regardless, it’s important that this new experience embodies your brand identity. But this requires a lot more than just throwing on a logo, changing a color scheme and calling it a day. Instead, you may be faced with more nuanced questions:
Users need to be able to place the product concept into the proper context within their world. This doesn’t serve to undercut disruptive new concepts but insists that both the product itself and the organization must tell a compelling story of how it fits into the fabric of the user’s world. Drawing design inspiration from familiar symbols and form factors, along with cultural movements and other mental cues, can help the intended users understand and adopt your product.
Consider Purell Smart Dispensers. Hand sanitization stations are common and have clear purpose in hospitals and other public spaces ― but a lack of routine use can lead to the spread of infection. Recognizing the need to help improve hygiene compliance, Gojo developed Smart Dispensers to track usage by doctors and nurses.
These dispensers send data to a centralized dashboard on the hospital floor. Any individual outside the company or organization can immediately recognize the functionality of the smart device — or in this case, dispenser ― alleviating a necessary learning curve from the patient, nurse or visiting doctor.
Although the design team certainly could have redefined how a soap dispenser looks, they drew on clear, pre-existing concepts so users could easily understand the intended purpose.
Your connected product offering will not exist in a void. Simply by spreading its functionality across servers, Wi-Fi connections, third-party APIs, sensors and power supplies, the risk of failure increases exponentially. Your design team must have a real respect for this heightened risk and pair it with a sharp understanding of real-world consequences.
Petnet, the maker of in-home connected pet food dispensers, serves as a cautionary tale. Back in 2016, it informed users through its app that it was “experiencing an issue with a third-party server,” advising that pets be fed “manually.” Since the company’s products were primarily targeted at those who were not in close proximity to their pets, this failure resulted in some very hungry animals — and some very angry customers.
Between potential connectivity issues and a margin of human error, there’s a multitude of scenarios to consider. Whether the product is intended for the warehouse or a baby room, a responsible design team must identify those scenarios and determine how the product can continue to operate with intermittent or local connectivity — and how to assist the user in such circumstances. The key is conducting thorough research and testing early prototypes in a real-world environment.