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Featured 18th February, 2016  

Role of Designers in the Connected world of Internet of Things ( IOT)

By Subhasish Karmarkar


Internet of things (IOT) is about new experience:

how they need to change & adopt to be relevant

As I mentioned in my previous post, IOT is about a new experience. An experience that doesn’t exist today. But an experience if designed well can change the way we live tomorrow. That’s why I believe designers are going to play a very critical role in shaping up the future of IOT.
However to seize this opportunity designers will also have to change, adapt and broaden their horizon about the way they think about design.
Gartner, Forbes, Mckinsey all are forecasting jaw-dropping “Trillion” dollar market for IOT.

2020 will witness an explosion of connected possibilities, with more than 50 billion devices connected to each other.
Let’s look at the current IOT landscape.
Chris McCann’s current IOT market ecosystem map gives you a fair idea about the current players. If you notice, most of these companies are selling a new kind of experience.


IOT Market Eco-system : Chris Mc Cann

By 2020 may more companies are going to join the ecosystem, to build many such new experiences.
So what does it take to be a designer in the world of IOT? In my opinion there are five key attributes that will define the design professionals of the future.

1: Deal with ambiguity, try multiple alternatives & fail fast

IOT space is very messy now. It will take a while for it to reach the state of maturity. Until that time, like any other movement, it will go through a period of mass experimentations with high failure rate.
As a designer, you need to learn and understand how to navigate this space of ambiguity, try multiple alternatives, iterate and fail fast

2.Technology awareness & collaboration

Being ignorant about technology is not going to cut it anymore. You need to know the possibilities and limitations of existing and emerging technologies. Without understanding what NFC, Beacon, Proximity sensors, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, LED displays can or can’t do for you, it’s impossible to design something meaningful. At the same time, designers will need to work more collaboratively with hardware & software engineers, anthropologists, data scientists, product managers, business analysts and many such diverse skills and functions. Together they will need to build a solution that solves human-centered problems

3: Days of Handoff are gone: Do stuff

If you are designing multi-device, multi-touch point experience it’s very critical building working prototypes. Your job can’t end with creating experience flows, wireframes, great looking visuals. You have to get your hands dirty, collaborate with right people to build stuff that’s working. You can’t get feedback on your design unless people use it in the real context

4: Holistic thinking beyond interfaces

IDEO is practicing this methodology successfully for 30 years. That is the reason their work expands beyond digital domain and spans across several critical issues that involves human beings. The recent blog post by Tim Brown (CEO @ IDEO) is a very enjoyable read and indicates the shift the company is making to solve significant systemic problems through design.

The convergence of the digital and the physical world will change the perception about the designer, expectation from them will also change accordingly.
The design for the connected world experience will be beyond screens and interfaces. It will be about holistic problem-solving
To build a successful IOT product designers have to be more human centered. Empathy for the users will be a critical skill to have.
The companies also need to let go of the mindset that creativity is only designers prerogative. They need to encourage cross-functional collaboration and creative ideation.
Few companies like Withings, Misfit, Athos, Nest, Lively have already figured out the recipe to build successful IOT product:

  1. Identify experience gap and define a use case
  2. Build cross functional teams
  3. Let design lead the product experience
  4. Create a product that customers love


5: Shift from single user single device to connected world experience:

For years, we designers (especially who are working in the Digital Media) have been used to designing for a single user using a single device. But that’s going to change.
It’s not that far where calories you burn during morning exercise, will automatically inform your kitchen about the breakfast menu, check for ingredients available in the fridge and place order for out of stock grocery items, at the same time will send alternate recipe suggestion to the kitchen with in-stock ingredients.
Now that’s quite complex experience to design. It’s not about one device or one context. Thinking through different scenarios across so many different touch points is going to be a daunting challenge for any designer
Designing has never been so challenging and exciting as it is now or going to be in near future

Parting thoughts and some unanswered questions:

Very soon everyday objects will start communicating and sharing information about us with each other. They will anticipate our behaviors and act accordingly. With the world getting smarter every day, we as designers have to think about the kind of life we want to live in the future and design an experience for that living.

The question is how will that world look like? Is it going to be like what Microsoft envisioned 2019 would be, in this video? This worldview assumes the experience of the future will be an incremental improvement over today’s mobile-centric experience.

Or is it going to be what David Rose of MIT Media Labs (watch the Ted Talk) proposes in his book “Enchanted Objects”?

He believes everyday objects will remain the way they are but become smarter to anticipate what we need, and hence add an element of magic in our life.

Although my preference is for the later, the world is divided. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.

Whatever happens, I am sure no one wants to live in a dystopian world, where technology holds us, hostage, as depicted in Charlie Brooker’s dark satirical TV series Black Mirror. It would be horrifying to live in a world, where our whole existence is limited to a set of well-defined emotionless gestures.

The onus is on us, the designers to define the experience of the future.

This blog was originally published at Medium on 16th Feb.


About Subhasish Karmarkar : Subhasish heads the Design Practice Products and Services at Imaginea Design Studio.

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