How the Internet of Things Changes Traditional Design and User Experience

01/08/2016 11:01 am ET | Updated Apr 04, 2016
  • Phil Simon Speaker, Author, Advisor, President of Motion Publishing

Although the term user experience is hardly new, its rise over the last few years is nothing short of precipitous. Don't believe me, though. A quick look at Google Trends reveals that it has never been more popular:

Make no mistake: Design is no longer an afterthought at progressive organizations. Companies are hiring highly paid user-experience experts en masse--a trend that will only intensify as the Internet of Things (IoT) arrives.

The IoT: A Very Brief History and a Look at What's Ahead
The Internet has evolved considerably from its humble beginnings. At first, only proper computers connected to the network--and very slowly at that. Thanks to broadband, speed improved considerably (although more than two million people continue to use AOL for dial-up connectivity.) Around the turn of the century, tablets, smartphones, and other devices made inroads. Today, more and more devices are being connected not only to the Internet--but to each other.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the Internet exploded in large part due to Moore's Law, network effects, and Metcalfe's law. (Put briefly, the latter explains how the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. Large networks such as Facebook are exponentially more powerful and valuable than smaller networks such as Twitter.)

Why are these concepts important to understand? Because the same factors that drove the growth of the "old-fashioned" Internet will do the same with the IoT.

Hype aside, the IoT allows companies to fundamentally rethink traditional user-experience and design principles.

"Once the things in the IoT are connected and given a voice, they become more than just 'things.' They become part of a living experience shaped by interactions among people, places, and objects, among product, nature, and life," said Olivier Ribet, VP of High Tech for Dassault Systemes. "They become contributors to what beckons just beyond the IoT: the Internet of Experiences. Earning a piece of the Internet of Experiences requires a higher level of strategic thinking-or Experience Thinking-but the returns promise to be higher as well."

True User-Driven Design
Hype aside for a moment, the IoT allows--maybe even requires--companies to fundamentally rethink traditional user-experience and design principles. Consider automaker Tesla for a moment. By embracing software and a new, user-first mind-set, the company has redefined the process of adding features to physical products. That is, the company can quickly push new features to its cars in previously impossible ways even five years ago. Updates can now be done remotely via the web.

Tesla decided to add a "crawl" feature to its car that allows drivers to ease into slow cruise control in heavy traffic. To do this, it issued an over-the-air software release that added the feature at once to the entire fleet of existing Tesla cars.

Previous enhancements delivered via software update include automatic emergency braking, forward- and side-collision warnings and avoidance, traffic-based navigation, commute advice, range assurance to reduce the risk of being out of range of a charging device, and a remote-start capability via smartphone.

That's right: The days of certain types of proper car recalls may be coming to an end. But it doesn't stop there.

Beyond Smart Cars
Even tried-and-true home appliances are getting smarter. For instance, why should your scale only tell you how much you weigh when other variables such as Body Mass Index (BMI) and heart rate affect your health? That's the premise behind the Withings Smart Body Analyzer. Why go to a doctor or clinic and wait for an hour or more when you can just go to your bathroom? Which is the superior user experience?

And scores of more "dumb" appliances will get smarter in the years ahead. To this end, Google spent an eye-dropping $3.2 billion for home-automation company Nest in January of 2014. Some rolled their eyes at the move, but others saw a certain logic in Google's expensive acquisition. If the company is in the information-gathering business, then wouldn't sending and receiving home-based alerts make sense? The new line of Nest thermostats can send alerts or shut off hone heating systems if it detects smoke or carbon monoxide. You won't have to come home to find firemen.

But why is Nest is popular with customers? Perhaps is the feeling that customers experience while bringing their homes to life. Through the IoT, Nest has transformed the traditional thermostat into a device that allows users to enjoy a delightful experience in their homes. At the same time, it works quietly in the background. Your watch or smartphone will prevent things from breaking bad. And who wouldn't benefit from the lower heating bills made possible by smart thermostats.

"Done well, the Internet of Experiences should make once-complex offerings and activities technologically simple, easy, and convenient," said Ribet. "Behind the scenes, however, blending products, services, software, content, technology, and data into a single experience remains a complex undertaking. This is even more true within the multidirectional, hyperconnected world of IoT."

As Ribet's explains, creating these unique, simple, and convenient experiences isn't easy. A great deal of back-end work has been done make IoT devices work--and work well. Expect that to continue.

Simon Says
As I look towards the future, it's obvious that the true power of the IoT does not lie in standalone devices and tchotchkes. As Nest, Tesla, and Withings demonstrate, devices beyond computers can seamlessly communicate with one other via the Internet.

Beyond that, the days of minimizing or ignoring what customers and users want have long come to an end. The IoT only intensifies that arrives. Design can be a source of tremendous competitive advantage. Ask anyone who bought Apple stock in the last five years.

What say you?