We supported the World Usability Day 2015 with a speech on Designing Products & Services for the Internet of Things (IoT).

Talking about usability we cannot avoid discussing User Experience (UX). One of the main requirements to get an outstanding UX is to fulfil the needs of the customer, without giving fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce pleasant products to use.

Especially for IoT products and services, User Experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features. There must be a seamless merge of services by multiple disciplines, including engineering, graphical and industrial design, marketing, interaction and interface design.

First of all it’s important to distinguish the total User Experience from the User Interface (UI), even though the UI, in its various forms, it’s obviously an extremely important part of the design.

As an example, consider an app to look for restaurants. Even if the UI for finding restaurants is well made, there are many other aspects to keep in consideration in the definition of UX. In a case like this, for example, mobility and contextual information are essential, so even an often overlooked thing like connectivity, if slow or intermittent, will make for a poor UX independently from the User Interface.

We should also distinguish UX and usability: according to the definition of usability, it is a quality attribute of the UI, covering whether the system is easy to learn, efficient to use, pleasant, and so forth. Again, this is very important, and again total UX is an even broader concept.

According to the definition of IoT, products and services need larger and distributed ecosystems because increasingly we have to deal with customer journeys where the physical and digital worlds work perfectly together in a seamless fashion.

The success factor is always the satisfaction or better the clear understanding of values aimed at the user. That’s why the design process has to be human-centric in the design process.

IoT is revolutionary for all the contexts, from industrial to consumer domains. Consumers will get new added values from home, public mobility, city, museums & exhibitions, healthcare, consumer goods, cars, etc.

The main goal is to hide technology and tear down every barrier of use in order to get closer to the users as much as it can, adapting to their behaviours, satisfying needs, sustaining their emotions and cognitive processes.

Since its beginning UX has mostly focused on digital products and services, but as we have seen the contexts and processes of use of IoT devices are much more complex than digital products and services. UX needs then to be readdressed, to adapt and answer properly to these new needs.

In the pursue of this change, we have found 7 main guidelines to guide IoT UX design:

1. IoT deals with devices that are distributed in the real world.
Computing power and networking is embedded in objects and environments around us. Now computers are used in a wide variety of situations. We believe in a thorough understanding of the user’s specific needs.

2. UX involves digital and physical domains.
The presence of multiple devices create more complexity for the user’s understanding. IoT products & services need clearness & simplicity.

3. Interactions can happen in a wide variety of contexts.
We deal with a wider variety of device types especially for mobile devices, with or without screens. The connection capabilities of devices dramatically affect the UX.

4. Functionality can be distributed across multiple devices with different capabilities.
Some devices may have no input or output capabilities and are unable to tell us directly what they are doing. Interactions may be handled by web or smartphone apps.

5. IoT is all about data. Data is at the core of smart services.
Big data can be user centric, resulting in an improvement of UX. Networked and embedded devices allow us to capture data from the world and use it to deliver better services to users.

6. Compared to a conventional digital service, there are more places where code can run.
A typical IoT service is composed of one or more embedded devices, a cloud service, perhaps a gateway device, one or more control apps running on a different device, such as a mobile, tablet or desktop.

7. IoT is largely asynchronous – maintaining connections uses a lot of power.
IoT design has to deal with discontinuities in the UX, as a result parts of the ecosystem can be out of sync.

IoT is a whole new field, which takes the knowledge we have on UX design and expands it in a number of infinite ways. It’s for sure a field in continuous evolution, as it is the human being. As such, User Experience will always have to evolve and improve.

More on the WUD 2015 event.

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