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The giant impact of UX on IoT: Introducing the user/stakeholder

IoT product developers, designers and engineers will tell you that adhering to highest standards in user experience design when implementing these technologies makes all the difference in creating products that will make the daily lives of businesspeople and consumers better. The prevalence of the topic is due in large part to the following trends:

  • Sensors are the key to connecting “dumb” (or heretofore unconnected things) to the internet. Sensor technology has become much cheaper recently — down more than 50% in the last 10 years.
  • IoT relies heavily on widely available bandwidth — which has come down in price by 40X in the past 10 years.
  • The price of microprocessors is down by 50X over the same 10 years.
  • There’s wireless infrastructure everywhere — even though it may not always seem that way…
  • Displays are smart and interactive.
  • Big data algorithms are maturing and data storage costs are decreasing.

It’s the perfect storm. And without best user experience design (UX) practices, businesses and consumers alike will drown in too much unwanted, incorrect or irrelevant information. In an IoT ecosystem each thing and each person are both talking and sending/receiving data — at times, all are doing both simultaneously. At the sensor level, things are talking to things: machines are talking to each other. Things are also talking to applications. And both things AND services applications are talking to PEOPLE, the third and most important end user of information delivered via IoT. The communications paradigm is shifting. Who is the user now? Every single person. And, one could reasonably argue, every single thing. All have a stake in the other users’ experiences, giving rise to a new term we can refer to as the user/stakeholder or U/S.

In this radically altered landscape, technology requires brand new ways of working. Fluid and secure flow of data between sensors, devices, applications and people is essential to success. A key aspect of this is unprecedented collaboration between software developers (at both the application and embedded levels) and UX designers; this is now the hallmark of a successful IoT deployment. Successful collaborations here will result in the simplest possible designs. Increased machine learning will produce surprise correlations from sensors. Customized dashboards, or dashboard apps that can be customized by the consumer, will be more important than ever. Data service exchanges and the experiences they provide to all U/Ses will rule the day.

Big issues to be addressed

Here are a few of the problems to be surmounted in the current world of IoT systems development:

  • Cybersecurity and privacy issues within both the IoT infrastructure and the connected “things” themselves is of premium importance — and in some cases may drive UX/UI. Efforts to harmonize competing standards may also dictate some aspects of the design.
  • The information delivered by IoT will be tailored to U/Ses with widely divergent needs and problems to be solved: Think about how extensively the sensor input needed by a smartphone differs from the complex information needed by a manufacturer of heavy equipment. Or a nurse responding to changing vital signs of a patient. Or a large government security team monitoring several airports at once. Great UX makes for smart, tailored solutions.
  • Speed to market. IoT has a lot of moving parts. Creating elegant solutions optimized for specific needs of each user/stakeholder is key to swift implementation.
  • Data inundation — networks, machinery and especially human users are at risk of overload.
  • Many organizations and networks are still siloed across disciplines, protocols and cultures. Designers must develop and socialize new collaboration languages and code to bridge communications blockades that limit pertinent, free-flowing information within the ecosystem.

Meeting the challenges, seeing the benefits

Successfully addressing all or even just some of the UX issues at hand has a big upside for the user/stakeholders and the companies whose IoT products feature this enhanced experience.

  • Reduced friction in useful data gathering for every U/S creates faster, more effective solutions that can be deployed more easily and provide increasingly targeted information of value to users.
  • The paramount priorities and preferences of the consumer can be honored through customization of data delivery and avoidance of data inundation.
  • Efficient systems and processes for delivering them provide for much greater economies of scale.
  • Resulting boon to IoT ecosystems encourages burgeoning number of opportunities for new businesses to evolve from old ones.

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