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Why IoT product design is not just the product team's job

Who cares about UX design in the internet of things? In all likelihood, it’s your product lead. In reality, UX development for connected products and services must be a cross-functional effort spanning everyone from strategy to sales to support and beyond…

Design is no longer a job left to creatives or engineers. As the digital age transforms analog products to connected devices, product companies in every industry are racing to outfit their products with sensors, mobile apps and a host of emerging software capabilities. But to effectively design any connected product or experience is to design the coordination of a whole system — not just a product. This requires product leaders and executives rethink product programs.

Research finds that although product teams typically lead the user experience design process, effective connected product and service design now requires deep collaboration across several disciplines. Product executives, leaders and chief design officers must orchestrate product programs that reach far beyond products themselves. The need for collaboration is rooted in three realities any business pursuing IoT initiatives must consider.

As business models shift from product to ecosystem, UX in IoT must become synonymous with strategy

Building effective IoT products is about designing products as interfaces that can be built upon by the ecosystem. It is about developing hubs of appreciating value through which both users and other companies in can achieve greater services, insights, efficiencies and security over time through integrations, open development and software updates. This requires companies shift mindsets and business models away from analog, product-centric business models to data-driven service-centric business models.

Such business models require UX design be foundational to strategy development for a number of reasons. First, design is no longer purely aesthetic or fixed. Instead, user experience design should evolve as user objectives are identified and refined. Through software updates and integrations, connected products can appreciate over time, into new use cases, potential user segments or business partnerships. Second, user experiences in the digital age must span multiple devices; to remain competitive, businesses must (re-)envision the role of user interface as inextricably linked to any and all interactions a brand and user will ever have, not just “right now” interactions. Third, to design an effective IoT product is to build an ecosystem, to enable other products to use your product interface to provide greater value than they are able to deliver alone.

Learn about how Adheretech, a connected pill bottle, combines design with strategy by crafting interface and workflows based on each user type: patient, doctor and pharmacist. The common theme here is that both digital strategies and UX have a shared objective: to design an ecosystem of integrated context. This requires product leaders and executives rethink the very composition of product development and collaboration.

IoT product design requires multiple business units come together

Smart connected business opportunities cannot and will not come to fruition in silos or even single organizations. Alignment across functions becomes critical when the product itself becomes less of an endpoint and more of a vehicle through which services are offered. As such, it involves:

  • Strategy: Aligns objectives, proposition, audience, functionality, partner strategy
  • IT and security: Coordinates and safeguards hardware, software, systems and security across all components, data and technology landscape
  • R&D: Leverages product data for product optimization, also identifies opportunities for service innovation bridges current designs with new capabilities
  • Marketing: Contextualizes and communicates value proposition unique to function, persona, platform, phase in customer journey, etc.
  • Support: Ensures continuity of service, repairs, communications, satisfaction, training across internal and external support structures
  • Sales: Identifies pain points product/service [data] actually solves and facilitates automation of appropriate replenishment
  • Partnerships: Offer external context, relationships, support for user-centric improvement

Given the role of data in connected product business models, product leaders must ensure structures are in place to leverage other functions’ inputs, integrations and actions. If a product goes down or malfunctions, such an event might require support, IT intervention, partnerships responsible for maintenance and potentially security. Collaboration across these groups is critical to:

  • Deliver continuity of user experience across channels
  • React with speed, personalization and safety when issues arise
  • Offer “preemptive” services like upgrades, replenishment, proactive repairs
  • Ensure products do and say what the user wants them to do
  • Support ongoing product optimization
  • Identify areas of inefficiency, risk or new opportunity

Such coordination doesn’t just benefit user experience. Insights gathered and knowledge shared across teams can be vital for identifying blind spots, risks, inefficiencies and opportunities to improve operations, supply chain, training, security, etc. Again, design informs strategy.

Design disciplines themselves must come together

It’s not just an array of different lines of business that must come together, coordination within and across various design disciplines is the only way to account for the diversity in skillsets needed. After all, different design disciplines contribute different design skillsets to product development.

  • Graphic/visual/UI designers: Develop screen, look and feel of graphical user interfaces
  • Interaction designers: Develop architecture and behaviors for devices and associated services
  • Product and industrial designers: Develop physical form factor, capabilities, hardware, use
  • Services designers: Coordinate integration of touchpoints and services across customer lifecycle
  • Systems designers: Define and develop interusability across multiple devices, services, networks, etc.

The components of product design in an IoT context — hardware, firmware, software, security, systems, services, graphics, content, etc. — transcend traditional disciplines such as industrial design or human-machine interaction. Designers of graphical interfaces typically have different training and priorities than those responsible for systems interoperability and architectural ontologies. Service designers are accountable for perspectives and business requirements broader than the product itself, yet essential for products to effectively function within systems.

Our research also finds connected product design requires collaboration across multiple diverse disciplines in areas like copywriting, APIs, connectivity protocol selection, power/energy source, ergonomy and particularly when introducing anthropomorphic features.

As products themselves become increasingly differentiated not by hardware and aesthetics, but by software and ongoing invisible services, integrations and updates, products and user experience design require a fundamentally new approach.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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