The variety of jobs that IoT devices support means there's a lot of creativity and innovation required from product designers. These devices and systems consist of various elements that span multiple groups of hardware, network types, collected data, software features and user experiences.
Traditionally, different teams handled each stage of the product design lifecycle. With more consolidated and collaborative teams, IoT product designers may wonder how they can create successful devices and systems that deliver the experience and feature sets that end users want.
With defined IoT design principles, product designers can make devices that align well with end-user expectations, protect data at all levels and are scalable to all deployment sizes.
IoT design principles
Product designers sometimes must simultaneously address industrial product requirements, IT components, business needs and UX design. Those who can best incorporate all those elements into their devices and systems are often more successful, especially if they can incorporate these eight design best practices.
1. Do the research
The first step in the design process is to research the device's purpose and its user base. To define its main features, designers should think like the device's eventual users to identify how the IoT product will solve pain points and help overcome obstacles.
One good rule designers should follow is to never assume they know what features end users need. They should research the target audience to see what products and experiences exist and how the IoT device can make users' lives easier.
Designers can speak to customer support teams to hear directly from end users, or they can discuss with the sales team to discover what prospective customers ask about before purchase. Industry conferences are also a place to discover what end users may look for in an IoT product. Session titles can show what potential customers are interested in, the latest features to introduce and technological advancements.
2. Align features with user value
IoT users aren't always aware of what value IoT devices can provide. Users may be reluctant to adopt a new IoT product because it addresses an unfamiliar problem or they're unclear how to address company adoption barriers, such as cost, usability or security concerns.
Any previous research can help designers discover which end-user problems are worth solving with an IoT device and what value it provides. If the product's feature set aligns with these problems or barriers, it will be easier to sell.
3. Look at the whole picture
Product designers often support an IoT portfolio that consists of multiple devices with different capabilities and touchpoints, so they must consider the entire system that supports devices. It's not enough to just design the physical devices. How users, systems and applications interact with the product should be properly defined for every IoT device.
During IoT device design, consider everything the product could connect to, control or communicate with in the network, and design accordingly. If designers understand the bigger picture, it helps create a device that is interoperable and can integrate into more use cases.
4. Consider the operating settings
A successful design depends on how well IoT product designers combine digital and physical components; one can affect the other. A device that can function on low power is different than one that must be weatherproof or another that accommodates multiple end users. Context for IoT devices means developing timely and purposeful features for the considered use case that can give the user value.
When developers deliver contextually appropriate IoT experiences with the right device feature sets, they give end users the knowledge of how IoT can solve their problems. Context creates long-term demand for IoT devices and products because people better understand IoT use cases and how IoT can work within multiple settings.
5. Incorporate security early
IoT devices can make personal and work lives a lot easier, but designers should not ignore security until the device is live. Designers should understand the possible error situations with the device, such as hardware, software and network issues, and then appropriately communicate the error to users and resolve the issue. The device should include both hardware and software measures to address top IoT security threats.
Data security and privacy should be key elements of any IoT device design, especially if the devices are in remote or insecure locations. End users must see and feel that their data is safe to comfortably purchase projects. The one way to build user trust is to incorporate privacy and security measures from the start.
6. Deploy effective data management
IoT devices generate massive amounts of data regularly, so IT product companies must deploy effective data management workflows early and often. Designers who understand how the device generates data are better positioned to develop the right systems and integrations to efficiently gather, store and transmit the data.
Anywhere designers can reduce data latency is ideal, such as reduced transmission loads or increased bandwidth for peak use times.
7. Include scalability
IoT devices are often used in multiples for enterprise deployments, which means there are thousands of devices to simultaneously gather, transmit and receive data. These device fleets must connect and integrate with each other easily and the larger corporate network.
To ensure scalability, product designers must incorporate the appropriate gateways and management software to handle fleet and data collection. Developers should include easy connection options and setup wizards for IoT devices and networks to make it easier for companies to scale IoT deployments.
8. Prepare for different use cases
IoT product designers should expect end users to implement IoT devices in unexpected or unintended ways, such as a repurposed doorbell camera device acting as an access control point or actuator control devices controlling industrial machinery instead of operating doors.
Use case-flexible IoT devices may have more adoption success as end users can expand the product's use and reach. Designers can track user-generated ideas and incorporate them into future device versions or retroactively support those new use cases.