Design for IoT

Oct 31, 2016
Things can originate from a single product line but serve a variety of purposes. For example, a user may buy two identical light bulbs, one for bedroom and one for bathroom. Each is used at different times and may be set up with different colours. Things can come from different product lines but serve the same purpose. For instance, a user may buy a tablet device and a TV, which they will use to watch different parts of the same video content. Our client usually come in with various ideas and business strategies, but usually contain two central goals along these lines:
  1.    They need a comprehensible interface to setup, monitor and operate their various Things.
  2.    They want to organize Things and connect them to perform a single task following specific sequences.

Over my many years of design and development, I find that the best Things to connect to user's daily life are very modular and highly interoperable.

A modular product means that it has a clear position in users’ daily life. It integrates well with other products and services. It is easier to understand, more straightforward to develop and easier on everyone budget. I often advise our clients to keep their product simple and focus on its main function.

Functionality. A product should do one thing and do it well. For an example, a fridge should focus on keeping your food fresh for as long as possible. It should not try to blend smoothie and keep track of your diet while failing to store your food.

Simplicity. A product should be as simple as possible but not any more. For an instance, a switch needs at least 2 states. If it has only one state, it’s no longer a switch, it’s a button.

Dieter Ram

Designing highly interoperable things comes with its own set considerations.

Security is crucial. IoT provides us with interesting problem about ownership and accessibility of its Things. Who should be able to view and interact with a device under which circumstances, how does sharing work, what type of access control to implement is a question that needs to be answered in inception phase of the product.

Availability is required. The transition from IPv4 to IPv6 provides us with plenty more addresses to identify Things. Once connected and identified, Things now become servers. Because they are servers, user expect their Things to be accessible and responsive on demand. We have to consider multiple use cases around turning on and off the device’s power supply, saving and restoring the system state and user data if an operation does become broken.

Synchronization is necessary. The beauty of Connected Things is that they work in tandem. In order to do this, they must be able to communicate their status correctly across various interfaces. Their status across devices, on a laptop, phone or tablet should be identical. It sounds obvious to the end-user, but it takes a lot of development time to solve the conflicting states across the various components of a platform.

Continuous delivery is the business. Time changes everything and nothing is perfect (that includes your product!). It will not please everyone and will need to be updated to stay healthy and relevant. Building a pipeline that allows your product to be changed and updated can drastically reduce the cost for each update.

merry go around The development cycle can be very enjoyable. In order to create effective Continuous Delivery pipeline, a platform to support the conversation between the end user and the business should be maintain. This would reduce friction for each design  and business decision when the product is already in production. The support platform would transform your organization from a product team to a service team. After all building a service is so much more powerful than building a product. Many will ask how this all relates to existing products or new ideas and that’s not easy to answer. That’s why there will be post next month… stay tuned!
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