5 Keys to Designing User Experience for IoT Products

What is the key to a consistent user experience across multiple IoT products?

Katherine Lazarevich

Designing a great user experience for IoT products is easier said than done. Building intuitive user experience for one new app alone is a challenge, whereas IoT systems often consist of a couple of devices, a number of applications and interfaces with diverse functionality, input-output data streams and user rights distribution. Designing user experience for something so complex is an entirely other level of difficulty. Here’s why:

  1. Given that we are dealing with multiple interactions between various devices, each having its own functionality and user flows, we have to build the kind of experience that enables a smooth, consistent feel for users jumping from one part of the system to the next.
  2. Mostly, IoT systems are based on connected things – smart home appliances, industrial machinery, vehicles and even buildings. Hence, the user experience for such IoT products is tightly connected to the specifics of their physical design and real life application.
  3. Generally, IoT products are more complex than a single application or a device. Therefore, it’s not enough just to build a set of intuitive cross-device user flows. It’s important to create the experience that guides people how to use and seamlessly integrate IoT products into their operations and everyday life.

5 Keys in Creating Efficient User Experience for IoT Products

1. Simplified Onboarding

The first step of introducing a new system to users can also be the hardest. In the case of multi-device interaction, it often implies repeated authentications, gateway processes that differs from device to device, and switching to additional services like Gmail for verification.

Simplified onboarding – secure, but effortless authentication with code verification instead of passwords – is a promising beginning. Considering the use of IoT systems often implies switching devices, say between iPhone, Apple Watch or embedded software, easy, but safe and smart, authentication is a real catch.

Let’s take Nest for home automation as an example. This family of products includes many types of connected goods, from smart security cameras to doorbells.

However, all Nest products, and dozens of compatible partner products, are operated in a single app responsive on a smartphone, web or smart watch. Once the code-based authentication on mobile is done, the user is in control of all the connected devices.

2. Smooth Cross-device Design and Interaction

The key to a consistent user experience across multiple IoT products is in the cloud. Cloud-based apps and connected devices allow you to keep all the parts of the system constantly up-to-date. As a result, it provides users with seamless transitions between system elements with minimum effort, adaptation and wasted time.

At the same time, responsive design in IoT goes beyond consistent experience on web or mobile. It covers all the devices, platforms and software involved. Therefore, it requires a tight connection between physical design and the functionality of each device as well as interaction design within the whole IoT system. Moreover, it needs a familiar and clear interface.

Let’s get back to Nest’s interface across the mobile app, Apple Watch and Nest Learning Thermostat. Created to keep a user updated and in control of the household’s temperature, these Nest products stick to certain design patterns, distribute functionality according to the device’s specifics and build user interface relevant to every element of the system.

Design-wise, it turns out that you use a sensitive wheel on top of the thermostat, slide along the screen on your iPhone and tap arrows on your Apple Watch to increase the temperature.

When it comes to interactions, Nest collects real-time data from various devices, stores it in the cloud and allows users to easily access well-vetted, up-to-date information in the app. For example, Nest users get cloud-stored shots and data on sound- and motion-related activity from security cameras from the last 3 hours or watching. That’s not a small storage capacity given for free.

Image Credit: Apple

3. Personalization and Context

Personalization is not a new trend, rather a necessity for modern technology products. More and more digital tools can learn from user behavior and recognize patterns to provide a more refined experience. Obviously, the fuel of this revolution is user data.

IoT, in turn, excels with data. Today, connected socks stuffed with sensors collect data from runners’ routes, sole movement and report on workout efficiency. Smart cars recognize the patterns in our everyday driving and remember the best routes. The above mentioned thermostats learn the temperature we consider comfy and warm up the house by the time we open the front door.

User experience across IoT systems should be personalized the same way connected devices personalize their performance. In other words, using the data collected along the cross-device use, certain elements should recognize patterns and adjust product behavior accordingly.

This is what Amazon’s Alexa does, for example. The digital assistant relies on voice recognition and self-learning to identify different users, adjust its functionality, tune the dialogues based on user data and enable individual permissions to certain skills.

Context, in this regard, plays an important role and should expand user experience even beyond personalization. Context-based user experience makes sure the right device responds in exactly the right context – Apple Watch when you’re on the go, digital assistant when you’re in the car, web interface on your laptop at work, and Alexa in the comfort of your home.

4. One Space Experience

One of the most problematic tasks in UX design for IoT is minimizing the gaps between the physical world of connected devices and creating a smooth experience across all system elements. Multiple integrations with third-party services and vendors, typical for IoT, add on to this pain.

In this context, the designers and engineers of connected products should do their best to create a unified environment for the IoT system. In other words, the challenge of a seamless experience is to integrate diverse independent components into a one-stop solution while saving its functionality and reliability.

The same is relevant to the variety of data types that serve IoT products. Depending on the permission level, end users should have access to the data coming from devices, sensors and integrated platforms and quality experience with data visualization and analytics on different access points – smartphone, displays, AR/VR glasses, web interface.

Solos smart glasses for cycling and its backup app make a good example. The wearable collects real-time data and shows essentials –  power, heart rate, speed, cadence, distance, navigation – to the cycler in a tiny display right on the glass surface. At the same time, analytics, the history of measurements, activity logs and other more complex data are stored and shown in the related app.

5. New Interfaces

Virtual assistants are getting hotter and hotter. This trend is growing as more novel interfaces emerge. In the context of IoT, this trend creates new opportunities for a better user experience, and new challenges.

Today, the designers of consumer-oriented IoT products already focus on voice and audio, with more and more digital assistants seen in the home. HomeKit gets along with Sir and home automation systems come with the skills for digital assistants as a part of control interface, even smart Tesla Model 3 understands Alexa.

However, voice is not the only new interface. The future of smooth user experience becomes more contextual and natural. For example, smart car co-pilot Chris already uses gesture interface to ensure safe driving. Biometrics-activated features enable faster, more secure authentication. This is particularly important for the systems in the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), IIoT and other fields where restricted access is common.

As you can see, designing for IoT is a challenging path. It’s also a curious path with more high-end perks and innovative technology emerging every day. However, the main goal of designing user experience in IoT is the same as for any other digital product – creating a homogenous environment for natural, seamless interactions between a user and a system.

Katherine Lazarevich
Katherine Lazarevich
Katherine is a co-founder and managing partner of Digiteum, digital technology agency. Passionate about innovation and high-end technology, Kate shares her opinion, knowledge and experience on an array of topics, including the Internet of Things, ...
Katherine is a co-founder and managing partner of Digiteum, digital technology agency. Passionate about innovation and high-end technology, Kate shares her opinion, knowledge and experience on an array of topics, including the Internet of Things, ...