Many UX designers spend their time working on the UI. They’re building a mobile app or a website, and they rightfully focus on the layout and user flows in the app, ensuring that people can navigate and complete tasks within the UI. However design is a holistic practice, and IoT UX design considerations are no exception.
UX for IoT-designed products presents interesting challenges, in large part because a great user experience extends to what’s beyond the UI. When a product must be installed and onboarded physically, interacted with physically, and perhaps even maintained physically — while also being interacted with through an app or dashboard — the word “experience” takes on a much broader meaning.
To demonstrate, say your customer uses your product which is controlled through an app. If there’s lag, the user doesn’t care if that’s because of a chip malfunction or a weak WiFi signal. The experience of the end user is what counts, and the end user isn’t going to ask themselves why a product is acting buggy. They’ll simply conclude that the product doesn’t work.
It is with this intention that IoT UX designers must ensure that the product works flawlessly from end to end. In other words, the designer’s lens must expand beyond the UI.
Three Foundational Tools for IoT Design
To excel in crafting exceptional user experiences beyond the UI, designers need to adopt a more expansive approach. There are three major areas in which their methodology expands and transforms:
- Customer Journeys: To incorporate hardware interactions and implications, it is essential to map customer journeys across the entire product journey.
- IoT Value Feedback Loop: Multi-disciplinary functionality (functionality that requires hardware, software, design, and data science to work together) needs to be assessed and mapped holistically. At Very, we like to use the Value Loop as a foundation for workshopping these complex features. It also ensures no gaps exist.
- Scenario-Driven User Testing: User testing must include scenarios and tasks that span both hardware and software features.
The above tools are not all-encompassing for IoT design, but they’ll provide the foundation a UX designer and product manager need to assess the full scope of the product experience throughout the product development journey.
Using this foundation, you can surface gaps, risks, and issues early and often during the product development process. This prevents waiting until product launch day to hear about them from your customers.
In this article, we examine the first item in the toolkit — customer journeys.
Mapping Customer Journeys Across the IoT Product Experience
The customer journey is a great place to start. It reminds everyone on the team that the product is only successful if the customer can navigate successfully through all the steps of the journey. Often, we forget that if a customer can’t find the right QR code or can’t clearly understand the installation instructions, they may never even get to experience the full feature set.
Below is the customer journey map for an IoT product, along with critical questions a designer should be asking themselves and the team at each step.
Every Step of the Journey Matters
Evidently, there are quite a few steps in the journey that are outside of the UI. Similarly, few integrate directly with the physical hardware experience.
In our work, visualizing the experience in this way helps the team understand “the big picture” throughout the product development process. This big-picture approach prevents a myopic focus on particular features. Such focus can lead to big misses, such as not ensuring users can connect and onboard successfully.
The User Experience Journey
Here are some examples of how a lack of attention at each step can directly impact the user experience:
- Initial Purchase and Advertising: What the marketing team sells as a top feature actually ranks 10th in the app by the development team and consequently others might even de-scope it.
- Unboxing: Packaging is cheap. The user disregards instructions because they are dense and unintelligible, leaving them unsure of where to start. The absence of clear instructions on removing the protective plastic from a hardware component leads to confusion at best and incorrect product installation at worst.
- Installation: Cords are missing. Screws come separately. Or maybe it requires heavy DIY or a handyman to install. The installation process did not set expectations, resulting in the user’s disappointment as they could not install immediately.
- Connecting: Connecting a device typically involves turning it “on” and scanning a QR code or serial number. If the QR code is located in an “impossible-to-reach” location on the device, it negatively impacts the UX.
- Onboard and Initial Setup: Onboarding was too complex and the wi-fi/cell signal in the room was so weak that the user couldn’t complete the process. The result? The rest of the app is unusable because it can’t receive data from the devices.
- App Feature/Usage: This is where most customers eventually spend their time. If the hardware, firmware, data, software, and UI are not in alignment, the product may experience lag or disconnection. This can leave the user confused about the cause of the issue.
- Troubleshooting: Everyone hits walls. Help your users out by giving them directions, or better yet, recommendations. An example includes, “I see x happening. This can be due to y. We recommend you try z.” Otherwise, they eventually give up and walk away from the product in their overwhelmed state.
- Maintenance: Apps get software updates. Devices need batteries and other components regularly replaced. If your product needs batteries replaced every month, and it’s difficult to take the device apart to replace them, you won’t have retention for long.
- Decommissioning or Upgrading: The user’s IoT device is now a few years old, and they want the latest model. Great! But re-programming all their favorite settings and automations to achieve this will cause frustration. Ideally, you’ve made it possible to port settings over via the app. Allay their worries by letting them know this in advance.
Widening Perspective and Flexing New Skills
As a designer starts opening their perspective beyond the features in a UI and visuals of an app, a new horizon emerges. It’s initially new territory to assess and evaluate but quickly becomes second nature.
Championing the customer journey map with the full team — product, hardware, software, and data science — does more than surface potential product experience issues early, however. The process breaks down silos, facilitating the dynamic engagement and tight camaraderie that’s key to developing wildly delightful products.