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User Experience Design for IoT Devices

by Isaac Joekong, Jun 29, 2017

UX design focuses on enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability and interaction with a product. So then, if the Internet of Things enables machine to machine communication do we really need to prioritise how a human user might engage with the product? It’s a valid question and with industries finding new uses for IoT devices, it’s a question that needs answering.
IoT enables interconnected devices to communicated by synthesising data and automating responses to that data. However the first step for IoT is not automating a response, it’s collecting data. Decisions can be made by users based on the data. Because users are involved in the process it’s necessary to ensure the user interface allows them to act on the data swiftly.

How it Differs

Designing UX for IoT devices presents a different challenge. Firstly, industrial IoT devices are generally located in remote environments where internet connectivity is flaky at best. As a result, the UX should address how to respond to devices that may be offline for certain periods of time. To address this, it’s recommended that you design for no internet connectivity at first and see what functionality can be performed locally. By minimising the devices reliance on internet connection you’re indirectly improving the user experience. 
Picture your mobile phone is capable of controlling your lights and tracking your energy usage but half the data is missing/unable to be tracked because internet connectivity is inconsistent. From here, the UI can either fake it until the data does get through by indicating an action has been taken or alternatively, indicate the data is streaming until the device reconnects. Good UX design ensures there is a plan in place when the device isn’t connected.
It’s also important to note that IoT solutions handle data from a variety of sources. Consider an oil and gas company optimising oilfield production with IoT. The company uses sensors to measure oil extraction rates, temperatures, and well pressure for thousands of wells. That means an IoT system will need to compile and represent the disparate data points in a meaningful way. If it’s just numbers on a page, your UX design needs work. The data should be arranged in an informative manner so that the specific user (yes, there may be different categories of users) can easily draw inferences from the data. The layout should also remain as consistent as possible across different devices (phone, laptop, tablet, etc).
Because users still interact with IoT systems, their needs must be considered. The additional devices, applications and data synonymous with an IoT system presents a different challenge for UX designers. The designer must strike the right balance, finding a UX that allows machine communication and satisfies human users.