The Internet Of Things: Designers Needed

Should we concentrate on design to help spread the IoT?


Jony Ive came to start using a Mac because he found that the interface on other computers was confusing to him. Although not perfect, the system created by Apple allowed him to use the computer effectively, however, it wasn't until the 90's that he was hired by the company. In 1996 he became the head of design and in 1998 the iMac began the reinvention of the failing company.

18 years later and Apple have changed the way that people use technology - not because they have the best programmers or engineers, but because in Jony Ive they have one of the world's best designers.

The Internet of Things is set to become the next big societal shift and we need to make sure that we are creating a system where the best designers are designing, rather than engineers and data scientists. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is likely to create the best possible products, which will in turn create the kind of products that will be used more effectively.

Through creating products that are more appealing to consumers, the spread of connected devices will increase and their usefulness, business potential and ROI will increase on products. In turn, this is likely to lead to increased profitability for the companies involved, and thus advances in product variety and numbers in the future.

It is an argument put forward by Neue Labs, who create toolkits for building wearable technology and smart devices, in a recent piece in Creative Review. The point that the IoT needs to have designers at its core is certainly true to some degree, but perhaps is looking a little too much at form over function and not looking at what is really going to drive the IoT; Data.

We have seen that the trend in industrial design, especially in connected devices, has been to focus on the data showing how products are being used, then improving the next model with it. We can look to companies like Ford and Nike, who have both been utilizing data to design better products as prime examples. An explanation of why this has been done, and why data scientists need to be at least as influential as designers is clear from a quote from Hannah Jones, Nike's vice-president of sustainable business and innovation - 'There's a lot of talk about how much we need data, but actually we need the right data, and we use some serious analytics behind it to turn it into value creation.'

It is very much about creating and collecting the correct data, rather than making 'a wall of LED lights that creates different patterns with an open SDK' as Neue Labs suggests. Sure, it might look good, but the true value of the IoT needs to come from the analysis of data to optimize tasks. At least in its formative years as a mass-market function, the importance of data cannot be overstated as it will be setting the agenda for everything that comes after it.

Therefore a balance needs to be struck in exactly the same way that Jony Ive has created his products, with 'form follows function.'

The form is what will make more people use the product, but the function is what will make it genuinely useful. One without the other won't work. The sale of smart thermostats would not have increased by 105% between 2014-2015 if they looked bad and had poor UX design. But equally, if they simply looked good on the wall but had only basic functionality, they would have struggled to grow too.

So we need designers for the predicted 34 billion connected devices in 2020, but they need to be balanced with those who can create the functionality from a data perspective, be able to collect it, store it and analyze it. One without the other simply won't work, just ask Jony Ive. 

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