The launch of the first Apple Macintosh in 1984 is considered a pivotal moment in history. Illuminated by Ridley Scott’s advertisement, it brought immediate awareness to the impact that one computer would have on the industry.
Many consider its feature of user-friendly GUI to be the core to its success – but it’s predecessor ‘Lisa’ debuted GUI a year before, and was a flop. The Macintosh simply had just the right balance of design, usability and price. The cost-effectiveness was achieved by a radical down-scaling approach to the hardware, moving the focus on what the user wants and de-emphasizing what the computer needs. That simple change of emphasis is the key to many of the most successful products and services of the last three decades – the user’s desires come first.
Since then we have witnessed another small revolution in User Interaction. Not too long ago if a user couldn’t work out how to do something – like program the VCR – it was considered a lack of ability in the user. Within a decade we have completely changed our expectations – today if the user cannot use something intuitively and without instruction the device is wholly to blame.
Now at the dawn of the IoT era, our devices are once again in an awkward pre-Macintosh stage. We have not yet found our key evolutionary step, that moment when it becomes seamlessly integrated into our work and well-being, and when the user no longer views this as a step towards a Skynet oligarchy.
Design Thinking in IoT
Enter our hero, Design Thinking. She laughs in the face of complexity, flies fearlessly toward radical change and swats big problems with the back of her hand. Essentially Design Thinking is the opposite of analytical thinking, it’s a process that helps us find the vision of what could be instead of focusing on problems. It has proven to liberate us from the binds of complexity and help us create new goals and unique solutions. Design Thinking stops us from debating which materials to use for the bridge and gets us to look at other ways to cross the valley.
User Experience in IoT
But Design Thinking alone won’t help us find our Macintosh moment. We also need the help of her trusty sidekick User Experience. UX brings our attention to the user in ways we’ve neglected to do in the past. Contrary to popular misconception, UX is not only for on-screen experiences. In fact, the user experience of a tangible device is even more important to get right because there is a greater commitment (tooling and equipment investments) and less possibilities to do running changes.
Another misconception is that this focus on the user is only relevant to consumer devices. However, the Industrial IoT is an area of greater need – and opportunity. Improving operator and machine efficiency through intuitive and rewarding interactions can reap immediate financial benefits. Stryker for example uses intelligent systems in assembly aisles that enables just eight employees to assemble the hundreds of complex components for their state-of-the-art powered clinical chair. The sensors and monitoring controls enable their factory staff to become smart users.
For a company to find its Macintosh Moment in IoT, it needs to harness the combined power of Design Thinking with User Experience design. IoT will only find its true potential when the user is able to accept and trust it unconditionally , which means we have to provide for the emotions first and build the functional offerings around them. What won us over in 1984 was not the computer’s specs, but the emotional appeal and belief that this is going to work with us instead of against us. It’s on our side, it’s one of us.
These are not skills or methods exclusive to designers. While I would recommend empowering your internal or external design team to help you in this process, adopting Design Thinking and UX processes should happen across the whole company to be truly effective:
- Start with a Design Thinking workshop to reframe the problem and find new goals. This level of discussion will elevate the team above the binds of complexity and open up the door to new solutions. The bigger opportunity is likely going to take a lot less effort than previously thought.
- Whether you’re creating a computer component, a tool or a service, getting an understanding of the users’ emotions and behavioral patterns through UX processes will also help find new opportunities. Have your team be part of the user research and journey mapping process and have the user’s voice in every decision.
- Keep MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in focus throughout the process, and actively aim to keep the functionality as simple as possible. If you have been able to reinvent the concept and build around the most important human needs, you’ll be able to reduce complexity and cost quite radically.
We are at the start of a new and exciting era of IoT and only those companies that embrace these new methods will prosper from this gold rush, and finally give us all the Macintosh Moment we’re waiting for.
I will be hosting the track at the Bosch ConnectedWorld in Chicago, under the banner “Harnessing The Power of Design Thinking and UX in IoT”, featuring talks from Dan Makoski, Nissan’s Megan Neese, A.T. Kearney’s Bharat Kapoor and Suketu Gandhi and Detroit Labs’ Dan Ward.
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