A design exploration for Internet of Things
13 July 2016
This article is a part of the considerations that have been developed in Labs (Innovation lab of Info.nl), in order to draw a proper design language to create a new type of service and interactive products for IoT world.
This article is only available in English.
Today, the growing availability of low cost technologies allows to the designer of the future to explore new ways to design, one of these is undoubtedly the Internet of Things, a rich area of opportunity and growth, but also full of new issues to explore and resolve.
One of the challenges for the designer is to develop the interaction between an intelligent system and human being, bypassing the mediation by applications and raising the dialogue in a more spontaneous and natural experience.
It changes the point of view of the service hierarchies and their management. The application, in this case, is no longer the main organizing force of individual activities but it is on the same level with them, and integrates with the other actors that make up the wide network of relationships which feeds the system. The same thing is true for the role of the people; they are no longer simple users who remain seated to watch, but become one of the most important elements of the service.
We are faced with an intricate ecosystem still young and complex to manage. Then the question that arises immediately is how can we design this world in a better way? Have designers got the ability to understand and organize these complexities? What is the right way that we have to follow to get simple and good rules to apply into our system?
We have tried to give our considerations seeking to help and feed the cultural debate around the topic and offer insights that they can become a useful analytical tool for those who treat the following design field.
Internet of things is a dynamic ecosystem with multitude of elements connected together in a continuous dialogue and continuous exchange of information. All these things are mediated by the communication system which takes direct benefit from Internet network. The complexity and operation are regulated by the various algorithms designed specifically to organize the activities. From this simple definition, we can find at least five main parts to take into consideration and that regulate the system.
The first part concerns the infrastructure that sustains and feeds the entire organization. Without it, the system can not provide a proper service, therefore it is appropriate to realize a reliable and resilient infrastructure in order to manage both its operation and its actors. The infrastructure can also be thought on the basis of other existing platforms (such as the Alexa voice software or the most common search engine of Google) which can facilitate time and costs of the realization and, at the same time, give reliability to the whole service.
The second point is given to the data because they are the essential elements of exchange into service. We must extrapolate from reality only the most important data through a proper hierarchy and translation based on their characteristics importance and priority. For their correct understanding is necessary to display only the most useful and meaningful information. Some data may also be made available in order to create an open and collaborative evolution of the system.
At the third point we find the algorithms or simply the minds that manage and give meaning to the collected data. They are a useful tool both for managing tasks and for the adaption to different types of targets and to their needs through constant learning.
A good design gives to system a good working and reliability but also the prevention against the possible implications that the system might have on users. We must not compromise the life and the behaviors of people and prevail alienating situations within the system.
The fourth point is addressed to language. It must be the common language for the system to allow the different parts of the structure to dialogue (either online or offline) between them, with other existing services and especially with users. The communication must not be stressful, intrusive or the main cause of excessive saturation of information. Even better the feedback must be designed to manifest in a timely and in appropriate way depending on the situation. It is also helpful to use a closer communication with human conceptual schemes to translate abstract information into something natural and familiar to man. Equally concerning about privacy. The system does not expose sensitive data of persons but on the contrary must make people at ease so that they have an awareness of what is happening.
The last point is directed to the area in which it manifests the system activities and the interaction with users. Thanks to the wireless communication the user experience extends itself from simple monitor to a whole 3d environment, where in this case it is possible to explore new interactions through the combination of different senses. Use natural gestures can make intuitive and enjoyable the activities to do, but at the same time it is useful to also design excellent feedback that can make comprehensible the user invisible actions while it interacting with space.
The five features are a solid basis for the design of a good ecosystem that has the task to bring the human being from his distraction of technological autism to a natural use of service, especially through “communication” and “space”.
If they are well designed, these points can help people to move themselves away from the mediation carried out by the screen to get closer to activities that enhance the naturalness of gestures that are used daily.
On this front, the technology offers a valid support to facilitate the control and user decisions on system, reducing stressful and unpleasant parts that make the interaction, related to traditional applications, too complicated.
Projects like Leap Motion, Lensless, Amazon Echo, Project Suns, are excellent examples of how we can change the method of use of a service bringing users to combined and a more immersive experience. This thing also allows to manipulate the system in a direct and immediate way, without the use of mediators.
The important part of the interaction becomes the right type of communication and dialogue that establish between service and users. The system must be adaptable to the different kind of user because each person may have different types of behavior, characteristics, knowledge, skills and interest. Therefore, it is useful to design a system that is able to understand the type of user. There may be people with special skills and practices and they seeking assistance with their activities, someone who has a general knowledge and wants to improve his knowledge during the process or others who need a real support of help to make the activity easy and safe.
For this reason, users are a key part in the design of good service and so it is desirable to design with them in a constant iterative process of analysis, comparison and adjustment. We have to invite people to be part of the project to evolve the system and keep it open to make it accessible to anyone willing to make improvements or adapt it to your needs.
Returning to the kitchen, the system approach will have to adapt to different types of people (specific or common) with which it will interact. In front of people with more general skills, the system will have to be a figure of support in order to help and serve as a coach during the experience. Other profiles with special skills will have a system that follows the user and manifests itself only upon direct request, while for those with special problems (eg in old age) the service will be a real help in the process of activity and during the remembrance operations to do.
Toward hybrid interfaces
As we said, the adaptation of the system to different types of context and person implies the widening of the concept of interface that it extends beyond the common dialogue between screen and user.
We can talk about hybridization between the different methods of involvement of the senses but also of hybrid objects because they use different channels and communication methods, according to the different types of context that they meet. A striking example is Uber because it follows the user, adapting its service on multiple platforms such as may be the common application for smartphone or using Amazon’s service. We approach more with a complex system (for D. Norman could be called info household) where more products work together inside it for a common goal, rather than one product (in our case a smartphone) that seeks to hold together, and badly, more services separated from each other with different operating functions which are in searching of a common language to work together.
We are faced with interactions that are divided between visual, haptic, voice, sound or gesture, where the combination between them increases the possibility of dialogue. A method can help and make up for the deficiencies of the others and vice versa. For example, a voice control can make the operation easy, fast and immediate than a screen, but at the same time this last element can help the speech to remember better the information and make visible to the user very long or complex information to keep in mind during a conversation. As it says, sometimes a gesture is worth a thousand words.
Furthermore, the combination of parts can make the body an active part of the interaction and therefore it can change the method wherewith the system interacts with the user. It may be more empathic and close to a familiar language rather than aseptic as may be the static use of an application.
This implies to keep in mind what the dialogue has to appear human or not, because, in our opinion, a too high level (think of Asus Zenbo) could be too alienating for users. In fact, also the relationship with the system must be designed well to increase the value of the experience and that it is more useful and comfortable as possible. In addition, the combination of these parts may also become useful to adapt it to the different situation in which we are faced, because one method can be better than another depending on the case.
Regarding the kitchen, we can see how more senses among them may intervene in accordance with different situations. A voice command can be useful in the point where we request information to the system without taking his eyes from work, movement in space, however, when we have your hands full in certain activities, or visual signals if we are looking for an instrument or receive information from the system. The different types of interaction create a whole user experience flexible and adaptable.
When we interact with the system, the detailed and constant analysis of the environment can ensure that the system can be adapted to the exact specifications of each of us according to your preferences and knowledge. For this reason, it is important that the system is able to recognize the person wherewith interacts to provide to him the right information and the optimum parameter to work best. It can occur through direct transfer of personal data by the user, or of his explicit presence in front of the system. Once the service knows the entity wherewith makes the dialogue, it can start to adapt on the needs of this last one. It is important for the system to be aware of the user’s behavior and how him organizes his activities during the single operations, in order to analyze his habits and improve them through stimuli sent by the system. Furthermore, it is important that, from this information, the system is able to compare the stimuli with those already present in its own database and update the content in front of new behaviors still not registered. This learning process give way to project to create a comparison between the different activities and to distinguish the different states that a person can take and make the system more responsive and prepared in front of them.
Always on the kitchen, if we want an updated service, we must ensure that the system constantly learns new activities and habits. This thing is fundamental to increase the variable field to which the system will have to adapt. In this case the kitchen set-up will have the right calibration for each type of person that will have to converse and set the environment in accordance with the rules or the person’s needs. It can also be useful to find out some new situations (general or special) that have not yet been discovered, but they can be of help to the common people (eg discomfort).
As we can see the design process is becoming increasingly difficult and complex for a single designer, so he must employ more professionals to handle the individual parts of a whole project. The design takes advantage therefore of a diverse group of figures to create a multidisciplinary environment in order to watch the project on 360 degrees.
It is clear that this will be a good way to work collaboratively having greater ability to cover every aspect of the system. Besides, the cooperation can be extended to the community, primary source of supporting for the creation of services. They are not only the central parts of the project, or those who will use most of the benefits of the project, but also those who bring valuable information to the system during the planning of the services. They also may give their contribution in the correct realization of the final product. Then we can keep available a part of the project so that it is editable and upgradeable for new features or improvements for the benefit of all system.
The free exchange of information can lead people to decline the main project to new and in edited scenarios that the designer has not yet explored. It offers the designer the opportunity to follow the project from new points of view and to lead it to the needs of all. The result is certainly the evolution of an ecosystem that adapts to the society and can improve its characteristics in everyday life.
This article was published before at the Connectable Medium publication.