To Find What
Works in the
Internet of Things
While manufacturers know that connectivity is an important trend that needs to be adopted, they’ve struggled with implementing it in a meaningful way. Why, for example, would someone think that a Wi-Fi-enabled toaster is a good idea? As fast as they can introduce these gadgets, consumers and critics label them useless.
We’re just starting to see connectivity (also called the Internet of Things or IoT) grow into a more mature idea. Manufacturers have started to consider their customer’s experience with a product from start to finish, which means that consumer will eventually see IoT in the home as a useful reality.
Is there a way for major housewares brands to hedge bets considering that at least 80% of new products fail? For connected products, how do they predict and solve problems with installation, lack of compatibility with routers or hubs, and wireless communication issues that plague our vision of the smart home?
The key to success is early failure
Regardless of what you call it — failure, Edison’s apocryphal 10,000 ways that won’t work — the process of finding what will work has to include finding what won’t.
To have any hope of market success, the development of a connected product must include an analysis of the entire customer journey, extensive testing, limited introduction, and an updated strategy. To identify all potential problems in the customer journey, designers and researchers map out how the product is ordered, unboxed, installed, supported, used daily, abused, and maintained.
But we also have to look beyond the customer journey to include internal and external stakeholders — such as distributors, the supply chain, and maintenance staff — in addition to finding other places where these connected items might live or see interaction outside of their intended experience. By including some internal stakeholders early, there’s often more buy-in, and potential manufacturing, distribution, and installation obstacles may be prevented.
"Failure in research is a good thing since there are great learnings that may prevent later issues once the product is on the market and installed in homes."
Getting the UXD Show on the Road
There are two main ways to map out customer journeys depending on the budget and timing.
The first and ideal way involves a variety of thorough tools that provide a great deal of information about the user. While some stakeholder journeys may be documented in online interviews, in-person documentation is best to see them in their own environments and watch for nonverbal cues.
A structured group tends to tell you what they aspire to do, whereas an on-site visit shows what the user actually does; both of these learnings are valuable, and the research may need to be repeated with different target consumers, climate zones, or cultures to uncover basic differences in user demographics.
Qualitative ethnographic research is valuable at this level, not as statistical proof, but because it allows the design process to catch and correct potential issues along the way. Failure in research is a good thing since there are great learnings that may prevent later issues once the product is on the market and installed in homes.
So get into a real person’s home or workplace and watch them perform tasks. See where they really store things. Uncover their unconscious workarounds, the overfilled closet, or the hand-labeled remote control for grandma. Learn what isn't working for your user.
The second and less ideal way is to limit the number of interviews and do more “desk” research. This usually consists of some phone or online interviews, and gleaning insights from online resources. Clearly, this type of research is not nearly as in depth. By not observing people directly, the product developers may miss part of the real story; a user might tell you that he stores his stand mixer in the pantry when in reality it sits on the counter 98% of the time. There's no intended deception, but users sometimes aren't aware of their automatic habits.
This research still has the ability to prevent pitfalls, but it then relies more on the final or beta-site testing to iron out any last issues. The quick timeline isn't without risk — if an idea fails in beta-site testing, the project might be too far along to change direction without significant cost — so this kind of research is best suited to a more mature product or category where trial and error has already happened in the marketplace.
A Bright and Smoke-Free Forecast
Today, there’s a lot of work to be done. Users suffer through products (we won't name names) that force them to sync their smart light bulbs one at a time, or thermostats that don't actually display the current temperature.
But tomorrow, devices that talk to each other seamlessly with fewer apps, easy installation, and increased functionality will be seamlessly integrated into our lives — a goal that's already being pursued by companies like NXP.
In the near future, you’ll be able to check your kitchen inventory, turn on your dryer, and start defrosting your dinner during your commute. Gone will be the useless gimmicky Wi-Fi-enabled toaster. With connected appliances, there’s no more worrying that the brisket in the oven will burn down the house while you’re busy with something else. The future is almost here, and it’s looking bright and smoke-free.