UX Design applied to IoT platforms
In a product, whatever the field, UX design can change everything. UX Design, for User Experience Design, puts the user at the center of its reflexion.
How does UX design fit into a connected object project? And how does this approach serve the IoT?
UX Design questions the needs and expectations of users. Its goal is to create a product that is as close as possible to the expected uses. Following this, we get rid of the superfluous to develop a project that exactly meets the expectations of users.
UX Design, what is this?
UX design is a hollistic approach that focuses on the user and the experience he will have with the product.
The experience here is decomposed in 3 steps:
- The perception. This is the subjective part, the emotional reactions of the user to a product (joy, satisfaction, irritation, frustration…)
- The usability. This is the objective part. It is therefore the ability of the product to meet the needs of users. It is based on three points:
- Effectiveness: the product meets the needs,
- Efficiency : the product is optimized to meet the needs easily and quickly,
- Satisfaction: the product is pleasant to use.
- The habit. Experience is generally built over time. By offering a good experience, the customer is loyal and habits are created.
UX applied to the connected objects sector
UX design is a very common development step for digital platforms, especially web and mobile applications, websites, etc. But what is different for IoT?
The multi-device, multi-information notion
When we want to apply UX Design to the development of connected objects, we have to consider the notion of multi-platforms, which complicates the UX Design approach.
It is this mix of the physical/mechanical part (the object) and the associated digital journey (platform) that must form a coherent whole.
A bad experience of one or the other can “kill” the global product (an incomprehensible installation procedure, the obligation to create an account or to share too much personal information at the wrong time, bugs, instabilities, an operation difficult to understand, parameters not found…).
Thus, here, the notion of inter-usability is a key component!
As we work with several components on different devices, inter-usability plays an essential role. It’s about understanding.
- How do the components interact with each other or with the digital parts?
- What happens on the product related to the actions/info available in a mobile app or on a website?
- How do we move from one interface to another?
- Are there clear markers?
- Is it coherent?
- And how does the object communicate with an application?
Technical and technological choices
IoT is a more complex ecosystem with numerous players and a plethora of technologies, each with their own characteristics.
It requires a slower process than the design of a “classic” web interface. The technical choices must also take into account the users’ expectations.
Example: if we choose a radio protocol, we also choose its range, its frequency, its flow…
Thus, it is necessary to have first information on the needs of its users, as well as the future environment of use of the product to direct its choices as well as possible and to avoid nonsense.
And it is also important to take into account the “global experience” to be able to integrate other characteristics, which must be aligned with the future use of the product (standards and certifications, safety…).
In conclusion, today, UX design is an essential and unavoidable approach in the design of a tech product and especially of IoT platforms.
At thethings.iO, since 2021, we have integrated to the team an internal UX designer who has done a major visual redesign of the platform. The advantage of having this type of profile in-house in a technology company is that now every new feature, new functionality or new project will be studied from its launch with a UX point of view!
Ricard Simon, UX designer at thethings.iO answers some of our questions about the importance of UX for IoT platforms.
According to you, which points are really blocking and can prevent customers from choosing an IoT platform?
I think the main frustration of customers experience is the Data management that all IoT platforms have. Google has quick and efficient data management and a fast reaction to each stimulation, so expectations of most users, nowadays, are high. If the user waits a little bit too long, he will quit the platform and not come back.
One of the solutions to fight this is having a quality code and architecture behind the platform and giving more knowledge to our customers to understand how it works.
We know from experience that error pages create a lot of frustration for users, what strategy have you put in place at thethings.iO to avoid this?
On the thethings.io platform, we have made the choice not to have an error page.
If an error does occur, it will be notified to the user in the form of a pop-up notification.
Half of the error messages on the platforms are due to the fact that the customer does not have access to a facility or a tool…
Our users have some freedom on the software platform, but we are always improving our code to guide them more on how much freedom they actually have. In this sense, errors occur when the user goes to an unauthorized section or does something that the software team does not control, so we are controlling the code more.
From my point of view, I find error pages frustrating because they often show an error code that users are not able to identify and understand. Removing them and replacing them with notifications that explain the cause of the problem limits the dissatisfaction of our users because they can understand the problem.
In IoT platforms, data visualization is an influencing aspect to customers, but it is now something that all platforms support, how do you emphasize this at thethings.iO?
I do not fully agree that all platforms support a modern and actual aspect of their platform. Most of the Software solutions are made with a professional IT aspect, consequently not following the modern trend which is round angles and less shadow. We just re-made our design to be “on the page”. However, we offer wide freedom to users to customize the dashboards, so it’s up to them to change the design to their liking.
To answer your question, at thethings.iO we have chosen to focus on freedom, multitasking and support on our platform. Design is just a tool to better perform on these topics but not the core of our business.
With your technical eye, what advice would you give to customers to quickly realize if the user experience of a platform is well-made for their use?
I combine several hats and with my dual role of User eXperience Designer and Full-Stack Developer, I see different needs. I’ve noticed that the most important thing about a platform is to be guided through the process with step pop-ups, real-world case examples, a library of information, and possible support from the engineering team. Specifically, this process guidance should be intuitive to users, and they should not have to search for hours on end to figure out how to do something.
Becoming aware of whether the platform fits the users’ needs or not is therefore normally something they can realize very quickly. It’s a bit of a fit, you log in, you navigate quickly… if you quickly decipher how it works you continue to explore the features, if you get stuck on several steps because nothing is clear then I advise you to try something else.
I will add a small detail that applies to me and I think to all other UX platforms. What helps us in our business is customers’ feedbacks. Unfortunately, the customers who are satisfied enough tell us what is wrong so that we can improve it, but the unsatisfied ones leave and don’t insist. As a user, know that constructive comments are always appreciated! Don’t hesitate to pass on the information to your contacts in a company, whether they are good or not so good.
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