This is the sixth post in our Internet of Things Guest Blogger Series where we are currently inviting key professionals from within the creative industries to offer up their own perspectives on future opportunities and challenges within this emerging technology sector.
This latest post takes the form of an email interview conducted with Helen Le Voi, Design Research Lead at digital service design consultancy, Fjord.
The interview primarily focuses on the impact of the internet of things on current thinking around 'user experience' and 'privacy'.
Helen has been designing interactions since 1992. Throughout her career, she has worked with diverse clients, from start-ups to global corporations, identifying opportunities for innovation and design. Key to her roles has been the ability to think strategically about services, product development and design whilst balancing the requirements of business and technology. Her focus is on interaction design and the user experience.
Helen is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and twice a year can be found teaching design experience at the UCL Interaction Centre. She was recently made a member of the Council of the Internet of Things (IoT), and leads Smarcos for Fjord from the London office.
Could you tell us a little bit about the EU-funded Smarcos research project, and your involvement?
Smarcos is a three-year, €14m Artemis funded research project involving 17 partners across seven countries in Europe. The project partners are drawn from various backgrounds including major corporations, research bodies and SMEs such as Indra, Nokia, Philips and Fjord. Smarcos began in 2010 with a brief to investigate 'interusability' - User Interface level interoperability of embedded systems. In other words, how do you design user centred experiences that work for the Internet of Things?
Fjord's mission is to think ahead, moving from mobile and multi-platform products into an environment of connected things. We got involved in Smarcos because we saw it as a great way of refining our approach to design in this space, furthering our thinking and creating UX methods and tools. As the Internet expands beyond desktops and mobiles into connected things – whether they are cars, shoes, energy monitors or door keys - it will change and adapt. In the words of Intel: ‘If the Internet was a movie, we’d still be at the opening credits.’
In what ways do you think the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) is beginning to open up new opportunities for UX designers?
Today’s products are increasingly becoming ubiquitous systems, hybrids of hardware, software and services. This is largely thanks to technology becoming increasingly powerful, smaller and cheaper.
Only 2% of processors are inside desktop computers: the other 98% are found within embedded devices such as toys, games and appliances. If you add sensors, processors and antennae that can understand their environment, process this information and connect to other things through the Internet, you end up with a very different landscape for designers.
We already have body scales that connect to our smart phones, running shoes that track your workout, cars that talk to other cars but these are only the start. In his book the Invisible Computer, Don Norman wrote about how embedded technology had affected modern living conditions and that was in 1998. Recent predictions estimate around 50 billion smart devices will be connected to the internet by 2020 - equivalent to more than six devices per person.
When a user connects with a product, service or a brand, their experiences can be crafted and designed. Where devices sense user behaviour, or talk to other devices, the implementation of this technology needs careful design.
The emergence of the IoT will continue to boost the number of connections possible. We will have more touchpoints to design, more ways to interact and gather data, and more complex systems to be honed in order to create compelling experiences. UX designers will need to extend their skills to encompass behaviours and interactions that rely on more than a touchscreen for input and output.
Whether it's designing the experience of a user in a system that includes sensors and sends data to the cloud, or a system that has physical devices with novel interfaces, or both, our understanding of challenges in designing interconnected and inter-usable systems as opposed to traditional interaction design will continue to gain traction.
UX designers can expect to work with wider teams of expertise from product designers and prototypers to systems specialists, business strategists and manufacturers - therefore extending and growing the discipline over time. We may well see new UX roles opening up too.
The much-contested issue of ‘privacy’ is of course one that IoT may well continue to increase the complexity of? What are your thoughts here?
Privacy in digital is a trade off. If a system communicates a clear benefit that a user can understand and relate to, they will give away information.
Let's take the example of a sat nav device. Your sat nav knows exactly where you are and where you want to go. Does that trouble you? No, because you derive a clear benefit – that of knowing where to go. However, if your sat nav was networked and constantly feeding back your location, speed of travel and intended destination to a system that then sold or shared your information, meaning others could track you (your insurance company perhaps), how would that make you feel?
What if your insurance company offered you lower rates for driving safely, accelerating gently or travel outside of rush hour? Would the financial benefit outweigh the cost of giving away your personal data?
Privacy is becoming a currency. For every example of a system that works, there are examples of those that don't. Digital services offer clear benefits, but at a cost, and when users are wary of these costs, they become a barrier to success. You need only look at the press around Facebook to see users struggling with how their data is being used and shared.
You can view it as an equation: a formula that drives UX, technology and business decisions.
Reduce the costs to your users through increasing transparency, user autonomy and security. Increase the benefits appropriately via personalization, adaption and automation.
In summary, service experiences need to be designed within a multi disciplinary team that encompasses business, technology and design. Focus on delivering benefit whilst understanding the costs to your users. That way you can avoid the pitfalls of a system that gets the balance wrong.
Finally, who out there is currently influencing your own thinking concerning the impact of IoT on UX design?
I try to draw from a mix of sources that are really broad. It could be an article about the implications of new technologies, system-level innovations happening in China and Korea, or fellow designers blogging and speaking about what the future may hold. It could be artists experimenting with physical experiences and installations.
All of them may influence the future of UX, and of course I'm very influenced by the researchers and academics we work with every day on the Smarcos project.