Articles tagged UX

In the previous Maark Blog post, we talked in general terms about how overlooked the software user experience is in the burgeoning world of the Internet of Things (or internet of things, according to the AP). I thought we should follow up on that and get more specific.

So let’s talk about stoves.

The one always setting off smoke alarms in my kitchen is a Maytag. For the rest of this post you’ll have to accept the hypothetical that I do a lot of cooking and care about what stove I use (when, in reality, I had to run into the kitchen before I started writing this post to see what brand it was).

I mean, I could have bought any stove. There are a lot of them out there and, as far as I know, they can all bake lasagna. So why did I buy a Maytag?

Because I like their stoves better than other company’s stoves that have the same basic feature set and cost range. More specifically, I liked the experience of their stoves better. The experience is what sets them apart from other stoves.

That experience includes everything from how well its adjustable-level self-cleaning works to the view through its extra large oven window to its cubic feet of capacity—all the features you see in its online listing.

But the experience is more than that. It’s the texture, shape, and give of the knobs, the configuration of the burners on the stove top, the sheen of the metal, all the elements that Maytag has industrially designed to try to make their stoves the easiest to use, the most enjoyable to use, and the most aesthetically appealing over, say, the jerks at Kenmore. Just kidding, I’m sure their stoves bake lasagna, too.

Again, these companies all sell stoves, but it’s the experience of their stoves that sets them apart (or doesn’t) from their competition. And now, in the nascent era of the Internet of Things, that experience is extended into the software interface on the stove, which makes software design as important a contributor to the user experience as the stove’s industrial design.

Actually, it becomes somewhat more so.

The software experience will subsume some of that industrial design. No more twisting nobs because you have screen buttons. No more bending over to look in the window because you have a camera relaying images to the screen (and your phone). In subsuming those elements, it will influence the industrial design. The ultimate smart ovens will look very different from conventional ones (they’re already starting to…see the above image).

Eventually, customers will interact more with the user interface on the stove and on their phone that is linked to the stove than they will with the physical stove itself. That’ll change the Thanksgiving dynamic a bit, I think.

And this idea doesn’t just apply in B2C settings. It will apply to B2B “things,” as well. Because it still comes down to the experience a person is having with your thing and how much better or worse it is than your competition’s.

The battle just moves to the screen.

The Internet of Things Has No Face

It’s fun to talk about the Internet of Things (IoT). Mostly because of, you know, the word “things.” But also because it has the potential to change every object we interact with in life and therefore the very way we interact with life itself. That’s a big topic, so it’s interesting to see where the current discussion around IoT hits and misses. I did a quick Google News search and, in the media, there are four basic discussion threads:

  1. What the hell is IoT?
  2. IoT is hard to accomplish/impossible to secure/transformative.
  3. Every company wants a slice of IoT, even when they’ve no execution strategy.
  4. Consumers are still slow in accepting proto-IoT devices in their home (Echo, Nest, Dax and Kristen’s refrigerator).

However, what was never mentioned in the pages and pages of Google News that I swiped through, was the fact that IoT needs a face. And that’s not good. See, just as important as figuring out the practicals of adoption and security and monetization is prioritizing the user experience (UX).

Because, in the end, what IoT is really doing is creating a massive influx of new experiences, whether that new experience is with your waffle maker or across a fleet of trucks or embedded in the infrastructure of a city. That means the most common and most important interaction your customers will have with your company (and its brand) will be through an interface.

That interface will be your brand.

So the opportunity is huge for shifting and tightening the relationship with your customer, but the risk is also as great, since the dangers of a bad experience grow exponentially with every connected device and could wipe out all the success companies are looking for with IoT in the first place.

UX just can’t be ignored in IoT. It’s vital for adoption, for expanding your brand, for engaging customers, and for differentiating among competition. IoT doesn’t merely offer the promise of some new, better remote control. It offers the promise of a new, better experience. So you better have one.

User Illusions

Whether we’re creating strategy and messaging, designing an interface, or building an app here at Maark, the user is our guiding light. At least, what has traditionally been called the “user.” It’s a loaded term and there have been entire schools of thought and library shelves of books dedicated to those four letters.

Here’s a recent paper by Olia Lialina called Turing Complete User that does a great job of succinctly covering the history fo the term “user” and the shift away from it to more personal terms. She then posits that we might not want to move too far away from the term.

We need to take care of this word because addressing people and not users hides the existence of two classes of people—developers and users. And if we lose this distinction, users may lose their rights and the opportunity to protect them. These rights are to demand better software, the ability “to choose none of the above”, to delete your files, to get your files back, to fail epically and, back to the fundamental one, to see the computer.

She also talks about the general purpose user, or “Turing Complete User” as part of her framing of that idea:

General Purpose Users can write an article in their e-mail client, layout their business card in Excel and shave in front of a web cam. They can also find a way to publish photos online without flickr, tweet without twitter, like without facebook, make a black frame around pictures without instagram, remove a black frame from an instagram picture and even wake up at 7:00 without a “wake up at 7:00” app.

It’s a long, thought-provoking read and worth it for anybody in the space.

Photo credit: ~dgies, Flickr.