JENA MCWHIRTER

Imaginary IoT

JANUARY 2021 — DESIGN TOOL KIT
TASK

To help design students feel empowered and inspired when designing for IoT devices and ubiquitous systems.

DESIGN RESPONSE

A toolkit to spark discussions around the process and outcomes of designing IoT devices. It is not intended to be a how-to of designing IoT, but rather, a playful and generative way of starting important discussions around IoT devices.

Designers can use abstract and unlikely shapes to help release attachment to existing IoT conventions and allow for more imaginative idea generation. Later, the interactions and capabilities inspired by the abstract forms can be applied to present and future-orientated concepts such as ubiquitous computing and emerging tech.

CONTEXT

— 1.5 weeks
— Personal Project

Key Skills

— Research and Ideation
— User Flow and Wire Framing
— Visual Design
— Illustration and Iconography
— Prototyping in Figma
— Microinteractions

PROBLEM SPACE

Designing for "Internet Of Things", or IoT, connected devices and ubiquitous ecosystems is becoming more prevalent each year. However, IoT devices remain ambiguous in many ways.  Unlike with apps and smart phones, a significant amount of people are not familiar with IoT devices and services on a personal level. Furthermore, the data that IoT devices collect is often perceived as being "somewhere in the cloud" and can be complicated to design with.

As a design student and an undergraduate researcher focusing on Home IoT Data, I found that myself, and my peers, often struggle to fully grasp the potential capabilities and considerations needed to design IoT devices responsibly, which can stifle ideation.

Intrigued by this problem, I asked:

How might design students feel empowered and inspired to design for IoT devices and
ubiquitous systems?
RESEARCH

To gain a better understanding of the problem space, I sent out a questionnaire to fellow Interaction Design students regarding their experiences designing for IoT. Some examples of responses are below.

What concerns do you have when designing for IoT devices?

"What potential problems could arise if this device were to be used in the world?”

"Does this have potential privacy concerns?"

"World being dictated by centralized entity with massive information."

What excites you when designing for IoT devices?

"How they can also liberate people from their phones.”

"More possibilities for interactions and immersiveness."

"Thinking into the future, imagining the possibilities / experiences with devices that have not yet been explored."

How do you feel about the concept "the best interface is no interface"? (Golden Krishna)
"That is the future of design.”

"Yes. I agree that how designers and companies view screen interfaces currently are limiting--it's like an auto response to every problem where solutions are thought of in terms of an interface form (screen-based design thinking), a 'default' response."

"It also makes me feel empowered as the so-called younger generation that could move us forward and out of that in the future. And that uncharted territory is exciting because it feels like we are part of the movement of creating that new way of thinking of interfaces."

"I question whether no UI could ever really be inclusive (people with different circumstances would probably still need affordances,
feedback, signifiers."

How often have you been tasked with designing a "smart" or Iot (Internet of Things) connected device?

INSIGHTS

From synthesizing responses along with my own lived
experiences, I identified 3 overarching insights that could help
inform a design solution.

DESIGN PRINCIPLES

In response to these three insights, I formulated three principles to guide my process. An ideal design solution should:

1. The future of design and technology is in flux.
Design students feel like visual interfaces and phone apps are still relevant, but that a new “uncharted territory” is fast approaching.

2. Change causes uncertainty.
While change on the horizon is exciting, design students feel uncertain and concerned about how the outcomes of their designs will manifest within the world.

3. Uncertainty leads to hesitation.
While design students are excited to be involved in changing our world for the better, feelings of uncertainty, accountability, and hesitation weigh heavy on their shoulders. This internal tension can stifle ideation and discussion— ultimately preventing new ideas and ways of thinking from coming to light.

1. Consider the changing nature of design.

2.
Address designers' uncertainty and concerns about IoT.

3.
Encourage open ideation.









EXISTING TOOLS

Next, I looked for existing tools that help designers navigate process. I was particularly inspired by two works:

Artefact’s Tarot Cards
The tarot cards have the magnificent ability to bring up hard topics in a way that still feels lightweight and collaborative, like playing a game.

MIT Media Lab's Reframe Tool
The Reframe tool’s juxtaposition of a template and randomization breaks through feelings of being stumped on where to start and ultimately leverages the person’s inherent creativity and thoughtfulness.

DESIGN DIRECTION

With these in mind, I set out to design a toolkit focused on helping students design for and with IoT Devices. I decided to situate the toolkit within a phone app because designers can share their work quickly while being remotely located, touch capability allows for trying out and editing new ideas quickly, and the template can start fresh instantly for rapid idea generation.

From here, I ideated potential design solutions and focused on three options. I decided to move forward with the Maker's Lab idea, as it addressed all three design principles and had the strongest opportunity to empower designers through their own creativity.

Card Matching

A digital card deck that shows an image of a hypothetical IoT device on one side of every card and a description of its function on the other. People are then “dealt” 3 cards and prompted to brainstorm how the 3 devices could connect as an ecosystem and provide a beneficial service.

Mad Libs

A writing template that asks designers to follow along as a hypothetical IoT device introduces itself. There are intermittent blanks with soft cues (like traditional mad libs) to help guide designers in understanding functionality and data collection, while simultaneously adopting an anthropomorphic perspective on technology.

Maker's Lab

A follow-along tool that asks designers to design first with form, then context and considerations. The forms would be imaginative, sci-fi/blue sky, and familiar in order to create a playful and relatable experience. Once the form has been created, the visual identity of the device could help inspire designers to think creatively about what IoT devices can do.


USER FLOW

Next, I outlined a user flow in order to gain a clear grasp on what features needed to be included and how a user might complete each step of the toolkit.

WIRE FRAMING

With my user flow as a reference, I created a wireframe with each page’s structure clearly articulated. I prioritized three user needs in doing so:

1. Clear pathways to the next step.
2. Always give an exit / back up route.
3. Provide hints and guides to protect user from feeling confused.

SKETCHING

Before moving forward with the visual design of the toolkit, I did some rough sketching
to get a feel for the personality of the components and the app's mascot character.

PEER CRITIQUE AND REFINEMENT

As this project is a personal endeavor, and not situated within a classroom, I reached out to a fellow designer for peer critique of my initial design. I gained helpful insight from a new perspective in order to identify gaps in consistency and points of confusion.


Notable Considerations:
1. Allow users to rotate components without the use of a button.

Notable Considerations:
2. Provide more visual cues for icon usability.

FINAL DESIGN

A toolkit that can empower and inspire designers by sparking ideation and providing prompts for discussions to be had internally or amongst a team of designers.

It is not intended to be a how-to of designing IoT, but rather, a playful and generative way of starting important discussions around IoT devices.

Designers can use abstract and unlikely shapes to help release attachment to existing IoT conventions and allow for more imaginative idea generation. Later, the interactions and capabilities inspired by the abstract forms can be applied to present and future-orientated concepts such as ubiquitous computing and emerging tech.

DESIGN SYSTEM

I created Imaginary IoT's design system with these visual guidelines in mind:

1. Creative spaces should feel familiar.
Familiar design tools, like a hue and saturation slider, will help designers feel at home.

2. Let the colors and creativity of people's creations shine through.

Keep to the basics by scaling back colors on the creation pages.

3. Playful, yet organized and clean. (like the perfect design studio!)
Pops of color to create a cheery, welcoming atmosphere, while maintaining open space for breathing room throughout.


COMPLETE WALK THROUGH

Follow along as "Mel" creates their first Imaginary IoT device and adds notes from their discussion!

DISCUSSION PROMPTS

Functionality
The functionality prompts help designers to frame the overall purpose and interactivity of the device. Using the input previously provided by designers during the Context stage of creation, the functionality questions are computationally curated to ask the what, why, and when's regarding the device's features.

Some examples would be:

What service does "______" provide to people?

What type of things does "______" listen to within an office or home?

When does "______" react calmly? When does "______" react with caution?

What causes "______" to project light? What does the light signify or do?

Ethics
The ethics section prompts designers to consider potential benefits, consequences, and accessibility concerns regarding IoT devices. Questions about data are framed on a human level, connecting the act of data collection directly to the outcome in people's lives. Accessibility prompts ask who the "extreme users" might be, who gets excluded from access, and how to reach a wider range of people. Then, ultimately, circles back to the spirit of design thinking, by asking how this device empowers people.

Some examples would be:

What type of data does "______"collect? What is that data used for?

How could this data be misinterpreted or misused? How could harm be prevented?

How could "______" be accessible to a wider range of people?

How does "______" empower people in their daily lives?

Viability
Now that designers have begun to formulate an idea of what their Imaginary IoT device is and does, the viability prompts ask them to consider the business needs and strategies involved in developing a new product. These questions focus on how to provide value for both consumers and companies.

Some examples would be:

How is "______" unique from existing devices and services?

What are "______"'s strengths and weaknesses in the current market?

How could "______" generate recurring revenue over time?

How could "______" build customer trust and loyalty?


Future Thinking
Lastly, the future thinking prompts encourage designers to throw the conceptual net wide and imagine many emerging opportunities. This stage of the discussion asks designers to release their ties to conventional devices and even to temporarily let go of the brand new form they just created. In doing so, designers can retain the core purpose of the device, while applying more future orientated ways of providing the service to people.

Some examples would be:

How could "______" leverage emerging technologies to interact with other IoT devices?

What if "______" was connected to a large scale system, like a "smart city"?

What if "______" had no interface at all?