Podcast: the Internet of Things should work like the Internet

A chat about the future of UI/UX design with Alasdair Allan, Josh Marinacci and Tony Santos.

At our OSCON conference this summer, Jon Bruner, Renee DiResta and I sat down with Alasdair Allan, a hardware hacker and O’Reilly author; Josh Marinacci, a researcher with Nokia; and Tony Santos, a user experience designer with Mozilla. Our discussion focused on the future of UI/UX design, from the perils of designing from the top down to declining diversity in washing machines to controlling your car from anywhere in the world.

Here are some highlights from our chat:

  • Alasdair’s Ignite talk on the bad design of UX in the Internet of Things: the more widgets and dials and sliders that you add on are delayed design decisions that you’re putting onto the user. (1:55 mark)
  • Looking at startups working in the Internet of Things, design seems to be “pretty far down on the general level of importance.” Much of the innovation is happening on Kickstarter and is driven by hardware hackers, many of whom don’t have design experience — and products are often designed as an end to themselves, as opposed to parts of a connected ecosystem. “We’re not building an Internet of Things, we’re building a series of islands…we should be looking at systems.” (3:23)
  • Top-down approach in the Internet of Things isn’t going to work — large companies are developing proprietary systems of things designed to lock in users. (6:05)
  • Consumer inconvenience is becoming an issue — “We’re creating an experience where I have to buy seven things to track me…not to mention to track my house….at some point there’s going to be a tipping point where people say, ‘that’s enough!’” (8:30)
  • Anti-overload Internet of Things user experience — mini printers and bicycle barometers. “The Internet of Things has to work like the Internet.” (11:07)
  • Is the Internet of Things following suit with the declining diversity we’ve seen in the PC space? Apple has imposed a design quality onto other company’s laptops…in the same vein, will we see a slowly declining diversity in washing machines, for instance? Or have we wrung out all the mechanical improvements that can possibly be made to a washing machine with current technology, opening the door for innovation through software enhancements? (17:30)
  • Tesla’s cars have a restful API; you can monitor and control the car from anywhere — “You can pop the sunroof while you’re doing 90 mph down the motorway, or worse than that, you can pop someone else’s sunroof.” Security holes are an increasing issue in the industrial Internet. (22:42)
  • “The whole point of the Internet of Things — and technology in general — should be to reduce the amount of friction in our lives.” (26:46)
  • Are we heading toward a world of zero devices, where the objects themselves are the interfaces? For the mainstream, it will depend on design and the speed of maturing technology. (30:53)
  • Sometimes the utility of a thing supersedes the poor user experience to become widely adopted — we’re looking at your history, WiFi. (33:19)
  • The speed of technology turnover is vastly increasing — in a 100 years, platforms and services like Kickstarter will be viewed as major drivers of the second industrial revolution. “We’re really going back to the core of innovation — if you offer up an idea, there will be enough people out there who want that idea to build it and make it, and that will cause someone else to have another idea.” (34:08)

Links related to our discussion:

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  • DS

    Great one, thank you!