Context driven IoT ideation
Dries De Roeck, Design Researcher at Studio Dott, blogs for IoTUK about the importance of thinking beyond the technological function and features of an IoT product or service, so businesses create something that solves a real problem that customers can interact with easily.
In 2016, ‘the Internet of Things’ carries a very technology centric connotation. Countering this, Studio Dott, a Belgium based creative agency, has been working on an IoT Ideation process, which aims to define IoT concepts starting from its contextual insights. In its current format, the method and toolkit consists of seven steps. In this post one central element will be highlighted: designing with systems.
A recent Harvard Business Review blog post stated: “[IoT] can never serve as the rationale for the customer purchase”. In the same post, it made clear that before diving into creating an internet connected solution customer value should first be generated by identifying an opportunity or problem. However, when looking at IoT product aggregation websites such as IoTList, or Postscapes, it is striking how few products actually take the context of use into account. It is not because it is technologically feasible to have an internet connected shower head that I would want to control a shower using a smartphone.
At Studio Dott, we have started an in-house research track, which aims to critically look at the design processes of IoT products and what specific elements differ compared to industrial design or software development processes. One of the first outcomes of this research is an IoT Ideation toolkit.
Currently this toolkit (available here, video instructions here) can be used as a basis for discussion within design and development teams. The first three steps analyse an existing situation, while steps four and five focus on opportunity identification and selection; and the final two steps focusing on solution and storyboard elaboration. These steps are much like a design driven process and one element that is central to all of this is the notion of designing with systems instead of features in mind.
Central to the IoT ideation process is becoming familiar with systems thinking. In its most simple form, this comes down to realising that when an action happens somewhere, it might trigger something different elsewhere.
By visualising a network of actors and interactions, a deeper understanding of the envisioned concept is generated. In the current IoT ideation toolkit, creating system maps is achieved by providing four elements, which are crucial in any network connected product and/or service:
- People: who is involved in the proposed solution? By mapping out all stakeholders less prominent interactions will be triggered, which might be of crucial importance.
- Objects: when conceptualising IoT ideas, it is important to consider the physical elements that are part of the system. By critically assessing you can differentiate between an actual IoT application or a software application.
- Environments: in order to focus on wider contextual elements, being aware in which environment specific interactions take place is essential. For example, when something happens
outdoors will propose totally different challenges compared to a product targeted at indoor usage.
- Interactions: Each person, object or interaction has a link to something else within an IoT system. In a project team, it is crucial to have a mutual understanding of these interactions by making each interaction explicit. When creating these systems, it is important that there is no link to technology being made. By defining concepts based on interactions between people, objects and environments, the goal is to focus on the value the concept delivers instead of the actual functionality and features of the solution.
By making these ideation tools available to a wider audience, our goal is to highlight the importance of seriously considering the context of use and all involved actors of an IoT product and/or service. At the moment of writing, a second version of this IoT Ideation toolkit is being created, in which we apply learnings from using and facilitating workshops from the first version.
* Should you, your company or organisation have interest in further exploring these tools, we greatly encourage you to download and use the existing version of the toolkit. We are also very open to providing additional information about how this reasoning can be brought into practice!