The four UX questions you need to answer when designing for the IoT

This year, almost 5 billion things will be connected to the internet. By 2020, it will be 50 billion.

From lightbulbs to door locks, these connected devices are expected to handle more elements of our daily life than ever, while providing simple experiences for the people who use them.

So how can we as UX designers create user interfaces for devices that don’t have screens, or offer no feedback at all? The answer is education. People love to learn. Our job is to turn connected devices into our users’ favourite teachers.

Read on to learn the four key questions you need to ask to make your connected devices superstar educators.

Does it teach you how to use it?

UX designers should always do the heavy lifting for users. We want our devices to put the user in the driving seat, but also guide them through set-up simply.

This means if 80% of users choose the same setup settings, these should be the out-of-the-box default. Determining what these are is easy with connected devices, as you likely already have this information about your users.

Think of educating the user the same way you would help a colleague or friend understand something new. Give them the information they need, be there to offer guidance and answer questions, then follow their lead. Within the device this could take the form of a step-by-step companion during set-up, with hints and tips popping up along the way, at just the right times.

As users become more familiar with the app, these supports should fade to the background and become more infrequent, giving them the freedom to explore and customize as they wish.

By empowering a user with knowledge during set-up, you’ve laid the foundation to ensure they’ll keep returning with confidence,  ready to use and engage with your product repeatedly.

Does it overwhelm you on day one?

The human mind isn’t designed to  absorb large amounts of information in one sitting. This is why we read a textbook over the course of a semester, not in one day. When it comes to UX, timing is everything. Users buy your device for a specific purpose, therefore your first objective should be to make it as easy as possible for them to reach that goal.

Then, the key to nurturing continuous use is to keep the learning process going. Introduce other ideas progressively, or release them as they’re available. Now not only are you teaching your users how to use the device, you’re also educating them on its potential, perhaps even preparing them for your next update.

Are there any dead ends?

The art of interfaces is as much about considering what happens when things go wrong as when they go right. This means contemplating every single step a user may take and ensuring there are no failure cul-de-sacs.

Nothing is more frustrating than hitting a wall or being confronted with an unintelligible error code. If you give users a clear pathway to correct any errors, you’ll win their trust and show they’re in safe hands.


Wondering how to get started? I wrote another piece on mapping out the screens of your app that provides much more information.

Is it friendly and familiar?

When users log into a device they know, they expect it to know them, too.Without this recognition, you’ll lose the potential for users to make the all-important emotional connection you need them to have with your product and brand.  Instead, use intelligent design to make them feel like they‘re checking in with a trusted friend who understands them and wants to help.

Replicating this familiarity is easier than ever with connected devices. We can record usage and get rich information about users, all in the service of providing a personalised experience.

This means if a user installs an IP camera or thermostat, once it’s connected it should start talking to them in their native tongue based on location. You can even pull up automatic suggestions for other stages of the set-up stage, such as router IP addresses and device names.

Remember, you want to make the experience require a low cognitive load. Users want to find it comfortable and pleasurable to keep coming back to your device. If you break that trust once, you’re unlikely ever to regain it. Not only that, you lose the potential for that user to recommend your product to a family member or friend.

Did you find this post useful? Have I missed other important tips? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or found me over on Twitter @JessicaDowney

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