Smart technology will soon become ubiquitous within the home. But as these devices and the sensors within them become more complex, the harder it is for users to understand their capabilities. Increasing privacy concerns create a high barrier of entry for connected devices.
We studied how users understand connected devices and developed a physical design language to intuitively communicate device functionalities. Our findings are compiled into signifiers.io, a set of dynamic design guidelines for connected device makers. Our vision is to ultimately give users confident control over their devices within the privacy of their home.
guidelines for designing smart devices
In signifiers.io, we focused on how to design intuitive feedback and control mechanisms of sensors in connected devices. The website is meant to be used by future connected device makers, including project managers to engineers, while validating the design of a connected device.
Privacy is an area that was not commonly well understood and could only be accurately studied when looked at peripherally - otherwise, biases can easily and likely significantly skew participant responses.
For five months, we investigated the potential impact of IoT devices on privacy within the home, conducting expert and user interviews. We launched diary studies and participatory design exercises in order to understand how early adopters would feel if they had a fully equipped smart home.
Prototyping pt 1
We picked out several different sensor modalities like visual, audio, touch, motion, data transmission. Isolating them from the overall function of the device, we used techniques such as interaction metaphors, anthropomorphism, light indicators, etc. to illustrate a sensor's function.
Prototyping pt 2
After getting their initial interpretation, we probed specifically on how well each prototype addressed 4 key variables that we identified as critical for the understanding of feedback:
1) difficulty in understanding feedback
2) noticeability of feedback
3) confidence in understanding the feedback
4) how clear it was when the sensors were and weren't recording data
It’s important to look at devices because they’re the interface between humans and sensors; they provide the context for which we interact with sensors. To try to cover the widest range of devices and contexts in which they’d be used, we chose to build prototypes of 8 different connected devices. For each of these 8 devices, we made several versions of each one that featured the different feedback and control mechanisms that we explored. Over the course of two weeks, we built 44 operational prototypes.
Presenting our findings at Google!
After building all these prototypes, we tested them by having people interact with them scenarios that simulated real life use cases.
It's indeed scary to think about the implications of the exabytes of data that will be collected about us, but it's just as exciting to think about the value these devices would bring to civilization (cue overwhelming thoughts about the future of humanity).
My team and I invested a great deal of time into discussing our approach and the kind of impact we wanted to make. We became deeply entrenched in this topic, so much so that one of the biggest challenges I faced was how to clearly and simply communicate such a complex/nebulous subject to the average person. The frustration of seeing so many ill-informed reactions and discrepancies between behaviors and attitudes towards the topic of privacy actually served as inspiration for the idea of intuitive device design.
Not having a specific user group and creating a design solution for people at large for a client that has so much influence on technology was an incredible learning experience. The moonshot mentality we were told to adopt fostered an insatiable hunger for experimenting and knowledge, and I fully intend on applying this attitude to my future projects.