The Internet of Things needs to be designed – by designers

In the second in our series of essays by leaders in the field of wearable tech, Kim Gustafsson and Fredrik Timour from Swedish start-up Neue Labs explain why they want to put the tools to create wearable tech into the hands of anyone with an idea

When the Internet was born, it was designed by developers. Design and user experience weren’t the priority, and designers are still struggling with this technology-driven heritage.

Now we face the next great revolution: the Internet of Things (IoT). An IoT solution has more dimensions than the screen- and site-based Internet: hardware, software, SDKs, cloud services, websites, apps, and last, but not least, the product itself. We are talking about things — millions of things — that we are about to connect to the digital world. Each thing is unique. Each thing is both digital and analog (physical). And each thing must be designed.

 Let technology and digital anthropology work side by side. Let’s create a bridge between the technology and the designers. This will give us a shortcut based on over 25 years of Internet experience.


Smart cities

We talk a lot about the future of smart cities, homes, and things, but the future is already here. We can talk the talk, but can we walk the walk? I say, no, we can’t — and this is down to the immaturity of the Internet of Things. We face many issues that prevent us from creating in the way we would like to, such as all the different standards, what networks to use, all the big data we collect, and all the troubles and challenges we encounter.

Let’s make it easier to create. Cities are providing smart, functional devices, such as connected rubbish bins, energy-saving city lights, and smart communications systems. But let’s experiment more. Give the citizens open SDKs and APIs and the opportunity to create the first ‘prototype to market’ services. We can even think less functional to begin with. It could be, for example, a wall of LED lights that creates different patterns with an open SDK. Let’s put the tools in the hands of the users and see what comes out of it and — even more importantly — learn from their behaviour.


Smart homes

When it comes to smart homes, we have gone a bit further. We’re connecting our devices to the Internet, and we build apps to control them. Each brand has their own products and apps and, again, it’s all about smart functions.

 But what happens when each home has 5 000 installed sensors? They can’t all continuously send data to the cloud for storage and analysis, that would be too much, big data. It would also be pretty convoluted having 500 apps to control our homes.

 It’s time to involve the designers and give them the tools for connecting less functional things, such as textiles, wallpapers, floors, tables and, of course, clothes. Many of these devices can take care of our daily routines without pushing everything to the cloud and having all the sensors talking to each other in a seamless and non-intelligent way.


Smart things

Smart things abound these days. In the health industry, new smart devices make it possible for doctors to monitor and communicate with their patients wherever they are. People can track their own well-being with consumer devices. Fashion is evolving to include wearables, connected accessories, and smart clothes. Imagine showers that tell you how much energy and water you use. Or carpet and wallpaper that change colours in harmony with the season or according to the weather outside. The possibilities are endless and can bring about both big and small changes, ones we can’t even conceive of yet.

If we give the designers the right tools, they can and will change the world. Look at what happened when QuarkXpress and PageMaker were introduced to the market. Millions of new designers were born, and they changed the world of print media. Apple is another great example. One of the most successful tech companies, totally driven by design.

Automat's hardware senses movement, direction, temperature and humidity
Automat’s hardware senses movement, direction, temperature and humidity

It is estimated that there will be around 34 billion Internet of Things devices by 2020, and they all need to be designed. Instead of talking about the future and what we think it will look like, it’s time to create, experiment, and explore.

 It’s time to design the Internet of Things.

Automat by Neue Labs is a complete toolkit of hardware and software for building wearable technology creations or smart devices. It allows anyone to craft innovative and truly personal products. Find out more here.

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