Five Aspects of Good UI for IoT | Splendid IoT Supper Series

Expert design tips

Designing the user interface (UI) for connected devices can bring certain challenges. In this article we sit down with one of our UI designers, Jonathan Henderson, Founder and Creative Designer of Shipshape Design Co., to learn more about tips for creating UIs for IoT projects.                                                  

We’re pleased you could join us for the fifth course of our Bsquare Splendid IoT Supper series. Just like a meal is more satisfying and enjoyable when there’s a wide selection of unique dishes and guests, an IoT team is a holistic blend of experts from a variety of fields. In this series, you’ll get a taste of the diverse expertise needed to create a successful IoT project from start to finish.

Contact a Bsquare expert now or keep reading to learn more about designing a good user interface for your intelligent devices.

UI design for IoT devices

Of course, no advice for UI design can be universally applied. Different business models and audiences can require very different things. But there are still broad design tips for designing UI for connected devices. In general, a good UI for IoT should:

  1. Remain unnoticed by customers
  2. Fit into the broader device ecosystem
  3. Make it easy for customers to access necessary data
  4. Minimize security-based inconvenience
  5. Combine customer needs with engineer abilities

1. Remain unnoticed by customers

It might seem counterintuitive, but according to Jonathan, “in many IoT uses, the user interface serves its best purpose when it’s barely noticed.”

Why? In part this means the interface is intuitive for customers: they don’t have to put in extra work to understand how to use the device. Creating a simple, non-obtrusive user interface can also make devices accessible to a wider audience. Still, even companies with very tailored demographics can often benefit from straightforward user interfaces designed to make device use as simple as possible.  

2. Fit into the broader device ecosystem

When it comes to IoT, there’s often more than one device involved. For instance, a manufacturing company might have sensors, cameras, and other smart devices connected in one overarching system.

In cases like these, Jonathan says, “you’re not just designing for the screen itself, but also everything around it. If patients are using a medical device and that device has too much going on, you might be able to manage the situation by moving aspects of the solution into a companion app.”

Building an interface that fits seamlessly into this device ecosystem may seem daunting, but Jonathan insists this process doesn’t have to be difficult. “I wouldn’t say it’s any more complex than designing for other UI projects,” Jonathan explains, “As long as a designer asks questions up front and collects the insight and research necessary to validate the application.”

3. Make it easy for customers to access necessary data

Many smart devices are designed to provide users with vital information about their operation. This intel can be used to do everything from mitigating damage to making safer work environments to optimizing operations and reducing waste.

“Assumptions can be very costly if you skip over fundamental questions”

Jonathan Henderson, Shipshape Design Co.

Part of a good UI is making it easy for users to access, and understand, their most important data. This means gaining an understanding of customer needs, as well as their level of expertise at interpreting the data.

When in doubt about customer priorities, the best thing to do is ask. According to Jonathan, “Assumptions can be very costly if you skip over fundamental questions.”

4. Minimize security-based inconvenience

Accessing data is important, but often just as important is ensuring that sensitive data isn’t so easy to gather. While security is a crucial part of any intelligent device, sometimes an unintended consequence can be a system that is less user-friendly.

In a past Splendid IoT Supper article highlighting security, we discussed the importance of including security experts at the start of building an IoT solution, and UI design is one reason for it. Designers must tackle the challenge of taking security aspects and minimizing their impact on the daily actions of users. This is often easier and cheaper to accomplish when security is considered at the beginning of the process, rather than added towards the end. This often means a more unified solution for customers.

5. Combine customer needs with engineer abilities

A good UI designer should be able to approach a connected device project both from the perspective of customer and creator. “As a designer, you’re looking at a project from the user point of view,” Jonathan explains, “so the thing I often say to new customers, is there are lots of things we can do on the project, but what should we do?”

Having some technical knowledge can also go a long way in the process. It helps both in managing customer expectations and in creating UI that works in tandem with the more technical aspects of a heavily engineered device.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with the people that I’m working with,” Jonathan says, “and there’s almost a bit of camaraderie like, ‘Let’s solve this problem together.’”

Get started with a team like ours

With our team of experts, Bsquare can serve as your one-stop shop for your IoT solution needs like user interface design. From Fortune 500 companies to small start-ups, we’ve been able to serve a range of unique clients because of our diversely skilled employees.

Curious about the Splendid IoT Supper series? Stay tuned for upcoming articles, where we’ll feature experts in everything from software design to compliance management. In the meantime, get started with the series introduction, and feel free to browse the website to learn more about Bsquare.