User-Centered IoT: What’s in it for them?

This is the second blog post in our series about connectivity. Get caught up by starting with “Connecting the dots: Three big reasons businesses are thinking about IoT

Similar to other product improvement projects, adding connectivity to a product must take into account how your customers will feel about the capabilities. Will they find it beneficial to be connected or, on the other hand, see it as intrusive?

In our experience, we have seen organizations focusing on one of two user-facing benefits to “connecting” a product: 

Multi-Channel Access

Expanding access points — Enhancing connectivity to allow customers to access services or products in new ways, including omni- and multi-channel experiences from a variety of connected devices.

 

PDashboard wireframeroviding data to the user — Enhancing connectivity to provide data collected by a product back to the user of the product. In these cases, the hypothesis is that the data will provide some valuable insight to the user causing them to feel or act differently based on what they now know.

 

But even user-focused, well intentioned upgrades run the risk of users feeling that the added complexity (or cost) isn’t worth the proposed value. Like all hypotheses, your approach to connecting your product should be carefully tested with users—before spending time and money developing communications protocols to transmit the data, or programming analytics engines to generate insights. Below are several interesting research questions that are worth considering when thinking about providing data to users:

1. When customers view this data, what will they do differently because of it?

Customers will find it unhelpful to receive data they can do nothing about. Performing research to put sample data in front of customers and find out what, if anything, would cause them to take action is key to making a good connected product. Additional testing can determine whether the insights are useful, easy-to-understand, and delivered at an appropriate frequency.

Pay careful attention to providing users with insights too late to be useful. If a restaurant finds out their refrigerator was running too warm seven days after the food in it was already served to customers, they might be more frustrated than if they had never known at all.

Also consider whether it would be beneficial for the product to take the next logical action for the customer. Rather than notifying a homeowner that their lights are on and nobody’s home, why not just shut them off?

2. What is the full picture of data that would need to exist to drive this action?

Often, usage data alone may not provide adequate insight to trigger an action. But when combined with additional data from another source, the insight becomes clear and actionable. Find out from users what other relevant data is available to them, and how you could combine it with your data for maximum utility. For example, telling a surgeon only how many rubber gloves she used is just about as useful as telling her how many gallons of gas her car consumed. Without being able to see how this information correlates with the number of surgeries performed, your customers won’t be able to tell if their usage is appropriate or changing over time.

3. What is the best way for the user to receive the data?

Most users will prefer to consume information in a place they are already going rather than bounce between several disparate systems. If they aren’t regularly accessing the product for data and insights now, it’s unlikely they will in the future (unless it is a very unique and compelling insight!). For example, many medical remote monitoring companies are now integrating device data with their customers’ existing electronic medical record software, rather than delivering it by bespoke hardware monitors or one-off web portals.

4. What are the user’s boundaries when it comes to data privacy?

It’s important to understand where your users will draw the line about allowing a device to capture data about them. Even if the data can be used to provide a clear value, if seen as too invasive, adoption could be limited. Telling a marathoner how many miles she’s put on her shoes might be great, but if the data also reveals what time and exactly where she is running, she may feel it could put her in a potentially dangerous situation.

5. How does being connected change the service model?

Users can help define if connected device experiences are additional touchpoints or replacement touchpoints. They can also point to ways that being connected could enhance or empower existing touchpoints. For example, field sales calls may remain a primary touchpoint, but sales reps could be provided with more tailored sales recommendations customized to the way the customer is using the product.

Ready to implement?

Once the business objectives and user experience goals are thoroughly analyzed, there are some important things to consider about how the connections get built and implemented. None of the strategy and research methods we’ve covered so far are all that different from other product and service design efforts, but in our final installment we’ll cover four unique questions that we feel are critical for connectivity project teams to consider prior to implementation.

If you’re interested in more information about user research with connectivity ideas, this post was also the basis for a recent presentation to TC UX Meetup.

Connecting the dots: Three big reasons businesses are thinking about IoT

During a recent happy hour gathering of Fathom Consulting colleagues, a few of us realized a common thread running through several otherwise unrelated projects. It seemed that, all of a sudden, many of our clients had been bitten by the “connectivity” bug.  Though diverse across industries, products, and services, many of our clients were actively exploring ways and reasons to allow their standalone products to communicate—to each other, to the cloud or data hub, and, in some cases, directly to users.

An active discussion ensued: What had we learned across these projects that we could share with product and program owners who might be considering connectivity solutions in the near future? Thus, a blog series was born.  (Watch for two more posts in the near future!)

But first, a few definitions

Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the networking of physical things (often referred to as “smart devices”) in order to collect and exchange data. Some products we’ve worked with include medical devices, inventory control tags, and consumer goods.

A simpler, but related, concept is that of “connected devices.” Connected devices send or receive data to at least one other device. They might use Internet protocols to make the exchange (making them part of the IoT), or they might just be connected directly to one other device (for example, a monitor on a patient that communicates via Bluetooth to a monitor across the room).

These days the terms are used almost interchangeably. For these blog posts, we’re sticking with the broader label of “connected devices”—since most of the points we want to make are relevant whether or not the device is truly part of the IoT.

“Connectivity is the tool, not the target”

Let’s start off with the obvious way that this latest technological capability is identical to all the others that came before it.  Just like getting on the web in the late ‘90s and getting on social media 10  years ago was unwise unless you had a valid reason to do so, pursuing a connectivity solution just for the sake of it is just as likely to leave product owners feeling disappointed, foolish, and poor. Like all successful innovations, a move into a connected landscape must be underpinned by solid business and user objectives. We’ll explore three good business reasons to get connected in this post and user benefits in the next post.

1. Provide efficient service and effective support

Traditionally, products that have shipped and are in the hands of users can be hard to maintain. The user has to do their own maintenance, and troubleshooting often involves frustrating phone calls to 1-800 numbers.

But products that have shipped and are connected can more easily be maintained and repaired by a remote update. Rather than a service technician being deployed when things break down, fixes or version updates can be pushed to a user’s device via the Internet. The company saves time and money, and the user is back up and running much faster.

Combine the ability to service products remotely with increased visibility into how the product is operating, and it may be possible to proactively solve a problem before the user is even aware there is one. Connectivity can not only prevent things from going wrong, but also make sure things go right. As an example, Tesla Motors recently pushed an update to its cars allowing drivers in Florida to drive more miles between battery charges as they evacuated prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Even in cases in which a physical product must be fixed in person, the benefits of a company communicating with its products can still be realized. Data received from the device ahead of time could be used to diagnose the problem and ensure the dispatched technician has the correct tools, parts, and expertise to complete the job.

2. Gather data on product usage

When sitting down to discuss how a product could be improved or what features should make the cut-off for the next launch, we consistently counsel our clients to consider how their users use the product today. It makes more sense to spend design and development capital on important experiences that a re frequently used or difficult rather than upgrading features that no one knows exist. Yet often our clients have to make educated guesses or spend time on baseline research just to understand what, exactly, their customers are doing with their products.

But when products in the field are connected and communicating usage data, suddenly insights about problem areas or underutilized features are readily available. These insights can inform product design and feature lists in a way analogous to web analytics. When combined with additional information the device might collect on the location, time, and the user’s identity, this data can even serve as the foundation of a robust persona or inform an audience-specific design process.

In addition, usage information could empower others at the company who interface with the user. Perhaps a certain user needs additional training on advanced features or is operating the product in an unethical or inefficient way that should be addressed. If the inventory of consumable products can be captured and transmitted, then sales calls or promotions could be expertly timed.

3. Define new service and revenue models

The ability to provide more options for serving and charging your customers increases exponentially once a physical product is connecting in real time. Rather than a monthly service fee, customers could pay for each time or day they use the product. These options could be attractive to customers who otherwise would not have purchased the product, believing that they wouldn’t use it enough to justify the subscription fees (similar to the pay-as-you-go mobile phones).

Leasing models on connected products could now include low, medium, or high-usage plans, or advanced features could be immediately enabled after payment of an upgrade cost—akin to web apps like Google Drive or SurveyMonkey. This gives the makers of physical products new ways to get their foot in the door with customers at a lower price point. Costly medical monitoring equipment or seldom-used safety equipment could follow the path of tiered pricing models set out by digital-only companies like Hulu, or sell packages of concurrent users like Adobe.

Instead of connecting with customers a few times a year via in-person visits or phone calls, you could have literally hundreds of small touchpoints with them each month as they interact with you via the product. This could drastically change the closeness of the service relationship, while saving the business money on a costly field sales and service team.

Need more reasons?

These benefits to the business may be reason enough for many organizations to see the value in getting connected. Basic back-of-the-napkin math on increased sales or savings from more efficient service is often enough to justify the investment in getting connected. But remember—we’ve only covered the internal benefits here! Next time we’ll explore how to create connected solutions users will love, too.

Design for the Caring Professions: New White Paper and Slideshare

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to 45 UX professionals at TC UX Meetup. I chose to speak on a topic that has become close to my heart over the past few years:  what it’s like to work on the front lines of healthcare and social services as a caring professional. We explored methods for doing in-depth user research and guidelines for designing effective solutions once you understand the user needs.

This topic is also covered in a white paper I recently wrote. Analyzing data from nearly 200 individual interviews, the paper explores how the unique needs of caring professionals are shaped by how they think about their work, the environments in which they perform it, and their interactions with other people. In addition, it provides concrete guidelines to help those who are designing for this specialized user group to maximize the effectiveness of their solutions.

Download the paper for a deep dive into:

  • The mindset of those who have chosen to work caring for people,
  • Constraints imposed by the environment in which they work, and
  • Expectations placed on them by others.

 Design_for_Caring_Professions_Icons

Gaining a deep understanding of how care professionals approach their work, spend their days, and adapt to their organization’s expectations enables the creation of systems and procedures that work for this unique user group.

The same techniques used for this research and analysis could be applied to most other user groups with similar success. With meaningful and directed curiosity, a user experience partner can uncover the authentic needs of your users and create designs that exceed their expectations.

Download Whitepaper  View SlideShare Presentation

 

How Might We… make a better world in just one weekend?

“It’s amazing what can happen in just three Earth rotations…”

This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the Twin Cities gathering of the Global Service Jam 2016, both as a coach and observer. A “service jam” brings together small, local groups to use design thinking techniques to brainstorm, research, and prototype completely new services inspired by a shared theme.

Friday kicked off with revealing the secret theme for this year’s Global Service Jam. “Jammers” were surprised to hear an audio clip of what sounded like someone (or something!) splashing into a pool of water. They then took out their Post-It notes and pens and started brainstorming things that the splash reminded them of; first individually and then as groups. Ideas were sorted into related themes and groups of two to four “Jammers” used the themes to create their preliminary “How Might We” questions.

Haven’t heard of a How Might We question? The term is used frequently in design thinking activities to describe a question that acts as a foundation for research and design inquiries. It describes the problem you are trying to solve, and is stated optimistically to reinforce the feeling that a good solution is possible. A How Might We (HMW) question is usually brief, allows for a variety of answers, and inspires ideation and creative thinking.

Here are three ways you can form great How Might We Questions:

  1. Refine the scope. It’s important to have a statement that sets helpful boundaries. Avoid questions that are so narrow that they shut down creativity (“How Might We build more community spaces for relaxation?”) or too broad (“How Might We redefine how people spend their free time?”). A right-size question leaves room to be surprised by your research findings and iterate solutions, but doesn’t feel overwhelming or unfocused. One team eventually settled on “How Might We remove barriers that keep people from finding peace and relaxation?” and after interviewing several users, decided to focus on one persona that seems to have the most barriers to relaxation: Millennials.
  2. Remove embedded biases and assumptions. By Saturday morning, another team had coalesced around the question, “How Might We raise awareness of individual water consumption so that people reduce their global footprint?” By writing down as many assumptions as they could think of, the team realized that they had started wading in to “solutioning” before even beginning their research. In order to identify the most effective ways to get people to reduce their global footprint, the team needed to be open to any number of solutions, not just the solution of “raising awareness.”  Another way to avoid type of assumption is to focus on the ultimate benefit or change you want to bring about. While it is natural to imagine the best way to get there, those perspectives should come later and be based on user research.
  3. Let the facts speak for themselves. On the other hand, do rely on available facts to inform the background of your user research. This same team also wondered if they had gone too far by assuming that individual water consumption has a negative environmental impact. They questioned whether they should do user research to determine causality. While asking users if they think their individual water consumption has an impact on the environment could be an interesting area to research, it’s not necessary to support this particular How Might We—this information has been proven through scientific research and is easily found online. The team decided to move forward, and their final prototype of the weekend outlined a campaign that began with awareness of consumption and then grew into a competition engaging communities, large corporations, and even governments.

I could not have been more impressed by Sunday’s team presentations. In just 48 hours the “Jammers” had become very comfortable with terms like “insights,” “personas,” and “failing fast.” Their prototypes were solidly based in research and they were able to articulate the needs they had uncovered and how they had iterated their solutions as they got more and more feedback. Not a bad way to spend a weekend. You can view all of the projects from the Twin Cities Service Jam and others around the world here.

Prototype from Global Service Jam

Prototype of a community to address the question “How Might We help millennials find more opportunities to relax?”

GSJ2016_1

Prototype of a five-part campaign to address the question “How Might We increase community members’ capacity to positively affect water consumption?”

 

Useful Data Visualizations

There are a lot of ways you can visualize data, and there’s no shortage of best practices out there for making your charts and graphs. Best practices only take you so far, however. I’ll be talking about how a user’s context and goals inform useful data visualizations at the UXPA’s February meeting, next Thursday, February 11. Event details are here. Also: jokes. Hope to see you there!

View Jeff’s SlideShare Presentation

Visualize Nothingness

By Jeff Harrison

It’s an exciting time to be me! If this email I got from LinkedIn is any guide, my career is about to really take off.

linkedin

Also, this email from my bank shows my rewards balance on this credit card remains at an all-time high. (I don’t know what “Earn More Mall Earnings” means but as someone who lives within a hypothetical short drive of the Mall of America I’m pretty stoked.)

rewards

To top it off, according to this visualization in ClassDojo, my kid is rocking Spanish class. The chart helps me see that all of the feedback from his teacher is positive.

class dojo

All these displays have one thing in common: underwhelming data. I do not actively promote my profile on LinkedIn [edited to add link to LinkedIn profile], and my son’s Spanish teacher never got into the habit of using ClassDojo to communicate with parents. I never signed up for the rewards program for which I receive the monthly grid of zeroes above; they just started showing up in my email a year or two ago. (The program is attached to an overdraft protection feature that Wells Fargo couldn’t figure out how to implement without issuing me a second debit card, which I routinely cut in half each time I get a new one.)

It’s easy to imagine the design reviews for these interfaces. Colorful charts! Insights! Engagement! When there’s a match between the data in these displays and what customers care about optimizing, magic happens: think of all the Fitbit users who consult their apps to monitor their steps and optimize their day for physical activity. The data contributes to a feedback loop, and more people take the stairs. However, when there’s a mismatch the displays aren’t motivating. They just feel kind of lame.

Do your user research. Get it right. And stop sending me notifications that suggest my life is somehow disappointing. Because LinkedIn and my mom would both tell you different:

allstar