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Our 10 Tip Guide to Product Design

Rudy Mutter
August 8, 2016

When thinking about the future of technology, it’s hard not to imagine living like The Jetsons in a utopian future, taking saucer-shaped aerocars from sky-high homes to three-day-a-week jobs.  It’s a wonderful dream, but the fast-approaching future of technology-infused life will contain a lot fewer jetpacks and many more solutions that quietly — almost imperceptibly — make life easier.

The groundwork for that world is being laid by companies like KPN, a Dutch telecommunications company that just released new LPWANs to connect low-power devices, such as sensors, over vast areas. It’s networks like KPNs that will soon allow IoT devices from Amazon’s Dash Buttons to smart doorbells to connected streetlights to function from anywhere, silently becoming part of our daily routines. They’ll help IoT technologies go the way of the telephone, evolving from bulky, in-home models to pocket-friendly devices we depend on every day.

How to Develop Desirable IoT Tech

With networks blossoming around the world, the time has come for companies to craft IoT products that make the most of them. But building next-generation technologies takes more than an exciting idea; it requires a thoughtful approach and strategic execution. This guide can help you do both:

1. Prepare with a prototype

To create a high-quality product, you’ll need to test multiple prototypes in order to assess feasibility. Going big right out of the gate wastes resources, and it limits your ability to cater to customers’ needs post-release. When working with a recent client, Yeti prototyped multiple versions of a server-monitoring tool before determining Bluetooth fit the bill. By experimenting first, we kept the company from launching an embarrassing flop.

Encompass IoT Meter

2. Beta test or else

Trust me: Users find functionality issues better than anyone, but you don’t want consumers digging them up post-release. That could mean hardware recalls, which are much more costly to fix than simple software updates. Instead, incorporate multiple phases of user testing to iron out bugs and tweak the interface.  When we worked with EKM Metering to architect Encompass, we brought it to test users before releasing it to the general customer base. That gave us the space to make quick pivots without upsetting customers, and it gave customers an end product that performs without a hitch.

3. Show users the data

While many IoT developers use the data goldmine for internal feedback, don’t overlook how data can be used to add value for the user. Leverage the full power of smart hardware by adding charts, animations, and reports that incentivize regular engagement. Sleep Number, which recently joined the IoT space, has jumped into the world of sleep tracking by leveraging data it was already poised to collect. The It Bed visualizes sleep patterns and recommends sleep-saving solutions, making the data relevant to everyday life.

4. Use what you have

When working with ThingLogix and Avnet to create a smart lighting experience, we didn’t waste time reinventing the wheel to build the prototype. To jump-start progress, we brought together multiple existing technologies like Amazon Echo and Arduino. When building your IoT product, look around. What existing systems, services, or components have you already mastered that could give your project a boost? Cobbling is a smart, quick, and effective approach to entering the connected technology game.

5. Build a dream team

IoT products aren’t your mother’s technologies, so have the humility to recognize when your team doesn’t have all the know-how needed. Because IoT touches both hardware and software, you’ll need a diverse crop of developers with backgrounds in each. When working with Juicero, our software development experts joined forces with its hardware-focused team. By collaborating, we arrived at a functional prototype much sooner than if either of us had gone it alone.

6. Use the power of routine

The Withings scale is a good example of an IoT product that “just fits” into a user’s daily routine. Because its health-conscious consumers were already tracking body weight manually, the product quickly became a part of users’ daily lives. Building an IoT product unlike anything consumers already use is risky. Automating a task they’re already doing is an easier way to sneak into their hearts.

7. When in doubt, features out

Thanks to the complex technology powering it, an IoT product jam-packed with features can rapidly lose user-friendliness. It isn’t easy, but cutting out bells and whistles prevents an overly complicated interface and a poor user experience. Amazon, for example, had countless opportunities to spice up its Dash Buttons, but it chose to stick with the simplicity of a single button. Why make ordering laundry soap any more difficult than it has to be?

Nest Thermostat

8. Put planet and pocketbook first

You can’t just develop an IoT product and expect consumers to buy it because it’s “hot” or “trendy.” You need a unique value proposition — some way your product will actually make life better.  Many IoT products, such as the Nest thermostat, have sold themselves by cutting costs and helping out the environment. The smart thermostat not only helps customers automate the heating and cooling of their homes, but also decreases users’ energy expenditures and environmental footprints.

9. Don’t forget about onboarding

Using an IoT product for the first time can be overwhelming, especially for less tech-savvy users. Spend time in development to design the onboarding process with tech-challenged consumers in mind. Again, Nest, which has since acquired Dropcam, has set the bar here with its Nest Cam. It’s famous for its easy setup, so it’s little wonder the product has become popular with homeowners of all ages.

10. Aim for design that disappears

An essential consideration when developing an IoT product is its day-to-day visibility. And just as nobody wants a cellphone that looks like a brick in their pocket, developers should shoot for stealth in lieu of flash with their product’s hardware. Wearable companies like Fitbit have done great work minimizing the footprint of their wearables by upping functionality while cutting size. The result is a stylish, unobtrusive device that does much, much more than a standard watch.

Yeti’s IoT Advantage

IoT is a beautiful marriage of hardware and software, yet very few engineers create a harmonious union of the two. At Yeti, we’re software experts with enough hardware expertise to collaborate with today’s best hardware engineers to create lovable IoT gadgets. We’re tackling the future of IoT, and if you’d like to join us, learn the ropes by downloading our free whitepaper on everything you need to know about the power of smart technologies. While it might not help you build the next flying car, it will rocket your team toward a more connected, prosperous future.

Rudy Mutter is a CTO + Founding Partner at Yeti. He found his passion for technology as a youth, spending his childhood developing games and coding websites. Rudy now resides in the Yeti Cave where he architects Yeti’s system and heads up project production.

Follow Rudy on Twitter.

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