Piers Dillon-Scott


Designers' next challenge, making the Internet of Things desirable – September 5 Weekly Round Up

The Internet of Things promises a world where everything works to make our lives better. But has visual & product design been left out of this ideal future.

During next month’s Paris Motor Show Volvo will reveal the XC90. It’s the first major update to the XC90 rage in 12 years, and as you'd expect, the car comes with all the whizz-bang features of a modern SUV.

But what’s more important that (at least for us) is the car’s OS. See, Volvo is a member of Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay working groups, which means it will install the companies’ operating systems in its vehicles. So, new XC90 drivers will not only have to choose their favourite body colour, but their preferred operating system too.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both modified versions of the respective companies’ latest mobile OS’s; designed to be operated chiefly by a combination of voice and discrete controls embedded in steering wheel.

This begs the question; in the near-future, when our cars talk to our phones, our phones talk to our homes, and we talk to our phones how will user experience and user interface design change?

One person who’s spent some time thinking about this is the Oscar winning production designer KK Barrett. Working with the New York design firm Sagmeister & Walsh, and others, he designed the near-futurescape of Spike Jonze’s Her. Barrett’s design for the film argues that when technology can be reliably controlled by voice, screens, keyboards and other entrapments of modern tech will no longer be needed.

While Barrett takes his screen-less conceit to an ideal limit, his concept isn’t too far from reality. Voice control has become central to Apple and Google’s hardware design visions; Google alone has baked voice recognition into Google Now, Google Glass, Android Auto, even Android TV.

But as Barrett argues, an invisible interface is no excuse for bad design, “technology [as depicted in Her] hasn’t disappeared. It’s dissolved into everyday life.”

Ciáran, our Director of Innovation, spoke to Randall about this very subject this week,

“Right now we have a lot of interfaces: ‘pictures under glass’...In the future, we’re going to have a lot of computers around us without interfaces, like pressure pads underneath floors that recognise when you’re walking in and out of rooms. Or gesture based projections, like Leap Motion. Google Glass may even start to recognise movement in our retinas."

"There will be more voice controlled interactions, like Siri, the most famous example. In the future, there will be far more multimodal interfaces. The challenge for our industry is to make interface-less devices usable. More than usable. Desirable.”

Ciáran’s sentiments chime with those of the wider industry. In May this year Google appointed Ivy Ross, an accomplished business manager and jewellery designer to lead Glass’s development. Her challenge is to add a sense of cool to Google’s face computers. On the other side of the coin, Ralph Lauren has put aside millions to help build the brand’s digital division. Its latest product is a chest hugging compression shirt embedded with body sensors. It’s designed to help the wearer look sexy, although the early model suffers from a rather unflattering battery.

So, as technology finds its way into more of the products around us, we’ll need to find ever more natural ways to interact with technology. This requires strong interaction design, and just as importantly, attractive product design.

Also this week, Germany bans Uber, UX research may have an ethical problem, and we all suck at parsing social news.


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