“You can’t do better design with a computer, but you can speed up your work enormously,” said Wim Crouwel, a noted Dutch graphic designer. Crouwel is known for his interest in early cathode ray tube technology, which led him to design an experimental typeface called New Alphabet in 1967. This typeface used only vertical and horizontal lines to produce a font that, although quite difficult to read, could actually be displayed via cathode ray tube technology of that era.
Display technology has come a long way, but Crouwel’s words have more or less held up through the years. Computers have been an enormous productivity boost to designers and engineers. Products themselves have changed due to embedded technology, but the role of design in a product’s lifecycle hasn’t changed much. The role of design has become more celebrated, but remains essentially unchanged since the dawn of the computing era. With the “Internet of Things,” computer technology will move from an enabling role, to one that is central to the modern industrial designer.
Traditionally in the manufacturing space, designers conceive and develop a physical object, and the design envelope is defined by the physical geometry of the object itself. As I referenced in The ‘Internet of Things’ changes manufacturing, connectivity expands the design envelope in two ways:
- With a gateway from the designer’s desk to products in the field, designers will need to decide whether to have products access functions in the cloud, or remain embedded in the product itself. The benefits are the ability to push software upgrades and add or change features over time. The value of this should be compared to the risk of losing product functionality due to a loss of connectivity.
- Significant value from the Internet of Things set of technologies should come from devices sharing data, making decisions and taking action based on those conversations. How these devices talk to one another (either directly or through centralized IT) will be the most complex part of the Internet of Things. Designers will need to work through the issues such as the lack of standards and security, and bring forward various new capabilities around sensor technology, data encapsulation, software and algorithm development, as well as the interface to the Big Data world.
As an example, let’s say that we’re a design team for a high-end coffeemaker company, and we have determined that there is a market for a connected product that is able to sense when coffee is needed and deliver the perfect cup at the perfect time according to each individual. For example, a pre-run espresso is automatically made when a runner turns off her morning alarm on her smartphone. A second cup, this time a cappuccino, starts to brew after she’s returned home and just completed a shower. When certain neighbors or family members stop by, the front door sends a message to the coffeemaker, which then makes coffee according to known preferences.
The design scope for this new product goes well beyond advancements in milk frothers. This design team will need to build the functionality for the product to exchange information with smartphones, smart showers, and smart doors. Without standardization, this team will likely need to develop its own network of technology solutions with other manufacturers, or perhaps join a pre-existing, home-based technology hub.
Like the Internet of Things, Crouwel’s New Alphabet was reviled and loved in almost equal measures. According to the Esquire profile, it was “loved for its chutzpah” and reviled because it just wasn’t workable.
Of course, technology quickly advanced and soon beautiful typefaces became workable on a range of computerized devices. And so we should expect the same with the Internet of Things. Somewhere there are design teams picking up the challenge of group conversations between our household appliances, our vehicles, our grocery stores, and our Amazon accounts. And it’s a pretty good bet that they’ll break the barrier of just having vertical and horizontal lines.
‘Internet of Things’
Most manufacturers have been standing on the sidelines when it comes to the Internet of Things. Here are some reasons why they should get in the game.
- 1The ‘Internet of Things’ changes manufacturing
- 2How the ‘Internet of Things’ will change design
- 3Becoming customer-centric via ‘Internet of Things’
- 4Securing the ‘Internet of Things’
- 5How the ‘Internet of Things’ impacts the factory
- 6Future ‘Internet of Things’ — from device to sky