A New Age of IOT and Design…Will Humans Need Apply?

As we see the emergence of new principals of design for smart products appear in trade journals, it reinforces my belief that design for IOT will be a new major design discipline, quite unlike any other wave of design yet seen as that smart, connected products existing in “systems within systems” structures. This belief is supported by several challenges and trends that will have a huge impact on designers, system engineers, and enterprise architects. The Key Challenge will be the need to synchronize the very different “clock speeds” of hardware and software product development…understanding how to design for the ratio of 10 agile software cycles that can be executed to 1 hardware production cycle. The ability to accommodate more late-stage and post purchase design changes quickly and efficiently will become crucial. They will be challenged on several fronts:
Design goals will include:
•        Achieve hardware standardization through software-based customization
•        Enable personalization
•        Incorporate the ability to support ongoing product upgrades
•        Enable predictive, enhanced, or remote service.
Design approaches to be deployed:
•        Design for usability includes design for “upgradability”
•        Design for simplicity includes design for saving time
•        Design for quality includes design for communication
•        Design for product innovation includes design for discovery
•        Design for manufacturability includes design for creating insight
Designers will be required to stretch their expertise in:
•        Systems engineering
•        Agile software development is essential to integrate a product’s
         hardware, electronics, software, operating system, and connectivity components
The importance of understanding clock speed mechanics and how to effectively plan an executed in the software and product development, release and upgrade cycles will redefine the types of challenges and constraints to be faced. But perhaps more importantly, designer will be hard challenged by the systems themselves being able to design themselves.
With IOT industry leaders Cisco and GE setting the pace with their unique in-house capabilities and well synchronized partner ecosystems to execute the software and hardware 10 : 1 cycles end to end, and with their proclivity to go lean and automated when ever possible, they will set the bar to automated design specification and execution of smart systems comprised of smart products and smart services collecting, analyzing data and designing changes to the next iteration…likely through algorithms existing in the product cloud…a zone where a product’s characteristics can be altered through software upgrades without the need for remanufacturing the hardware itself. Their breakthrough work will undoubtedly have a large influence on the approaches deployed by lesser resourced players trying quickly to get into the IOT game.

This puts a very relevant question on the table…what will be the role of the designer in the not too distant future? If we put our egos aside, how truly important is it to keep the human in the loop when designing for human factors? Travel agents, stock traders, and customer service representatives weren’t immune to change brought on by technology, digital business models, and society’s acceptance of improved service and convenience.  How can we assume designers will be immune to these forces of change? Anyone who holds a position as a designer within a Solution Integrator knows that they aere working n the forefront of designing great user experiences and that every day is a battle to prove a designer’s worth in the SDLC. IOT’s dependency on advanced data analytics, product clouds and 3-D printing of new products on demand is going to even put this question to a bigger test.
Consider this; watches are a great metaphor. Right now the trend is to own large, mechanical watches as a statement of one’s prestige and position in society. Yet, the most elaborate, expensive mechanical watch is not a better time piece than a $100 dollar digital watch when it comes to both accuracy of keeping time or other new desired digital functions (not even available on a mechanical watch). Yes, a traditionally engineered watch is a mechanical wonder and an interesting piece of jewelry, but aren’t we living in a digital age with its promise of better living for the majority of the population at a lower cost to boot? “Times they are a changing.”

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