Why do we always talk about the interfaces when we’re talking about design and User Experience (UX)? I recently attended a talk titled UX of the Internet of Things by Tommy Sundström at FooCafé in Malmö and we kept falling into that trap.

Internet of Things (IOT) has great potential and the time spent there was not near enough to cover everything. Unfortunately, we used most of the time to talk about interfaces rather than to discuss which issues IOT could solve or enhance. Is this because an interface is tangible? or is it because we need to feel in control?

The main topic of the discussion was control. How could we control all these objects around us. Would there be a universal pattern language for gestures? Is voice the preferred way to interact with IOT? Could gestures conflict between different products? We cannot argue for which interactions to use when we lack both a context and a problem to solve.

We have a responsibility to improve everyday life, and that is not to remote control as many things as possible from the sofa. We should be able to live life without our watch reminding us to stand for a while.

Does the interface improve the experience?

There are great examples out there. Nest was, as always, mentioned as a great product. At the talk the intuitive knob-like interface was praised — we forgot what make the Nest so great. Although the Nest has an physical interface, I rarely have to use it. As Steve Jobs would have said; it just works. It adopts and learns how I’d like my indoor climate.We ended up talking about voice and gesture interfaces for the Nest. Would gesture or sound really improve Nest? I don’t think so, because it’s the lack of interface that makes it great. Another neat use case is Utrechts system of telling me where there are free parking spaces for my bicycle. It uses input from cameras to identify free stands in real time and tells me by digital signs where they are. Similar output often exist in carparks. Designers connected cameras to the Internet, sent real-time footage to a server. By analyzing the images they could display the number of free parking spaces on a sign nearby. This is a very basic IOT example that improve the everyday life of a stressed cyclist looking to park her bicycle. It’s highly contextual. Would an interface improve my experience here?

Problem, context and prototypes

We must prototype, experiment and explore all the possibilities IOT opens up. Let’s design new interactions that fit our context. Interactions that are not constrained by any screens or devices. We can do much better then voice, touch, and gestures. Maybe voice interaction will be the most suitable way to solve a particular problem, but we cannot know that before we have a problem and a context.

Prototyping will help us find the right type of interaction; the type of interaction that helps us solve the problem for the given context. A natural user interface.