Design and IoT: New Heads around the Drawing Board (3/3)*X3TNZbdu06LWNCpHixIFxQ.jpeg
The man/machine relation represents a strategic, theoretical, and ethical challenge (photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash)

The IoT revolution requires new design paradigms. Each week, we will present attoma’s perspective on the need to think connected objects and systems according to their utility to facilitate user appropriation — in everyday life as well as in the industrial sector.

The revenge of cognition

Our species has imagined and built an extraordinarily complex world, which endows us with excellent abilities, thanks to our extraordinary talent to invent cognitive crutches and all kinds of technological prostheses that increase our capacities as humans. But that hasn’t changed our cognition. While we consent to the fact that natural resources are limited, we still live in the belief that our cognitive abilities, on the other hand, are not. But no matter which technology surrounds us, our point of view remains that of hunter-gatherers shaped by their fight for survival in the savannah. Thus, we have no choice but to summon these cognitive abilities to evolve in today’s world, which is a little more complicated.*32SRXQ4O-7XiHM1w9IXf6g.jpeg
They have diverse skills, but the same cognition (photos by Mali Maeder on Pexels and Idobi, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Also, it must be understood that one use drives out another. Our brain — and this is one of the most admirable qualities that we have — severely filters environmental inputs according to interest and pleasure felt. Moreover, we are a very lazy species: we do not want to put effort into learning new usage protocols and syntaxes every other day. In plain terms, for an application to find a spot on the smartphone in your pocket, and then actually to be used, it has to have an outstanding usage value proposition.

This reality raises an interesting question: Wouldn’t the stakes of IoT bring us back to the origin of industrial design, by increasing our interest in use and cognitition — the behavioural and reflective aspects — than in appearance and aesthetics — the emotional and visceral aspects?

New interactions, new interfaces…

“From punch cards to arcane keystrokes to graphical user interfaces, the evolution of computing is partly a story of an evolution in how we interact with them.”*

At a time when we are perhaps experiencing the end of graphical interfaces, we must ask ourselves how we can interact with these connected objects and systems.

We already know binary control interfaces like Amazon’s famous Dash button: when you’ve finished your razor box for example, you press and generate a control — it’s elementary, harmless. There is also Alexa and all kinds of conversational interfaces, which represent a huge developmental leap from a technological point of view — and also, of course, from a design point of view. Finally, there are biometric interfaces, such as the iPhone X Face ID system, which is also a command interface, currently limited to the function of identification and activation, but likely to evolve towards more sophisticated territories in the near future. And behind that, going further, there is also the scenario of any notion of an interface simply disappearing, by imagining systems operated by their own intelligence following dynamic trade-offs based on the natural behaviour of certain user/agent populations in a given context. So here we are at Lewis Carroll, with non-interfaces that will remind us (or not) to celebrate non-anniversaries…

The amazing demo of Google Duplex, the voice assistant which calls businesses to make appointments*Zuj3QZHo9KhP247XupcxJA.png

All this raises completely new methodological questions, particularly around the notion of information architecture. Our conviction today is that it is necessary to reformulate this discipline — which has been at the heart of the attoma DNA since its inception — to make it the foundation of a new generation of design processes. It has indeed become essential to be able to master the multidimensional dimension of systems that reach an unequalled level of complexity, and our observation is that the classic tools of UX design do not have the capacity to do so.

Back to school, everybody!

New design territory, new design education! IoT design is a matter of semantics and semiology: we must learn to name and represent these objects and systems, invent new codes, as shown by the attempts made with totemic connected objects. We must also look at the psychology of man-machine dialogue in natural language: we must learn to speak with a machine as if it were human — while thinking it in a particular way because the machine is not human — and understand what a dialogue is, and how to design a dialogue when we are immersed in an intelligent system, capable of modifying its response in relation to the context and person concerned. A movie script? Choreography? Or outright philosophy, and more precisely maieutics? These are subjects you don’t learn in design school. Not to mention the art of maieutics…*8fzGWzryHLYQLbMDFyDKug.jpeg
IoT and AI are driving a knowledge and skills revolution (photo by Wesley Caribe on Unsplash)

The same applies to the sociological, anthropological and ethical aspects of IoT and Artificial Intelligence, often treated superficially, if not even biasedly. In our opinion, the lack of sensitivity to these issues will be a problem at some point.

However, this is not a life-or-death issue: history teaches us that the adoption of innovation is random and that it sometimes follows counter-intuitive paths. Consequently, everything becomes possible, for better or for worse. And it becomes necessary to be well armed intellectually to give ourselves the means to have a real impact on tomorrow’s world. Future designers must take into account the fact that it is not “design” that will save the world, to paraphrase a quote that is very popular among students**, nor technology, but knowledge of the human being — starting with oneself.

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Giuseppe a crée l’agence attoma à Paris en 1997, après des premières expériences variées dans le milieu extraordinairement riche et stimulant du design milanais des années ’90. Depuis, attoma est devenue une référence dans le domaine du design de services, dont elle a été l’un des pionniers en France, et du design de l’expérience. Tout au long de sa carrière, Giuseppe a été porté par une curiosité inépuisable et par la conviction inébranlable que le design peut réellement contribuer à construire un monde plus facile à vivre, plus inclusif, plus durable, et finalement plus beau. En 2019, Giuseppe a décidé de rejoindre le groupe Assist Digital, avec lequel il a trouvé une résonance évidente concernant l’attention portée à la qualité des relations humaines et à l’engagement éthique dans le business.