Learn the Design Principles that are used on Connected Devices

Design Principles

Design Principles

The aesthetic design of a connected device is not of concern in an IoT project. The design aspects of concern are the interaction with other elements and this design needs to be well thought out. Design goes beyond the narrow objective of physical appearance. For example, product design covers appearance but it also covers product functionality.

With the popularity of connected devices, two types of design specialists have emerged. There are designers concerned with the broad system and designers concerned with interaction of the different elements. There is consensus among the different design specialists that design goes beyond appearance. This article will focus on discussing design principles that will aid in developing a strong IoT project.

The first important concept when designing an IoT project is calm technology. A system that does not compete for attention but has a high utility when given attention, this type of technology is referred to as calm technology. In a connected devices environment multiple challenges come up. Challenges that arise are configuration, power sources, communication among devices and communication with humans.

Powering devices and networking are technical challenges and they have been the motivation of development of 6LoWPAN. The objective of 6LoWPAN protocol is to increase the uptake of IPv6 protocol among simple and low power sensors.

Configuration and interaction have a human element therefore they cannot be completely solved by technical solutions. Therefore, a good design supports technology uptake and usability. A design principle that thinks of a single device is inefficient in considering the challenges that will be faced in a production environment. Therefore an IoT design should view a device in the context of its operating environment.

IoT devices interaction with people poses a great difficulty. With a few devices, notifications and alerts can be effectively used. However even in an environment with 100 devices notifications will not be effective resulting in an attention seeking system. A distinct feature of an IoT environment is the shift from use of screens notifications to real world notifications such as twitches and vibrations.

Any new technology will face the challenge of uptake; therefore a strategy aimed at helping people understand and accept it is needed. There will be early adopters but the real challenge is ensuring mass uptake of a technology. Even when a technology has the key to transform its users by great leaps it should not wander too far from the boundary of what is considered normal. An example of this concept is the mobile phone which was primarily developed as a portable way of receiving and making calls. The technology has evolved to provide access to internet, entertainment and much more. The phone analogy describes how connected devices are in our daily lives.

To help people understand the capabilities of IoT, an analogy of magic can be used. This analogy is appropriate because connected devices in an IoT project share capabilities with enchanted objects found in magic. Connected devices can be seen as magical because of simplifying and adding fun to daily activities. Connected devices are trusted to accomplish their tasks and also ensure the data they collect does not fall into the wrong hands which brings up the issue of privacy. Therefore an IoT project design has to put into consideration protection and the privacy of intentionally or unintentionally collected data.

Privacy issues do not just arise in healthcare, for example a parking management system in a city can compromise the privacy of its users. Besides privacy issues of data ownership also arise when data is captured in public areas. Is the data owned by the organization capturing it or by the people contributing the data?

When designing an IoT project, an important design consideration is how the data from different devices will be consumed. Although, there is an effort to standardize communication protocols used by different devices, they use different web services. To overcome this challenge an application programming interface (API) is used. When one API is inadequate multiple APIs can be combined and this use of multiple APIs is referred to as mashing. For example identifying trending topics on social media and displaying trends in each geographic region is mashing up. When there is no API web scraping is a technique that can be used to get data from the internet. However, scraping may violate terms of web services leading to legal consequences or denial of service.

A very critical to success API consideration is security. Although, a connected device is not a high risk security target there are unique challenges when working with connected devices. In the event of security vulnerability updates to software are easy but hardware updates are very challenging. Password changes to a connected device are difficult therefore design considerations around configuration need to be carefully made.

To secure passwords sent over a network encryption at the server or device level is used. Setting up a secure server is easy, but encryption at the device level is challenging because of CPU and memory limitation. When designing a security layer around an IoT project you need to consider the risk of data breach and the cost of implementing security. For example weather monitoring data has low risk while patient data has a very high risk in case of a data breach.

An API handles communication between the client and the server. Several APIs have been developed therefore it is not necessary to develop an API from scratch. Some of the widely used APIs are listed below.
• Representational State Transfer (REST)
• Simple object access protocol (SOAP)

This article emphasized the importance of good design decisions in an IoT project. We discussed issues concerning technology uptake, data privacy, data ownership and data security.


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