Designing for the Internet of Things—Focusing on Governments and Systems

SolidWorks Internet of ThingsIn the first part of our series on designing for the Internet of Things, we mentioned that it’s estimated that by the year 2020, somewhere between 50 and 100 billion devices will be connected to the “Internet of Things”—the phrase used to collectively describe all of the non-computer devices actively linked to the Internet.

In order to maximize this potential, we need to take it upon ourselves to ease the introduction of these devices into the digital infrastructure. For a designer, the most important way to ensure that you are doing your part is to constantly remind yourself who you are designing for: the Individual, the Business, or the System (government agencies). Today we focus on designing for the Government or System.

Designing Internet-based devices for the government has less to do with the allure of the Internet, and more to do with the immediate capabilities of devices that happen to use it. The System has no interest in enabling remote climate control in military tanks if an army cadet tweets “#Hot” during desert training. The System’s major interests are clear and utilitarian: protect the Individual, oversee the Business, and invent ways to earn profit. If you are designing for the System, then you must remember that you are working to solve a challenge; it is need-based design that probably won’t make your brand a household name.

The System strives to operate at the top of the food chain, so designing Internet-based devices for it generally grants less creative freedom due to a well-defined set of goals. Strong designers can spin this to their advantage—remember that sometimes having fewer variables and a clear mission can allow you to make a profound impact with a unique and unconventional solution. If you can think outside of the box and conceive a profound solution after having started with the odds against you, you have turned a thankless task into an appreciated gesture.

Designing something like a network of stress sensors to monitor expansion and contraction in a bridge would be a very deliberate task, and probably one that would be assigned to a designer on a commission-based agreement. If you were to take on this job, it would not be like designing for the Business or the Individual, where the appeal (and sometimes the novelty factor) of a design can sell the product. The product has already been sold and it is simply your job to make it work.

Whether you are designing for space agencies or transportation departments, chances are that you’re working according to predetermined specifications with very exact intentions. Jobs like this require designers who can take a list of restricting factors and use them as hints to point toward a solution—essentially, designers who are brought in to bridge the gap between the hard science of engineering and the real world. If you are designing for the System, then you must be that bridge and consider the following:

  • Designing Internet-based devices for the System is about stating your credentials and capabilities, and living up to the challenge presented to you. Your future product pitch is how well you prove yourself on your first assignment.
  • If the product that you design is not perfect for your government buyer, there is no sympathy for you as the designer. It is a pass/fail exam, and if your design looks better than it functions, you won’t get hired again.

The creativity that you inject into your project will be most appreciated with regard to how it is applied to the efficiency of the device. From the lifespan of the capacitors to the degradation of the chipsets and the practicality of the software coding, your mission is to maximize the potential for your device vis-à-vis current government-standard Internet specs. When it is outdated, it will probably be replaced—not updated. If you can use foresight to figure out a way to design your product for future updates without making sacrifices to its functionality in the present, you win. The best approach that you can take is to ask all questions up front and make no assumptions, prioritize the details logically, and apply design intuition accordingly.

To learn more about designing for the Internet of Things, visit our website to download our new feature article: Designing for the Internet of Things, as well as our new infographic on The Internet of Things–Past, Present and Future. You can also watch an archived webinar on the topic below.

Internet of Things Blog Infographic

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Matthew West

Matthew West

SolidWorks alumnus. I like plate reverb, Rat pedals, Thai curry, New Weird fiction, my kids, Vespas, Jazzmasters, my wife & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not necessarily in that order.