CHICAGO — The Internet of Things (IoT) has inspired a gold rush from every tech company and appliance maker—the problem is, no one knows which mountain has the most gold. That’s the metaphor Paul Hatch uses to describe the current scramble by companies trying to figure out the best way to utilize data, connectivity and the transformational potential inherent in IoT.
“Nobody truly knows exactly where this is going to go in the future,” he says. “We do know that IoT is going to be prevalent everywhere and the larger corporations, certainly, will benefit highly from it.”
Hatch established TEAMS Design’s Chicago office in 1998, one of five international branches with 90-plus industrial designers and more than 1,000 design awards. Appliance DESIGN caught up with Hatch at the IDSA Midwest District Design Conference 2018 in Chicago to hear more of his perspective and insight into how industrial design can help form and improve IoT.
During the interview, he describes a tech climate focused on collecting reams of data but without clear direction of what to do with it after it’s collected.
“What my soap box is, they’re not making a difference between quality data or just mass data,” he says. “And in IoT there are the four Vs [volume, velocity, variety, and value], with volume being the mass and veracity being the quality.
“Nobody is talking about veracity. So that’s where I think design comes in. I believe we have got to make veracity the key, because it’s going to be quality data, not mass of data, that’s going to give you the insights, going to give you the information that you need. But right now everyone is looking at volume and big data.”
appliance DESIGN: I thought it was interesting, maybe a year ago, it was revealed that Roomba was collecting floor plan data of people’s houses. I thought that was fascinating, but I don’t know what they’re going to do with that, exactly.
Paul Hatch: Right, and this whole Facebook [user data scandal]. That was predicted a half year ago.
AD: Yeah, it wasn’t surprising, right?
PH: Right, it was right there in front of us. Now, what’s going to happen in the next few weeks is we’re going to start paying attention outside of Facebook, to all of the other of mass collections of data. What about Fitbit, right? Now what is interesting in that world is the valuations of these companies. For instance Peloton has a connected fitness bike. You don’t think of it as being a connected bike. But they have a tablet, and you can partake in a spinning class in New York, as you're riding it live, so you’re a part of it. But of course you’re sharing your data in doing so. So, like Fitbit, the valuation of the company is tenfold, a hundredfold, of that of a company that just has a product and a brand. So Fitbit is worth billions. It’s not because of the watchband; they’re not exclusive for the band, or the popularity, or for that matter the brand recognition. It’s simply the fact that they were the first with a lot of data, and therefore are worth billions instead of millions.
AD: In the end, with IoT, especially in the appliance space and wearables, are companies placing more focus on the data they’re able to collect than what the Internet of Things can do for consumers using the product?
PH: A lot of companies establish the fact that IoT is going to be the future. They say, ‘Data is what we need. OK, now how do we get the data? So we have to give the user a little bit of sugar in order to allow us to harvest their data.’
And, we humans, we’ll do that. And Fitbit is again the great example of that. ‘Wow, I can see how often I’m running and how often I’m exercising.’ And just that little bit of information, which is good, but the information, the data that the company gets is very valuable. But it was enough of a sweetener for the consumer to buy this affordable device and knowingly share their data. I mean, it’s not like 'I’m doing this so I can share my data.' They’re doing it so they can get their own insights, but they know that data is somewhere.
However, after this Facebook thing, it’s a bit of a game changer. Now people are starting to get a little worried about their data is being used for. There’s been rumbling over the past few years, about the other thing that is going to happen. It will probably happen before any of this goes to print. There’s going to be some bigger data breaches through things like IoT, or through connected products. And then there’s going to be bigger security concerns. So that’s going to change the development of IoT. Otherwise it’s just going to go crazy.
But my design take on things, I talk about the quality of data. And that’s about giving the node, which is the user, a better experience. And if they’re having a better experience, or they’re able to now somehow evolve their experience with this object in a way that is better, then the data that comes from that is very, very valuable. And there’s some experiments we’re involved in that take that little bit further, as well, that I don’t want to talk about right now.
But, I think that’s where we’ve got to go. We’ve got to go beyond the data into what it is we want from it. What is the ultimate we can gain from a connected product, as a corporation? And yet a lot of companies are having a hard time coming up with the way to sweeten the deal with the user. We have to give them something, otherwise they’re not going to pay for this. And I think that’s the mistake.
AD: Yeah, a little LED display on a fridge is not quite enough sugar.
PH: It’s not cutting it. So I’ve seen a lot of those products flop, just because they’re looking at it from the benefit of the company first, and then adding the sugar in the deal, sugar coating in the deal. Whereas design tends to work from the user-out, human-centered design. With my mantra, quality data means having a quality interaction. So let’s start there instead of starting with the technology. Let’s start off with the human centered design, start off with the user. Let’s design something that’s truly different and valuable for them from an experience standpoint and now we can have a look at that data, because that’s going to be unique, very valuable data.
AD: Right, using the data for things beyond just marketing, but actually for the user experience.
PH: Absolutely, yeah, but my selfish reasons are to evolve the product. What we in industrial design are always trying to do is push for the next thing. We need to evolve it, and products evolve over time and then there’s a jump, a leap at some point. If you follow the way cameras have evolved or the way audio players have evolved, from gramophones up to being on your phone. There are points of time where things suddenly take a leap of evolution. I think we in industrial design are always trying to push the margin. And there’s nothing better than if we’re involved in helping that leap happen.
And I think with IoT, it not only gives us the chance to make that leap, but it demands it. This is absolutely the opportunity. I think people who are not taking advantage of that are missing the boat. We’ve got to radically improve the experience of people. We can do it, and we have to do it.