Starting with One

Designing for the Internet of Things

Alasdair Allan
13 min readFeb 25, 2019

This is the second article in a series of six on designing connected devices, the first article in the series is “Where Does Your Smart Product Sit?” and talks about product design. The next is “Your Developers’ Experience” and talks about prototyping and product design. Links to all six articles can be found in the series overview.

Every idea begins where no one else can see it, inside someone’s head. While it lives there it always appears more fully formed than it actually is, it’s important to get the idea out into the world as quickly as possible. Because there it’ll meet the corner cases, the “what happens if?” questions that you haven’t thought about yet.

However while it’s important to take the idea and get it down on paper, it’s far more useful to build prototypes. Many individual prototypes will be needed. Sometimes a whole prototype is needed to examine how an individual feature of the product will work. But building the physical product that results often begins with two separate versions, the “looks like” and “works like” prototypes.

The “Looks Like” Prototype

The first, the “looks like,” is in the hands of designers. Typically this prototype ends up being made from materials that don’t resemble your final product in the slightest, good materials include balsa wood, clay, or cardboard, although recently many designer have started to use 3D printers to build more comprehensive prototypes…