Design plays an essential role in the user experience. Well-designed products blend aesthetics with usability to deliver the best of both worlds. By adding connectivity into the mix, many smart device makers are providing even more value to their customers—and even reshaping entire product categories with their innovations.
Let's take a look at five smart devices with unique designs that unlock novel functionality improving the user experience.
#1. Apple AirPods Pro
Apple's AirPods launched in September 2016 with a lukewarm reception. With an unconventional design and high price point, the wireless headphones were initially mocked with memes and among reviewers. But since then, they've become a status symbol around the world and captured more than 60% of the wireless headphone market.
Apple’s AirPods fit a lot of technology into a unique design footprint, providing the best possible user experience. Source: Nick Hunn
Like many Apple products, the unique design unlocked novel benefits. The long stems hold microphones and antennas that enable sound quality rivaling the best over-ear headphones while keeping the buds firmly in place. Meanwhile, the charging case connects with the "Find My" app to help customers avoid losing their headphones.
#2. Samsung Galaxy Watch
The Samsung Galaxy Watch has become a viable competitor to the Apple Watch with its ECG capabilities and other technologies. While the Apple Watch offers a compelling design, the Galaxy Watch has some design features that make it more usable, including its signature turning watch face that enables navigation without tapping a small screen.
The Galaxy Watch face looks just like a conventional watch, but provides smart functionality. Source: Samsung
In addition to its usability innovations, the Galaxy Watch is designed to preserve the legacy of a real watch with its design. The watch face is rounded like a traditional watch while the default watch face mimics the real thing. But of course, you can access any smartwatch features with the click of a button or the turn of the watch face.
#3. Oura Ring
The Oura Ring is a sleep tracker that effortlessly tracks sleep and activity around the clock. Unlike smartwatches, Oura's ring format is ideal for sleep tracking since it's much less intrusive. However, it still packs seven temperature sensors and an infrared LED that measures resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and respiratory rates.
The Oura Ring packs a lot of sensors into a convenient ring format that’s perfect for sleep tracking. Source: Wired
Despite the amount of technology packed into such a small size, the Oura Ring has an attractive and customizable design to fit nearly anyone's style without being overly bulky or heavy. It's no thicker than the average wedding ring and weighs even less. And with a seven-day battery life, you don't need to remember to charge it every day.
#4. Airmega 400S
Air purifiers are becoming increasingly necessary with the rise of COVID-19 and wildfires across the Western United States. Unfortunately, many air purifiers are monstrosities that take up a lot of space and make a lot of noise. As a result, consumers have typically been forced to choose between health and style when it comes to clean air.
The Airmega looks like a piece of high-end furniture, helping to purify the air without creating an eyesore. Source: Airmega
The Airmega 400 addresses these problems through a sleek furniture-like design while still providing a dual purification system containing a HEPA and activated carbon filter. The WiFi-connected device also includes a companion mobile app that provides remote controls, making it easy to adjust fan noise levels when guests are present.
#5. Siemens iQ700
Siemens iQ700 combines a minimalist design with smartphone connectivity to create an unparalleled cooking experience. The system contains a number of novel features, such as an integrated microwave that saves space and an oven with a built-in humidity sensor to detect when a dish is ready and cooked to perfection.
Siemens iQ700 provides an attractive smart interface while unlocking new capabilities for cooking. Source: Siemens
In addition to its innovative technology, the smart cooking devices are designed to fit seamlessly into any kitchen design. For example, they can be installed side-by-side or on top of each other, and they're made to match nearly any built-in format. The combination of aesthetics and usability set it apart in high-end kitchens.
Lessons and Takeaways
Apple, IDEO, and other successful design firms start with user problems and work backward towards a product. For instance, Apple's AirPods came from a consumer desire for wireless headsets and frustrations with sound and microphone quality. The initial design aimed to solve these problems—even if it proved a little unconventional.
At the same time, smart device makers shouldn't sacrifice aesthetics for functionality. The Galaxy SmartWatch and Oura Ring's success shows that many consumers prefer traditional styles with added smart functionality. They may not prefer cutting-edge futuristic designs that larger companies may be able to force on users (e.g., AirPods).
Ultimately, the best designs arise from extensive user research and iterative design—whether using internal or external design teams. Some products may eventually use generative design to come up with novel ways to accommodate engineering requirements along with human insights to select the right aesthetics.
The Bottom Line
The best smart devices blend aesthetics, usability, and connectivity to reshape entire product categories. While Apple and IDEO are best-known for these capabilities, there are many different products pushing the innovation envelope across a range of industries. The five examples we've discussed are just a handful of the ways to blend connectivity and design.
If you're developing smart devices, Intent can help bring your products to market from conceptualization through the entire product lifecycle. With over a decade of experience working on projects like the Oura Ring, we're uniquely positioned in the smart device space to help you strike the right balance between design, usability, and connectivity.