Internet of Things[1] and designing things

In 2020 there will be 50,000,000 interconnected objects[2], but the Internet of Things has already been overcome and renamed as the Internet of Everything because it connects objects and people in all directions with thousands of possible applications.

 Many analysts believe that this change is a logical consequence of the incorporation of new technologies into everyday life but, in my opinion, it will be a revolution and a great opportunity for all kind of designers.

Those who understand Design as a communication language to tell stories are facing a turning point in the profession because this changes the story of objects, or at least the way to tell it.  The time has come now for designers to capitalise our design capacity. Now our challenge as communicators is focused on making the new generation of objects transmit their features and connectivity without altering the codes society has set up to understand them.

This is already happening as we can see from the latest technological innovation of connected products that rely on recognisable, stable and durable semantic codes.  Some examples are Google Glasses, applied to traditional glasses; Apple’s iWatch, with the image of an analog watch; Nike+FuelBand, the device that reads our vital signs during physical activity and uploads them to a bracelet; or Nest’s home automation device, with dozens of data translated into a wall clock; and we could go on with a long list of objects endowed with connectivity:  cars, buses, bicycles, light bulbs, sports shoes, t-shirts, ovens, microwaves, coffee machines, fridges, toasters, etc., but that maintain their morphology prior to connectivity and it is for that reason that we recognise them as such.

One reason for this phenomenon is that the capacity we have as a society to take in so many innovations is limited; this is why new products must rely on widely known key reference products where communication bounces back onto informative redundancy bands to be understood.  As Umberto Eco explained in his The Absent Structure[3], design keeps a delicate balance between primary functions, those that denote utility functions and secondary functions, those that connote symbolic functions.  Now with the Internet embedded in millions of objects, design as a discipline requires a thorough review from a semiotic perspective because all the communicative functions of objects are being altered and, in addition, we must help to translate those billions of data that will be generated in products that will improve the quality of our lives.

Another problem we face as designers occurs when a new type of products that have no previous references to support them is created and this is why we find lots of technology products lately of an enigmatic, cold and unfriendly nature that fail because they are not understood by consumers.

It is obvious that if Design and the Internet of Thinks join forces, the functionality and empathy of objects with users will increase exponentially. This is why we, as designers, now have a unique opportunity that should be seized to be architects of this change –right from the beginning of the development of new products – if we want to go far beyond merely designing attractive casings.

If Dave Evans[4]’ forecasts are being fulfilled as it seems:  The Internet of Everything will change everything and, fortunately, this time it will not take us so many years to see it; it will be in around 2020. (Design Project). Now we must work in this direction to receive our share of this big business[5] and we must do it fast, because we have little time to understand, imagine and design the connectivity of fifty thousand million products.

Marcelo Leslabay

Lecturer in Industrial Design, Faculty of Engineering, University of Deusto.

[1] Evans, Dave. Internet de las cosas. Cómo la próxima evolución de Internet lo cambia todo. Report by Cisco System.

[2] Eco, Umberto; La estructura ausente. Introducción a la semiótica. Chapter C. La función y el signo, p. 250. (Editorial Lumen, Barcelona, 1986).

[3]Evans, Dave. Beyond Things: The Internet of Everything, Explained In Four Dimensions. Article published in Huffington Post el 24.09.2013

[4]Since early 2013, the Internet of Everything will make US$14.4 billion of the total value at stake for ten years (2013-2022). Cisco Report.  Internet de Todo, 2013.

[5]Desde principios de 2013 Internet de Todo producirá U$S 14,4 billones del valor total en juego durante diez años (2013-2022). Informe Cisco. Internet de Todo, 2013.


  • Ahora que objetos y sistemas se han vuelto mucho más comunicativos, participando de una capa expresiva y metafísica de interacción con las personas nunca antes explorada, ¿cómo configurar el guion básico de estas conversaciones con los objetos? ¿Hasta qué punto los nuevos objetos inteligentes y conectados deben heredar los códigos semánticos de los productos preexistentes? ¿Qué nuevas referencias deben incorporar?

    Como comentas, estas preguntas van a definir el futuro del diseño en los próximos años. Excelente artículo.

  • Un gran artículo, ha llovido mucho desde aquel 1998 cuando entre por primera vez a internet, todo era un campo libre de información y pocas barraras disponíamos en aquel entonces. Todo evoluciona y claramente, por el bien nuestro. Un saludo.

  • Juan Pablo Rodriguez Godinez

    he leído este artículo escrito desde el 2015 y me parece relevante la manera de como las cosas en este 2018, aun tienen una referencia directa a su forma fundamental, solo que con tecnología que le permite conectarse a una red y mandar información registrada de todas nuestras preferencias y actividades (para publicidad) es muy poco lo que vemos nuevo, y las innovaciones son solo la manera de mejorar su conectividad. Me parece que estamos estancados, y donde los diseñadores debemos tomarnos mas en serio nuestras aportaciones. sin embargo y quiero recalcar lo que en este articulo menciona y tiene que ver con el poco éxito de las cosas, que precisamente no están referenciadas a algún producto existente, y donde lo marca como un problema no resuelto. Me queda la duda si esto tiene que ver en realidad con que las cosas que tenemos son en realidad las que necesitamos y solo las queremos mas conectadas, y que las cosas no referenciadas no están siendo necesitadas. Saludos.

Leave a Reply to Juan Pablo Rodriguez Godinez Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.