Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

Hardware without hardware: Making as little as possible while rapidly exploring novel digital product ideas

3:30pm–5:00pm Tuesday, 06/23/2015
Tutorial, Design
Location: Cowell Theater (Herbst Pavilion)
Average rating: ***..
(3.89, 9 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

This session is for startup founders, user experience designers, product managers, innovation teams, and anyone else who is thinking about developing a new connected product or service.


One of the biggest challenges in designing novel connected hardware is knowing whether the final experience will be successful, and minimizing the investment in developing the wrong product. Building fully-functional hardware to evaluate an idea is a significant investment, and slow. This leads companies either to work incrementally, managing the risk of a bad investment by making only small changes to an existing product type; or throwing resources behind a potentially transformative idea based on a hunch. The first approach leads to conservative products, the second is very risky and successes are difficult to repeat.

We believe it’s possible to manage risk and still explore big, potentially transformative, ideas for products and services. Our approach looks at novel digital product systems (broadly in the Internet of Things, but not exclusively) with the explicit goal of building the minimum amount of technology as is necessary to answer questions about the value and impact of a new product or service.

Ideally we do no new hardware, service, or software development at all before changing or discarding a product idea. Our approach mixes Lean Startup approaches with several decades of ubiquitous computing UX design, to define a multi-stage process that aims to match the fidelity of a device with the breadth of questions the device is supposed to answer. As core assumptions are challenged and validated, more technology is developed and fidelity increases.

The talk will cover:

  • How to make an Alan Kay time machine
  • An Arduino on a breadboard is not a prototype
  • Proofs-of-concept prove nothing as far as the product is concerned; OK, almost nothing
  • A 4-year-old challenges more assumptions in ten minutes than product teams do in six months
Photo of Mike Kuniavsky

Mike Kuniavsky


Mike Kuniavsky leads user experience design in the Innovation Services Group at PARC, a Xerox company. A 20-year veteran of digital product development, he designs products, business processes, and services at the leading edge of technological change. Prior to PARC, Mike co-founded several successful user experience-centered companies, including ThingM, which designs and manufactures ubiquitous computing and Internet of Things products, and Adaptive Path, a well-known design consultancy. He has worked with top technology companies such as Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Whirlpool, and Qualcomm to design new products, guide product strategy, and create user-centered design and development cultures. Mike is the author of Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research and Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design.

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Picture of Kate Benson
Kate Benson
06/28/2015 8:34pm PDT

Hello, would it be possible to receive your slide deck ?
Thanks !