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

Handling intermittency and latency: UX design, power management, and real-world networking

Claire Rowland (Independent), Elizabeth Goodman (18F / General Services Administration)
9:00am–10:30am Tuesday, 06/23/2015
Tutorial, Design
Location: Fire House
Average rating: ***..
(3.38, 13 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

This tutorial is suitable for UX designers or system developers with some prior experience of UI design for web//native apps, looking to learn more about the unique challenges of designing software services for IoT, and/or interfaces for embedded devices.

Materials or downloads needed in advance



New ecosystems of connected services and devices add unique complexities to UX design and strategy. In this workshop, we’ll introduce the questions and opportunities in one of the most exciting—but challenging—aspects of connected product and service design: The impact of real-world power and networking challenges on UX design.

Our idealized view of IoT is of devices that are constantly connected, in sync and highly responsive. But in reality, devices may connect to a network only intermittently and unreliably. Data falls out of sync, and devices don’t always respond as quickly as we would like.

Designing for coherency across devices and platforms is harder than it sounds. As longtime product designers and researchers, the organizers of this workshop often encounter two major ways the physics of networking and power management “bite back” against assumptions imported from the world of desktop computing:

1. Intermittency: What happens when your thermostat gives you a different temperature reading than the thermostat app on your mobile phone? Conventional UX design will often assume that devices are constantly networked, with data almost instantly synced. But embedded devices often save power by only connecting to each other intermittently. Parts of the system will likely fall out of sync, leaving users with inconsistent data and discontinuous functionality.

2. Latency: On PCs and mobile devices, most people understand that web pages may load slowly and Skype calls may fail. But we expect tangible objects in the real world, such as light bulbs, to respond immediately. What happens when you flip the switch and then have to wait a couple of seconds to see a response? When people expect instant results, unavoidable network latency or unreliability can be infuriating. Good user feedback is vital.

Through collaborative scenario building and experimenting with real devices, this workshop will introduce the UX consequences of common networking standards and power management tactics. Using a guided concept ideation process, it will then introduce concepts, activities, and tools that the organizers—two experienced designers of connected products and services—have found useful in their own practice. The diversity of connected products and services means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for these unavoidable complexities. Through examples from their own work and exemplars from the field, the organizers hope the attendees will leave as fascinated by the challenges and excited about the possibilities as they are.

Participants will learn:

  • How patterns and frequency of connectivity can impact UX design
  • How to work around intermittent connectivity so that it doesn’t cause discontinuities
  • Strategies for explaining discontinuities when they are unavoidable
  • Strategies for designing interactions/user feedback when responsiveness may be an issue
Photo of Claire Rowland

Claire Rowland


Claire is an independent UX design, research, and product strategy consultant working on Internet of Things products and services for mainstream consumers. She is the lead author of Designing Connected Products: UX for the Consumer Internet of Things, published by O’Reilly. Claire has a particular interest in the use of technology in mundane, everyday activities. Previously, she worked on energy management and home automation services as the service design manager for AlertMe.com, a connected home platform provider. Prior to this, she was head of research for the London studio of design consultancy Fjord, where she led Fjord’s involvement in the Smarcos EU consortium researching the interusability of interconnected embedded devices and services. She has worked in UX design and research for mobile, multiplatform, and web services since 1997.

Photo of Elizabeth Goodman

Elizabeth Goodman

18F / General Services Administration

Elizabeth Goodman’s writing, design, and social science research focus is on interaction design for mobile and ubiquitous computing. She is a co-author of Designing Connected Products, published by O’Reilly in 2014, and authored the second edition of Observing the User Experience, a widely-used handbook of design research methods. Elizabeth has taught user experience research at UC Berkeley and site-specific digital art practice at the San Francisco Art Institute. She has worked with exploratory user experience research teams at Intel, Fuji-Xerox, and Yahoo! Elizabeth speaks widely on the design of mobile and pervasive computing systems at conferences, schools, and businesses. She has a masters degree in interaction design from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University and a PhD from UC Berkeley’s School of Information. Her scholarly research on interaction design practice has been supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and an Intel PhD Fellowship.