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

Experience design for IoT security: Inspiration from building architecture

Ame Elliott (Simply Secure)
2:05pm–2:45pm Thursday, 06/25/2015
Location: Generals Residence
Tags: design
Slides:   1-PDF 

Prerequisite Knowledge

Living in a home and familiarity with common domestic tasks are the only prerequisites. Interest in user experience design or architecture are nice to have but not required. There is no discussion of technical security topics in this presentation.


This presentation is a call-to-action for designers to consider the privacy and security implications of smart home sensors.

During the software era, the hallmark of good user interface design was to hide complexity and extraneous information, while focusing on users’ primary tasks. But as software moves off screens and more deeply into our physical environments, there are new security risks that call for embracing complexity in appropriate ways. Creating user experiences for connected devices challenges designers to balance ease of use with appropriate control of complex systems.

There are many challenges to user experience design for security, including the inherent complexity of securing diverse systems. But designers have the responsibility and the privilege to empower users to take control of their environments. Design research methods offer a rich toolkit for creating human-centered technologies, and they provide a starting point for safeguarding users’ needs. Focusing on the spectrum of methods from architecture can inspire the design of connected home interfaces.

Here are three lessons from domestic architecture applicable to the design of user experiences for connected homes:

1) Start with people, in context.
Connected homes are just entering the mass market, but there are hundreds of years of architectural history to leverage about how people inhabit spaces. Architecture has tools for looking at broad, macro-level trends about society and at micro-level, site-specific contexts. This range of scales can inspire user experience designers working on connected homes and help position needs for security and well-being in a greater social context.

2) Understand unspoken needs.
There’s a cliché about clients: their words say they want an addition on their house, but their actions say what they really want is a divorce. Architects go beyond what people say to observing what people actually do. Even if not explicitly expressed in a user interview, people expect privacy in their homes.

3) Homes are more than houses.
Emotional needs matter, and architecture looks beyond the functional needs into the emotional lives of buildings’ inhabitants. Truly human-centered technology for connected homes will enable users to make sense of complex systems and use them to further their sense of well-being.

There has never been a more exciting time to be a user experience designer as new kinds of hardware and software enable new ways of living. As designers, we must work together to create guiding principles to help end-users benefit from these technologies, helping them navigate complexity in appropriate ways and building human-centered technology.

Photo of Ame Elliott

Ame Elliott

Simply Secure

Ame Elliott is design director for Simply Secure, where she is a passionate advocate for bringing design to usable security. She joined Simply Secure after eight years at IDEO San Francisco, leading design research and delivering human-centered tech strategy projects for Fortune 500 clients such as Acer, Ericsson, and Samsung. Her past projects include a study of the home computing experience on three continents; creating a business strategy to harness the value of machine-to-machine interactions; and networked bathroom hardware for the beauty industry. Prior to IDEO, she was a research scientist at (Xerox), PARC, and Ricoh Innovations. Ame earned a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley for her work creating hybrid physical-digital interactions to support the architectural design process. She studied human-computer interaction and architecture at Berkeley and the University of Colorado, Boulder, and believes design education is a great foundation for technology developers.