In an Always-Connected World, Designing Communal Devices May Be Challenging

One of my keenest interests involves hosting events in my own home, where my loved ones and friends can gather and bond over engaging activities such as cooking, communal music performances, and introductions. Although I do take pleasure in the role of host, I find that there are certain downsides, namely the inevitable post-party clean-up and my tendency to sometimes make less than ideal musical selections.

I understand that cleaning up after an event is a necessary task, so I hope you won’t be bothered that I’ve mentioned it. At this point, you may be curious as to why I am mentioning music; however, it does have relevancy to our current conversation. Whenever I host a gathering, I often have music videos playing on the television in the background.

Our YouTube channel fulfils this objective, and to ensure that our viewers have a diverse array of musical options, we encourage them to upload their own playlists. As a result, this leads to our recommendations encompassing a variety of genres which may not necessarily align with our individual preferences.

I acknowledge that YouTube provides the option to disable viewing history to prevent this particular occurrence. However, I am of the opinion that such extreme measures should not be required, and that we should not have to resort to eradicating certain tracks altogether.

It seems that the approach to designing modern home devices is encountering certain troubles. This raises the inquiry; when did this approach start to become insufficient? Despite the fact that several household items are utilized by various individuals, the design procedure seems to concentrate on fulfilling the demands of a sole user. I would welcome a further discussion on this matter with you.

Electronics for Personal Use, Shared Collectively

It seems to be a rather particular problem. Please try once more. In the present day, many devices are considered “smart” tech; however, a large proportion of these products were not created with cooperative use in mind. Instances of such items include smart home assistants that fail to turn on lights for guests and digital photo frames that display pictures of a previous roommate who no longer resides in the property.

While the suggestions you presented may prove advantageous for you individually, issues may arise once multiple users are involved. These complications could include the device failing to respond to certain commands, data corruption, or the device becoming entirely unusable.

The reasoning behind this is quite simple; these devices are not constructed with communal use in mind. You may be wondering what is meant by “community gadgets”. Essentially, these are machines designed to cater to multiple individuals all at once. In the past, items such as our cathode ray tube televisions and landline telephones were used by the entire household. There was no discrimination; everyone utilized them.

With the emergence of personal computers, the dynamic shifted significantly. Initially, computers were utilized by a group of individuals, evident by the concept of a ‘computer room’. As operating systems evolved, user profiles were implemented to offer personalized experiences. Subsequently, each user had their own designated space to enable a distinctive and tailored experience, although not all users took advantage of this feature.

The arrival of mobile phones signaled a movement towards heightened individuality. With the release of the iPhone, users had the ability to carry a compact, computer device with them on a daily basis. Smartphones rapidly became commonplace and an essential component of one’s daily routine. To put it succinctly, mobile phones, particularly to their pioneers, rendered the notion of ‘community’ as antiquated.

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its interconnected devices has once again highlighted the significance of cooperative approaches. Through careful examination of the multitude of advantages that can be obtained from home lighting automation systems, virtual assistants, smart refrigerators, climate control systems, digital whiteboards, and workplace video displays, it is apparent that all of these facets necessitate joint consideration in order to be effectively implemented.

The benefits of these and other technologies are widely acknowledged; however, the design continues to be subject to personal preference. Typically, the individual who initially sets up the device will connect their personal information and accounts, which other users may subsequently use, as illustrated by the prevalent practice of shared Netflix accounts. This could give rise to an array of problems, such as instances of domestic violence, and children using Alexa to make purchases without parental consent.

Potential Responses for a Reconsideration

It is factual that certain problems can be rectified through modifications to device settings or resetting to the default factory settings; however, this is not the crux of the issue being conveyed. Manufacturers of smart devices employ the approach of altering features and incorporating more options in an effort to address these concerns, but it seems to be an ineffective solution.

Sadly, not all individuals possess the technical proficiency or time to repeatedly configure new devices. Have you ever attempted to converse with your friends while simultaneously speaking to a functioning Echo device? You may have encountered some difficulties. Additionally, there are predicaments that cannot be resolved by simply providing an abundance of options.

For instance, let’s examine the notions of security and personal privacy. With the use of a Chromecast, you can exhibit a slideshow of your own personal photographs; however, it is important to adjust the settings prior to visitors arriving if you desire to keep them private (as well as remember to revert them back afterward). This can be burdensome. Conversely, you would not want young children making purchases from Amazon through voice commands. In this scenario, it would be advantageous to have additional barriers in place.

Moreover, I have yet to touch upon the conceivable consequences of granting others access to an individual’s digital life, such as the circumstances of domestic abuse that I highlighted earlier.

Current smart devices pose a distinctive challenge, necessitating an innovative approach. In an age where our gadgets are continuously integrated into our lives, it is crucial that they are designed with extensive adaptability. As noted in an outstanding article on O’Reilly, there are five essential factors to contemplate when devising a strategy:

  1. Identity.

    What are the particular demographics that utilize these intelligent devices? Considering the myriad of applications, communal devices must be fashioned to cater to the requisites of diverse users and objectives.
  2. Privacy.

    In regards to smart devices, it is crucial to examine who has access to what information, and in what manner. Treating all users equally is not advantageous, as various levels of access should be assigned based on the user. For instance, I ought to be able to view my personal photographs on my Chromecast, but also retain the capability to conceal them from unauthorized viewers if necessary.
  3. Security.

    What personalised options exist for the smart device to ensure that the information of each user is protected? Although I would like to utilize my digital assistant for fast purchases, it is necessary that the plumber addressing my leaky faucet does not have access to my digital wallet.
  4. Experience.

    At this point, it is crucial to contemplate the optimal approach. How can a smart device accurately distinguish the suitability of its recommendations? Despite being logged in on a personal profile, the system should propose family-friendly movie choices for viewing with children. This amendment should not have any enduring impacts on the profile, as one may not desire such suggestions when watching with their significant other.
  5. Ownership.

    Who bears the responsibility of preserving the information and services linked to a smart device? The concerns addressed in an earlier article regarding the Internet of Things (IoT) are still relevant.

It is a difficult task to furnish adequate solutions to these queries. Technical impediments persist and hinder the progress in this sphere. Though the use of consumer electronics is more widespread than ever, their capabilities are continually advancing, thus further comprehension and exploration of how people interact with them is imperative. Furthermore, a more comprehensive awareness of user expectations is indispensable to enable us to regulate friction levels when required.

Currently, we are solely utilising individual devices for our work, hence I cannot verify the existence of any shared resources. Although this is not a desirable state, we must recognise and remedy this problem to prevent any unproductive tools or vexing interactions. I am sorry, but I must conclude this conversation as I have dinner guests scheduled to arrive shortly.

Join the Top 1% of Remote Developers and Designers

Works connects the top 1% of remote developers and designers with the leading brands and startups around the world. We focus on sophisticated, challenging tier-one projects which require highly skilled talent and problem solvers.
seasoned project manager reviewing remote software engineer's progress on software development project, hired from Works blog.join_marketplace.your_wayexperienced remote UI / UX designer working remotely at home while working on UI / UX & product design projects on Works blog.join_marketplace.freelance_jobs