UX design can make or break your IoT product. Rob Shudra and Dominic Peters from Velavu join Ryan Chacon on the IoT For All Podcast to discuss the importance of UX design for IoT adoption. They talk about what to consider in UX design, the clash between design and development, the challenges of IoT user experiences, building for different types of users, UX design and marketing, barriers to IoT adoption and remedies, and managing customer expectations.
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About Rob Shudra
Rob Shudra is an award-winning industrial designer and entrepreneur from Ottawa, Canada. At Velavu, Rob has been instrumental in shaping the company’s growth and success. As a founder and creative director, Rob oversees all design aspects within Velavu, from industrial design to branding to UI/UX, ensuring a cohesive and compelling user experience across the company’s products and services.
Interested in connecting with Rob? Reach out on LinkedIn!
About Dominic Peters
Dominic Peters is an accomplished engineer with a passion for electronics and technology. As co-founder and CTO of Velavu, Dominic plays a key role in Velavu’s product development and implementation while leading the engineering team. Dominic’s expertise extends to overseeing the development of hardware and platform architecture, ensuring seamless alignment between day-to-day operations and the company’s long-term aspirations.
Interested in connecting with Dominic? Reach out on LinkedIn!
Velavu is an award-winning asset tracking technology company based in Ottawa, Canada. The Velavu ecosystem is a simple yet powerful experience to oversee your assets, inventory, and processes through customized solutions and exceptionally crafted software and devices.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(03:04) The importance of UX design
(04:30) What to consider in UX design
(18:22) Learn more and follow up
– [Ryan] Welcome Rob and Dominic to the IoT For All Podcast. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Rob] Thanks for having us.
– [Ryan] Yeah, it’s great to have both of you here. I’m excited about this conversation. Prior to getting into it, I’d love it if you all would introduce yourselves to our audience and maybe give a quick overview of what the company does.
– [Dominic] My name is Dominic Peters. As co-founder and Engineering Lead at Velavu, I first graduated at Carleton University with a mechanical engineering degree and while in school started working at a small product development company as a bit of a jack of all trades, but as the company grew, I settled in and found my passion as more of a embedded systems engineer. So working on PCB design, firmware, that sort of thing. And now as a co-founder and Engineering Lead at Velavu, my role continues to be to contribute and oversee the technical side of the product development including implementation of the hardware, the firmware, and the overall technology stack.
And of course being a bit of a startup, Rob and I both share a role in the business side of the company as well, which has been a fantastic learning experience I think for the both of us.
– [Rob] And my name is Rob Shudra. I’m the co-founder and Creative Director of Velavu. My background is in industrial design. Working to develop products, considering user experience, manufacturability, and the aesthetics of the products themselves. My background, I’ve worked in kind of various industries, whether it’s consumer electronics, airplane interiors, as well as IoT. And yeah, as Dominic said, my role within Velavu skews more towards doing the hardware design, so designing the products themselves. Collaborating with the engineering team as well as developing the software side of things as well. A lot of user experience tied into a lot of those areas.
– [Dominic] Providing some context for the viewers on Velavu, our company. Velavu is, so we call it a platform consisting of hardware and software pieces that interestingly permit tracking of things indoor as well as outdoors using a combination of GPS as well as low energy mesh technologies and built in a way with really a focus on allowing customers to quickly and easily integrate it into their own workflows. So when you think of different asset tracking use cases, things, fleet management, pallet tracking, inventory management, we want Velavu to be that one stop shop where customers can come to us and have a system that’s easy to use, easy to integrate, and most importantly, also quickly to do to add to their business.
– [Ryan] Fantastic. Yeah, appreciate those overviews and intros. So, I wanted to dive in a little bit to the user experience side. I think that’s a really interesting topic that we’ve only covered a few times on the podcast. It’s often overlooked, and especially when people are so focused on showcasing their technology.
But I think with what we’re realizing now more and more is that in order for solutions to be adopted by particularly the end users, that UX is super important. So I wanted to just get your all’s perspective on just giving our audience an overview of the importance of the user experience side when it comes to developing IoT solutions and driving adoption.
– [Rob] I think, honestly, it can make or break a product. It’s so important to have user experience that’s smooth. And it’s something that’s easy to look at, I think, in IoT, when really a lot of the time companies are looking at kind of the technology, how you can get the technology up and running and working well for the use case.
But I think it’s easy to miss how the consumer or customer fits into that process, how they interact with your devices and system, that kind of allows for a smooth process, avoids any friction points.
– [Ryan] Yeah, one of the things we’ve mentioned before seems to resonate well with a lot of people is when it comes to developing a solution, really trying to think from the end user backwards as opposed from the technology forwards, I guess you would put it, because at the end of the day if the experience is not something that the end user finds value in or is able to easily use then the adoption won’t really be there, which then the ROI is not there, and it’s oftentimes an unsuccessful experience for everyone involved. So when you’re approaching the UX development side, both on the engineering front and just the general considerations that need to be made. How should companies be thinking about that? What things do, are, is important for them to understand, for them to know, for them to inquire about for the UX to be or the information that you put together for the UX to have the best chance of succeeding when it’s being put together by the team?
– [Rob] Just understanding kind of what the space looks like, who the stakeholders are going to be, who the customers are going to be. Looking at what their needs are going to be for the process. I think a big part of that also is once you figure that out, looking at putting yourself in their shoes and understanding how they’re going to move through the process and what their needs are going to be along the way at each step.
– [Dominic] Another thing to add to that, I would say just from the engineering side is oftentimes essentially as we put ourselves into this box where we’re just looking at the specs, we’re just looking at the functional requirements of a product, and that’s where clear lines of communication with the designers who are mostly responsible for defining the user experience, having that clear communication with them at all paths from the initial brainstorming through the product development cycle, and particularly on the feedback side is very important. Great examples where we’ve developed something and maybe the feature technically worked right, but we were seeing that users, either people testing it in the office or early customers were having issues using that. So, we go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves, how can we make this better? And oftentimes it’s a collaboration of the engineering side saying, oh maybe we can do this, maybe we can’t do this. You’re often dealing with technical requirements on the engineering side and transforming those into how can we create good user experiences using what we know about the technical requirements.
– [Ryan] Is there a clash between design and development? Because I know design, they’re going to build what they believe is the best experience, but then at the same time, there’s always or not always, but there’s oftentimes technical limitations that sometimes the designers don’t know about because that’s not their world, right?
But the developer will look at it and say the way you want this to behave or the way you want this experience to be is either going to take a lot of work, is not technically possible. How do you enable both of those teams to work harmoniously together to get the best output at the end of the day?
– [Rob] It can definitely be a challenge, especially with working with hardware as well as software. I think there’s a lot more flexibility with software. Pull in hardware, there’s a lot more constraints in terms of what you can do efficiently with manufacturing the devices, what the features on those devices can be. Yeah, as Don mentioned earlier, ensuring there’s lots of communication between the teams, ensuring that everyone’s aware of what the constraints are on both sides.
– [Dominic] Feedback and iteration as well. And this is not just a matter of communication, but also a matter of some of the new technologies that we’re using, additive manufacturing with, we’ve got three 3D printers in our office and anytime there’s a product chain, we’re not having to wait on new prototypes from overseas to be made. We can spin those up in an afternoon and test a new feature, test, a good example is from a technical requirement side, we had a minimum clearance on a GPS antenna inside of our device that we had to follow with our initial prototypes. Subsequently though we found that we could reduce that and achieve no loss to performance of the GPS, but we were able to test that out in a matter of two, three days rather than waiting weeks or months. So, it’s really the feedback and quick iteration is really a key to making that possible.
– [Ryan] Let me ask you this. What are some of the, in the realm of IoT, I know every kind of user experience that’s built, especially across different industries, has their own challenges. Is there any kind of challenges that you all have come across or noticed that’s a trend when it comes to IoT user experiences that are built, user interfaces that are built. I know a lot of what you do is around asset tracking. So is there anything that’s I guess tied to asset tracking that you’ve seen as to be a common challenge when it comes to building these interfaces for end users that’s important for people listening to this to understand and be thinking about as early on as possible?
– [Rob] Yeah, I think one of the big challenges that we’ve faced is that there’s so many moving pieces with developing these systems. You have the web dashboard, the mobile app, and we have three, four devices, hardware now as well. And developing those all congruently, I think is a challenge.
With traditional software development, you’re able to spin up the wireframes, test them, and it’s more of an isolated system. Whereas with Velavu, we have hardware that interacts with the software, which makes it quite difficult to test those and test how they’re going to interact with one another.
So, I think that’s certainly a challenge. That’s something we’ve learned to work around a little bit by faking things when we’re doing prototyping and testing within our design software. But that’s certainly one of the challenges that we faced.
– [Dominic] I would say another thing is that a lot of smaller companies as well, similar to ours in the asset tracking space, they’re grabbing, almost like grabbing things from the parts bin.
Maybe they’ll develop the hardware themselves or develop the dashboard themselves, but they’re reliant on partners for other parts of the solution. And oftentimes that can result in a product that doesn’t feel fully, I don’t know, put together. Like certain aspects of different design languages or certain aspects behave differently.
The system just doesn’t behave as one full piece. We’re fortunate enough, coming from the product development background and having those resources to us to be able to develop everything in house, which means we have a really tight vertical integration between all the pieces right down from the core level, right?
So, it gives us really good control of all the pieces from the hardware to the firmware to the mobile app. And that’s really what ensures this level of continuity in the experience, whether you’re just setting up the device, looking at the hardware, looking at the web app, you’re going to notice similarities in the design language, in the industrial design, visual design of all the applications, but also similarities in the behavior of these devices in the system as a whole. So, I think that’s one advantage we have by developing everything as one vertically integrated solution, rather than a lot of other companies where they’ll work with third party hardware or third party this and third party that and bundle it all together. Not to say it can’t be done, but I’d say it’s more challenging when you’re working with several different vendors and several different pieces.
– [Ryan] What about when it comes to building for different types of end users? So I’m sure there are more technical end users, there are less technical end users, there’s a lot of different kinds of scenarios that I’m sure you’re put in depending on who the customer is.
Are there different considerations that need to be made when it comes to how you build something to be more easily adopted by the technical versus potentially the non technical end users?
– [Dominic] I think that’s a fantastic question, Ryan. And it’s something we do actually come across a lot. Not just different levels of technical knowledge, but also just different industries and different customers wanting slightly different features, which leads us to have to customize the system differently for different people in different applications.
What we tried to do is we try to make it simple enough so that a beginner, someone without any background in IT is able to still have a good experience, still able to use the system without too much handholding and integration effort on our part, but still providing powerful enough capabilities in the form of REST APIs, custom rules engines where developers can implement their own logic into the application as well so that the more advanced users or like the enterprise users who just want to take maybe a part of this. Maybe they just want the location tracking aspect but want to integrate it into their own dashboard, still have the capabilities to do that as well. But that’s certainly, I’m glad you touched on that because that’s been one of the most challenging pieces is making it simple enough and easy enough to use for kind of the average Joe.
But giving it enough flexibility so that the larger customers or the customers that want to take it and integrate it into their own platform can find value in it as well.
– [Rob] And I think you get a lot of downstream benefits as well. Users who are less experienced in IT, that easiness to use the system, it’s great for them, but for the more advanced users as well, it’s providing optimizations for how quickly they can set it up as well, even if they’re using it with the API afterwards.
– [Ryan] How much are you thinking about also how this is going to play in like the marketing space? How are these user interfaces going to be understood? Because these are pieces that can be used to help bring in new customers, right? If you’re building a palette tracking user interface for a solution, how much or is there much thought about how, are we designing for something that is also going to be appealing to help marketing to bring in business, to be showcase at trade shows, whatever it is. How is that being considered, if at all, throughout the development of the process? Or what do you, how do you even think about that?
– [Rob] Yeah, I think first and foremost, we look at designing for the specific use case and for the user. But really, I think we’re getting some additional benefits for the marketing side of things as well based on that solid user interface that we’ve built for the product.
In the marketing side, we really try to keep things simple and really present the product in a way that’s easy to understand and easy to digest. In the IoT space, we’ve seen a lot of companies that kind of overwhelm you with information about what the product does instead of looking at more so what the product is actually going to do for you, the customer.
– [Ryan] So, I wanted to ask a couple of questions before we wrap up here. One of them is around, just generally speaking, when it comes to an end to end solution, being able, the less companies that are involved, the easier it is often for building, putting together and so forth. But I also know the IoT industry has always been dubbed a partner centric ecosystem where not everyone can do every piece of an IoT solution well themselves, which is why they’ll bring in hardware, they’ll bring in a connectivity company potentially, they’ll bring in a platform or application layer company potentially.
What is it in, what in your mind have been the biggest keys to reducing barriers to adoption with your all’s approach and how you’ve built and your, the solution that you offer? What are you all thinking about? Or what have you seen as the main barriers to adoption and how you’ve remedied them or built around that.
– [Dominic] The main barrier for us coming from a product development background is actually finding the right customers. And that’s where partnering with integrators has actually been super helpful for us. And often times we’re going to trade shows, not actually to meet end customers, but actually to meet integrators who know their industry.
It could be an oil and gas integrator, could be some integrator that works with logistics companies, they oftentimes can see our product, see the benefits, and see how it can be applied to the types of customers, the types of companies in their space. I’m not the subject matter expert on oil and gas, or I’m not the subject matter expert on logistics, and that’s where it helps to have these types of integrators that can help on the business side to spin our technology solution into something that really provides value to the end customer. Of course, we still want to support the direct to customer type sales as well and that works I think a lot better for the type of customer that just needs a basic asset tracking system that can tell you the location of things, that can tell you that the temperature, humidity associated with those things things. But when it comes into the more niche or specific industries, it really helps for us working with integrators who know their space and can spin our technology into something and sell it to their customers.
– [Ryan] Last thing I wanted to ask you prior to us wrapping up here is around managing customer expectations because I think this is a really interesting thing to talk about. I’ve had different opinions in the past on how they do that, but when it comes to especially the application layer and that user interface user experience side of things, we all as consumers, even regardless of what industry we work in, deal with different types of experiences, whether it’s the app we use, whether it’s the operating system we use based on the phone, computers that we have. How do you all handle setting the expectation for what is really possible with a customer?
– [Dominic] I think it helps mostly to be transparent early on and through the entire process. Oftentimes, like you said, you’ll get enthusiastic customers who come up to us at trade shows and think wow this is gonna, you know, change the world. We have to be transparent with them very early on on what the product can do and specifically what it can’t do as well. Good examples, if the customer is trying to track every postage stamp with this type of technology, it’s not really suited to that. It’s slightly higher cost. Yes, it’s going to give you really high resolution and real time tracking but do you really need that for every piece of mail? Probably not. So being transparent with the customer and understanding whether it’s actually going to be a good fit for them is a really important part of the process.
And at times that can even mean turning down potential customers if it doesn’t seem like a fit. But I think it’s important to recognize that early on and communicate that early on rather than just trying to brute force it and for both yourself and the customer’s perspective, going down this rabbit hole where from the start you can tell it’s not really a good fit.
– [Ryan] Very good answer. It’s something that I think sometimes can come back to bite companies if they’re not setting expectations from the very early days and having those conversations just leads to disagreements, disappointments, and friction basically with the people you’re trying to do business with and succeed together.
I really appreciate both of you taking the time today to chat with me because this is a topic that I’m glad we’re able to shed a lot of light on and hear from your experiences and your expertise. So truly appreciate the time. And I wanted to finish this off by having you tell our audience where they can learn more about what you all are doing and maybe follow up with any questions or thoughts or ideas.
– [Rob] Yeah. You can reach us at www.velavu.com or email@example.com if you’d like to email us as well. We’d love to hear from you.
– [Ryan] Rob, Dominic, thank you guys so much. You’ve been fantastic guests, and I’m excited to get this out to our audience.
– [Dominic] Thanks Ryan. Been a pleasure.
– [Rob] Thanks for having us.