Think Systemically

Increasingly, designers will also need to be system thinkers. As we consider the fields of advanced robotics, synthetic biology, or wearable technology, the design of the ecosystem will be just as important as the design of the product or service itself.

A good example of such a product is Mimo, a next-generation baby-monitoring service that goes far beyond the usual audio and video capabilities in soothing the anxieties of new parents. A startup company led by a group of MIT engineering grads called Rest Devices has created an ingenious baby “onesie.” It’s a connected product that delivers a stream of data including temperature, body position, and respiration information, ensuring that mom and dad are fully versed in the minutiae of their offspring. What at first glance might seem like the enablement of over-parenting paranoia, could, in fact, also provide valuable scientific data, particularly given that crib death or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a phenomenon that is still not fully understood.

From a design perspective, a company such as Rest Devices has a range of needs typical of those startups in the budding wearable technologies industry. The onesie itself must be designed for both functional and aesthetic elements — a mixture of industrial design for the “turtle” on-body device that houses the sensor and the fashion design of the garment itself. The mobile software application that provides the data interface requires interaction design and visual design — not to mention the UX design of the total system, which must be optimized for setup and navigation by nervous parents. Whether one person or many provide these different design skills for Rest Devices, it’s clear that at every point at which people touch the technology, there is ample opportunity for the interaction to be carefully examined and optimized in relation to the entire ecosystem. In this way the Mimo is a good example of the first wave of wearable technology. Like the Nike FuelBand, the Fitbit, and even the Recon heads-up ski display, these wearables represent technology embedded into the infrastructure of our lives in a way never before seen. But the magic of the consumer experience of these products is only possible through the design of a complete, and hopefully seamless, ecosystem.

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