Understanding the things we use

We’re increasingly surrounded by things that connect to the Internet, from the smartphone that sits in my pocket to the PlayStation in my living room. But I regularly find myself unsure about what these products are doing, whether they’re up to date, secure or working as they should. Even appliances like fridges, boilers and washing machines are becoming more connected and complicated, expanding the list of products I have to secure and maintain.

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We're using The Log, a design probe into helping people understand changes in their connected products, as a starting point in our collaboration with CHOICE (Photo: Andrew Corrigan/IF).

The things we use are changing

Earlier this year, we showed our thinking around the future of consumer advocacy through three design probes that show what products and services consumer rights organisations could provide to their members to help them navigate through the complex environment of connected products.

One of these, The Log, showed a way of helping people understand their connected products better. We thought about showing feeds for each product in the home, and notifying people about subtle changes about the product like security vulnerabilities, terms and conditions changes and software updates.

These were some of our hunches about what people want to know about their connected products. Now, to understand more about what people need from something like The Log, we’re collaborating with the New Things team at CHOICE, Australia’s leading consumer advocacy group.

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Responses to our initial survey uncovered a higher amount of people using subscription TV services than we anticipated. (Photo: Pamela Gottsponer/IF)

Finding out what people are using

Collaborating with CHOICE gives us a great opportunity to engage their members through their online community. At this very early stage of research, we wanted to paint a picture of the kinds of products people in the community are using, to guide our focus to where it would have most impact.

We’ve started with a really broad question: “What are your five most frequently used electrical products at home?”.

We spent a lot of time thinking about the wording of this question. We wanted to learn how people thought about the things they use, so we phrased it in a deliberately unspecific way. Do people draw a line between connected products or do they include things like appliances and other non-connected products?

We also wanted to learn how people naturally referred to their products. Do people use generic phrases like tablet, or brand names like iPad?

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Ian drawing out an overview of the frequency of product use on the whiteboard. (Photo: Phil Lang/IF).

What we learned

We put up a forum message introducing our collaboration and a link to a Google Form, where people could respond to our question.

We received over 30 responses. We found people are using common things like smartphones, computers and tablets. Lots of people included home appliances in their response, showing people don’t distinguish between connected and unconnected products. This is important when we consider that a lot of conventionally unconnected products are likely to become connected.

What surprised us was the prevalence of TV’s and TV-related products like digital video recorders and pay TV boxes. During our initial research project, we were so fixated on the trend of “cord-cutting” that we underestimated the popularity of set top boxes.

We also found that people, when unprompted, refer to their products by a generic name. Only a handful of people responded to us with brand names.

After learning what people use and how they think about their products, we can use this focus to start to understand the thoughts, issues and concerns people have about the things they use.

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