How to show change in products
As part of our work investigating the future of consumer advocacy, Ian, Georgina and I built a design probe to look at how the things a person owns could communicate change. We’ve called it The Log, and it shows one way we might make it easier to see how the connected devices in our homes are working.
Most routers can show a list of devices connected to it, usually hidden inside a settings portal. (Image: Ian Hutchinson / IF)
Making a digital inventory of your house
It’s hard to know when there’s something wrong with a connected device. We can clearly tell when a car is broken, for example, but software breaks more subtly.
There are ways of finding problems in software, but none are built with consumers in mind. Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures lists known security vulnerabilities in software. Bug bounties and continuous integration processes help minimise vulnerabilities. But these are for experts.
We started thinking about the ways we apply these existing methods for securing, validating and managing data to our personal data and the devices running in our homes, and make that information accessible to people.
One idea that came to mind was a digital inventory, something that could interpret receipts or look out for emails that have data about your purchases (purchase date, warranty duration, etc).
Many homes already have a kind of digital inventory, at least for connected things. Routers direct the network traffic for a house – they connect the devices in your home to the Internet and are able to identify what these particular devices are. Routers are an interesting point of intervention because they sit on the edge of your home and the Internet. There’s tools like nmap, Fing and Douse that map network traffic from routers, but again they’re intended for a technical audience.
There’s also something interesting in being able to continuously interrogate products to see if they still work as expected. If they aren't, people should be alerted. This is the kind of thing that takes security out of a submenu and makes it part of life in the home, which is particularly interesting to think about as a tool a consumer advocacy organisation could provide to members.
That’s the idea at the heart of The Log. It's a service you can use to keep track of the devices you buy, find out how they're performing, and will let you know when something's wrong.
Influenced by network maps, The Log shows an overview of all the products in your home. (Image: Andrew Corrigan / IF).
What The Log looks like
The Log shows you all the things in your home, connected or otherwise. When The Log discovers something you should know about, it shows a notification about that product.
The Log. (Image: Andrew Corrigan / IF).
We think that The Log will be something that monitors your products in the background, continuously testing them and looking at data sources that might indicate there’s a problem. If everything is fine, it stays in the background.
The Hub shows a list of things that have changed on a product. (Image: Andrew Corrigan / IF).
Tapping on a product icon shows its feed. It contains information like known security problems, but also other common yet subtle changes – like when an update has been installed or when terms and conditions have been changed. It also shows consumer-focused information, like when a warranty will expire or when you bought something. It’s built to give you an overview of your products so you understand exactly what’s happening with it.
Adding a product. (Image: Andrew Corrigan / IF).
Learning through making
We knew that The Log would live inside a router, which let us focus on the people facing side of this probe. User research for this was really hard because we’re working with emerging needs. So we tried some things out, like playing around with testing kits that let an individual choose from a library of rules to suit their threat model. But this felt too complicated.
We also thought about how opinionated The Log should be. It tells you that there’s a problem, but we’re unsure whether it should offer actions to fix it. For now, we stripped back The Log to purely focus on telling people about what’s happening with their products.
We’ll continue to work on The Log, because it’s feeling more and more compelling. For instance, maybe consumer advocacy organisations could give their members a Log instead of a monthly magazine. It could provide so much more value.
This post is part of a series about the Future of Consumer Advocacy, supported by Near Now. We've also been looking at how data can help consumers make confident buying decisions and how marks can create trust between consumers and products.