Industrial Design’s New Challenge: Success Through Connection

By | 3 minute read | November 14, 2017

Product success in the age of the IoT depends more than ever on blending smart sensors with attractive design and influencing how consumers use devices—or whether they use them at all. (Consider how many fitness trackers are currently sitting in kitchen junk drawers.)

Today’s industrial designers know that for trackers to be worn and loved, they must bring not just utility but delight in some form. That means delivering crucial data and feedback on fitness and health, along with a “cool factor” that melds form with function. With this in mind, Nokia’s Digital Health division set out to design a suite of health devices. The goal was to appeal to users across many different age groups, including seniors and others who don’t always want to wear a gadget that looks like it was designed for jogging. “We wanted to get cool technology that elders and their families want to use,” says Joe Hammer, Nokia’s Global Alliances Director. “And do it in a way that’s noninvasive, empowering, and even a little intriguing.”

The next step in health data

One big step toward consumer-friendly monitors came in 2016. That’s when Nokia’s acquired France’s Withings, a maker of high-design activity trackers and other devices lauded as stylish and easy to use. Nokia’s design studios in Finland, the U.S., and France then set out to upgrade the sensors and expand the product line to include new watches, a connected thermometer, bathroom scales, blood pressure cuffs, and even a hairbrush. Researchers embedded new sensing technology, such as pulse wave velocity, into the scale. This gives consumers access to a vital sign linked with blood pressure that was formerly collected only in clinical settings. With such sensors and a broad appeal, health devices can transcend the “quantified-self” trend to deliver robust data. This will inform users and their doctors in the fight to prevent disease, improve fitness, and ease transitions from hospital stays.

The next step for Nokia is helping busy families keep tabs on elders. “We all want to know more about our parents’ health,” notes Hammer. “But it’s not easy to ask about diet or the number of steps over the phone.” That’s why Nokia worked with IBM Watson’s predictive analytics on an app that helps families, caregivers, and doctors spot changes in the wearer’s daily routine or heart-rate metrics. As a vertically integrated company in health, Nokia has the design advantage of managing the customer experience all the way from wearable devices to health dashboards that patients provide to doctors. “When devices connect to a platform, we can constantly improve them based on how people are using them,” says Alexis Normand, head of B2B at Nokia Digital Health.


Nokia now has a wide range of devices designed to monitor health for "aging in place" options for the elderly.

Design for the IoT on Wheels

IoT integration requires a design team’s full attention, whether it is crafting a stylish wristwatch or two-ton vehicles. GM refers to its Watson-enabled OnStar Go system as a “cognitive mobility platform”—a digital commerce system that provides seamless access to goods and services by voice control. OnStar Go’s designers guided the look and feel of the system, such that driver adoption has made it a rapid development platform for new features. And it’s also a means of introducing new business models to automotive products already driving around in the world.


GM refers to its Watson-enabled OnStar Go system as a “cognitive mobility platform”—a digital commerce system that provides seamless access to goods and services by voice control.

But business models, sensor technologies, and IoT insights mean nothing without attention to creating experiences that bring real value to consumers. The good news? Today’s designers continually get second chances after a hardware product ships to improve and iterate. Software in everything from wearables to driveables allow designers to continue to tinker, adjust, rethink, and reboot customer experiences throughout the product lifecycle.

Learn more:

IBM and Nokia develop Aging in Place solution to help elderly in their homes

Connected Cars that Care