How will we design products for the Internet of Things?

As revolutionary as the mobile ecosystem is, it’s the interactions of more-intelligent connected devices with people outside the context of phones or computers that will drive more innovation, says Mark Rolston, the chief creative officer at Frog Design. Rolston, speaking at the Mobile Future Forward conference on Monday in Seattle described a future where devices become more contextually aware, thanks to embedded and connected sensors.

Instead of thinking about the buttons on a phone or a laptop, manufacturers and designers need to think about what will happen when computers are embedded in everything and connected all the time. Instead of computing’s being confined in a box on a desk or in the hand, computers will be everywhere, pulling data from a variety of places. Understanding how those computers will pull information about their environment, relay that data to users and then interpret what users want them to do creates a web of interaction that will require new ways of thinking and design.

In fact, user interaction might be a very minimal part of the overall design. For example, Rolston described a wearable glucose monitor that has elements embedded in the body, a monitor interpreting the data from the user’s bloodstream and a wearable screen for the patient to interact with. Of those three elements, the patient input screen is likely gathering the least important information and must convey complicated information simply.

In a conversation after his panel, Rolston explained that the challenges inherent in designing interfaces in such a world will come from devices trying to understand a user’s intent, as we build out new ways to interact with them, such as motion. How will a machine know when someone waving their hands while they talk to a friend becomes someone trying to tell a computer to do something? Of course, when a device can watch us and interpret our movements and commands effectively, it essentially gives computers the illusion of humanity. That’s the illusion Rolston apparently is trying to create.