Will IoT in the office change tea making attitudes?

UX trends seem to all be about the “Internet of Things”, connected devices are the future and everyone wants a part to play.

Design News

Whilst we think it’s an exciting vision, the current crop of products is less inspiring. There are some IoT gems out there offering real user benefit but equally it seems all too easy to interpret “Internet of Things” as “a product connected to an app”. In some cases, the latter may be unavoidable, however, the value of controlling the living room light from your mobile phone is questionable and a novelty that quickly wears thin.

We think the real value of IoT lies in the data leveraged from connected devices and how that data can be used to change behavior. Wearables have seen early success, not just because they make tasks quicker or easier, but because the data they capture is used to good effect - allowing users to make informed decisions about health and lifestyle.

As designers, the prospect of improving an experience by capturing and utilising real user data is really exciting. So much so that whilst we had some spare time over lunch and were feeling particularly creative we had a bit of fun, IoT style, tackling a common office problem.

experience Protoyping the internet of things on a whiteboard
Experience Protoyping on mobile devices

The problem: Most of us need a caffeine hit (or two) to survive the day and whilst we’re happy enough to take up the kind offer of a brew, we’re not all as eager to return the favour! Surely we can do better...

Cue a white board and some head scratching over our packed lunches and we had the bones of a blueprint for our connected solution.

In short, we planned a lightweight system to identify and record those in the office who make drinks and those who accept drinks and utilise that data to promote positive behavioural change. Simple….

Our system enables someone in the office to initiate a drink round and remotely turn on the kettle via the ‘MakerApp’ on their PC or mobile. The accompanying ‘DrinkerApp’ alerts others to the round and allows orders to be placed remotely before the kettle finishes boiling. Orders are displayed at the kettle for the convenience of the maker, who is notified when the kettle is boiled.

Admittedly, to keep it quick and light, apps were the simplest way of interfacing with the system but whilst they serve a purpose they aren’t too exciting and they exclude our visitors. So to introduce a bit of fun and raise a few smiles we created BrewBot, a physical interpretation of the app interfaces. It continues to capture user information, allows our guests to be included in the fun, and notifies drinkers when their drinks are ready with a cheeky tash wiggle!

Create your drink and identify yourself to BrewBot (via RFID recognition) or alternatively place an order as a guest.

 With plenty of uninspiring Wi-Fi kettles out there we thought we’d also have some fun with the kettle operation, so we created the Kettle Baristas to help us out.

 Select your name and press the brew button to turn the kettle on. Barista 1 turns on the kettle while barista 2 checks it has enough water and tells us when it’s boiled. Yes we clearly made this in our spare time...

So we have our connected system, adding some intrigue and simplicity to the brew making process, but how will we inspire our less eager caffeine fuelled colleagues to play their part? By comparing the valuable data we’ve collected from our makers and drinkers we can reveal who is making the largest contribution to the team and who is making the smallest - who is drinking the most but making the least? We’ve used this information to gamify the experience by creating our live office BrewBoard (for all to see) with a monthly reward up for grabs for the highest contributor. In contrast, the smaller contributors will find themselves up for nomination to be the ‘office guest brew maker’... just to help nudge them in the right direction!

In the future we’d love to use the data to add more value to our office experience. Can we learn more about peoples drinking habits, when they drink, what they like to drink and do they have a regular routine? It would be great to offer someone they’re mid-morning cuppa before they ask for it!

In the meantime, it’s fair to say our little team of Baristas continue to make quite an impression around the office. Will they inspire long term change? We hope so but only time will tell!