By Andrea Zeller
Editor’s note: This post is the fifth in a series of ongoing articles that highlight “Contextual Storytelling: Best Practices for the Internet of Things,” an innovative, directed research course that was taught by Andrea Zeller and John du Pre Gauntt for the Communication Leadership graduate program at the University of Washington last fall. Students in this course were: Varsha Bhagel, Aparna Das, Joe Howell, Kathy Matosich, Jahnavi Mirashi, Britt Olson, Connie Rock and Carrie Shepherd.
Right about the time that students in our directed research course started wrestling with what the true value of an Internet of Things (IoT) experience can provide for users, the IoT reached its full buzzword hype. We wanted to go beyond the hype to accomplish the following three goals:
- Apply storytelling concepts to bring a digital, connected experience into a physical space. Our “aha” moment came when we asked this question: What if the new framework for IoT storytelling is not about things, but about connections?
- Develop a framework to start the conversation for how to approach the technology and capabilities of IoT from a user experience perspective.
- Apply content strategy principles to engage users of the experience.
Our work progressed in two main phases.
Phase 1: Identifying the Opportunity
As we dove into our research and prototyping work, we began evaluating current IoT experiences, concepts, problems and opportunities.
- We critiqued current IoT experiences such as the Zombies, Run! app, Fitbit, the Nivea Protection ad and 94Fifty.
- We identified and defined the core concepts and functionality introduced by these IoT experiences. The key elements that come into play are how these experiences are harvesting data from the user, replaying the data in a meaningful way and making the data compelling.
- We focused on which problems IoT technology could solve that current apps and websites were not.
- We identified elder care as an opportunity area and then brainstormed how we could develop a comprehensive, meaningful caregiving solution that promoted the health and dignity of elder care recipients.
- We conducted background demographic research that showed that chronic healthcare demands across generations affect significant segments of the United States population.
Phase 2: Proposing a Solution
After identifying the opportunity, it was time to brainstorm solutions. We proposed a potential new connected healthcare solution with the working title of “Careables.”
To flesh out our solution, we did the following:
- We defined three major user groups that would benefit from Careables: Elder recipients of care, doctors and other medical professionals and caregivers (who would most likely be family members).
- We developed three user personas, one for each of the three major user groups, and we defined the tasks that the members of each group would need to accomplish by using Careables.
- We outlined the value proposition and key components of a Careables-type solution from the points of view of each of the three major user groups.
- We modeled a user story derived from composites of our demographic research.
- We reviewed the competitive space, including four market solutions targeted to elder care recipients and their caregivers.
- We conducted primary research by holding a focus group discussion and conducting a survey.
- We considered how to harvest, replay and filter information about location, activity and time of day in ways that would personalize the experience and keep users engaged.
- We layered the three personas, their location, activity and time of day into a user journey map, and the narrative for Careables unfolded.
From Dashboard to Doctor
One of the key challenges that we faced was how to tailor the information that Careables provided to each of the three different target user groups. We decided that an IoT solution such as Careables must harness physical-world devices with a dashboard that can make sense of the stream of data being collected.
From the perspective of a medical professional, having a trusted family member as the first contact for health care issues is crucial. “From a hospital point of view, where doctors, nurses, medical assistants are already overworked, you need to figure out how to reduce their workload,” says Meena Chelvakumar, a second-year resident at U.W. Family Medicine. To optimize the experience for family members and others who are not medical professionals, the Careables dashboard would include a concierge service or coaching service to help add a human voice, and most importantly, context, to data. The dashboard would also help inform users about the severity of the situation. These capabilities would not only make the information easier to understand, but potentially help caregivers and medical professionals catch healthcare issues before they become crises and reduce unnecessary hospital and clinic visits.
A Proposed Framework for Storytelling in an IoT World
Through defining the opportunity, user groups and the messaging strategy for Careables, we developed a framework to guide how to approach storytelling for an IoT world, which is more fully described in our research paper, Harnessing the Internet of Things for Elder Care. Our framework is based on four key aspects of the IoT experience:
- Connect: How do people access the experience?
- Detect: How are changes in status communicated across audiences correctly?
- Select: How is information displayed to different audiences?
- Protect: How is information secured but still usable?
We’re very excited about this first step at defining a framework. Our next step is to dig deeper with use cases and to define how to plan, create and govern useful content for the IoT. These activities will help add another level of rigor to our initial proposed framework.
We are continuing this conversation and want to hear from you. Do you have a screens, things and places problem that you want to discuss? Need some advice? John du Pre Gauntt and Andrea Zeller would like to talk to you!