Smart Products

So What Makes Smart Products Smart?

Products are becoming increasingly smart. More and more technology is being integrated, such as sensors, so that a device and therefore its producer can learn all about you and potentially use the data to influence you. Of course there has to be a point to this for you as consumer, plus you want to stay in control over your data and behavior. That is why it is important that such products are well designed.

A smart product was once something that was ingenious, or something that no one thought possible. Some say, when seeing an illusionist at work ‘Gee, how smart’. A device recognizes your smartphone through NFC technology and we say ‘Look at that, how smart.‘ Even though what happens is not much more than a performance around a trick or feature.

We at IDZone see being smart as being intelligent, only smart is a better word because sounds better and does not exude a feeling of superiority. At the beginning of this millennium, Philips [1] created a list of points defining intelligent behavior:

  • Technology is hidden in the environment
  • Recognizes the situation in which you are acting
  • Personalizes its behavior based on your wishes
  • Adapts to your actions
  • Anticipates what you need

In other words they are situated, personalized, adaptive and proactive. In addition, they are also connected so that they can influence us more and more as a group or society. Wikipedia [4] adds that Smart Products, usually combinations of a tangible product in combination with a package of services, will be mainly marketing-oriented and must be aware of restrictions imposed by companies and the government.

What we see is that, by handling large amounts of data and constantly adapting to the situation, the user and the social environment, the behavior of Smart Products becomes less and less pre-programmed. In other words, we can no longer predict or control them. If we extend that line, we will also see that in the physical expression of products. Just look at robots, they also become more and more physically intelligent; no pre-programmed movements but adaptive, organic behavior that must have a certain purpose within set lines. If, in addition to cognitive intelligence (recognizing, learning and predicting), we can elevate this kind of physical intelligence and expressiveness to the level of a Lionel Messi or a Michael Jordan, then the possibilities and appeal of such technologies are endless. That is why the roles and responsibilities of designers and developers are becoming increasingly important.

What people want is to be taken along in an experience, while being able to discover a win-win situation in what is going on. A dancer, for example, wants an intelligent partner who guides her so that she only has to take one step before being recognized and taken along into something beautiful. The win-win is that they both put on a great performance. Some chess masters do this too but are the counter-example of the win-win: they take you along into the build-up of a game, but they have the last trump and lure you into a  trap, which you only recognize just before you irrevocably fall into it. So how do we ensure that people in the use of Smart Products discover a win-win situation plus gain a positive experience? This is an important question for every designer.

We at IDZone aim to create a positive experience for the user that he / she really has something to offer through simple technological innovations. We especially believe in optimizing usability; when Smart Products are increasingly connected and offer a world of functionality (whether digital or not), one of the key points of a product is to provide you with effortless support. An example is the Flowtime yoga shirt [2]; by placing sensors on the body much more is possible than with a smartwatch, but by giving subtle feedback through vibrating signals and graphic animations something complex becomes intuitively clear. Another good example is the digital camera designed by Dr. Joep Frens [3]: one of the things the device does is offering action possibilities that are relevant to the current situation, in other words it makes the interface simpler on the basis of what the user wants at that moment. When people feel that they can handle a very complex world of functionality, they also get a better feeling about themselves (self-efficacy) and that is exactly why people want Smart Products.

IDZone focuses on the design and development of Smart Products such as:

  • Wearable technology
  • Connected devices (the Internet of Things)
  • Personalized objects (Mass Customization) and associated product configurators
  • 3D printing of smart technology carriers
  • Interactive consumer products
  • Drones
  • Electric vehicles
  • In the future also Augmented Reality applications


  1. Aarts, E. & Marzano, S. (2003) The New Everyday – Views on Ambient Intelligence. The Netherlands: Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.
  2. Zoontjens, R.M.P.J. (2013) Flowtime – An Interactive Yoga Experience.
  3. Frens, J.W. “Designing for Rich Interaction: Integrating Form, Interaction, and Function.” Eindhoven: J.F. Schouten School for User-System Interaction Research, 2006.



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