A LAN­GUAGE MADE FROM THREE KEYSTROKES

Fast Company - - Innovation By Design - Pho­to­graph by Mark Ma­haney

What will the in­ter­net of things (IOT) look like, re­ally? How will it be when our trash cans can talk to our re­frig­er­a­tors in some sort of mean­ing­ful way? Cur­rently, the sec­tor is small—only 5% of U.S. homes con­tain con­nected ap­pli­ances—but it is pro­jected to grow by 20% in the next three years. Of course, it might grow faster if any­one even un­der­stood what it was. “A sim­ple im­age search for ‘IOT’ leads to a land­scape of net­work schemat­ics with icons as nodes and a Wi-fi–es­que ra­dio graphic placed some­where in the soup,” says For­est Young, head of de­sign at Wolff Olins San Fran­cisco. “This com­plex­ity is, in many ways, the big­gest bot­tle­neck [when it comes to] mass adop­tion and en­thu­si­asm.” What if, in­stead, you could give IOT a face? Like this: :||

Meet the new func­tional logo—and open-source IOT lan­guage—dot­dot. On be­half of the Zigbee Al­liance—a con­sor­tium of more than 400 uni­ver­si­ties, agen­cies, and com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Ama­zon, GE, and Huawei—young led 12 de­sign­ers last year to imag­ine a more ap­proach­able IOT. Though it re­sem­bles a cute emoti­con, the logo has var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties, de­pend­ing on its au­di­ence. “A con­sumer may see a face,” says Young, and be drawn to it. A re­tailer may see a quick, graphic way to lure cus­tomers. Man­u­fac­tur­ers will ac­tu­ally build with it. And ap­pli­ances will use it to talk to each other.

Young ex­plains that the sym­bol had to be spar­tan enough to be molded onto a sil­i­con board to des­ig­nate Dot­dot-com­pat­i­ble cir­cuitry and hard­ware on pro­duc­tion lines. The im­age it­self can then foster con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween de­vices. Zigbee en­gi­neers de­vel­oped the un­der­ly­ing Dot­dot lan­guage that ap­pli­ances use to com­mu­ni­cate with each other, while con­sumers will also the­o­ret­i­cally be able to text the logo to a light­bulb to turn it on, and de­vel­op­ers could type it into some Github code to test de­vice-to-de­vice in­ter­play. In this sense, the Dot­dot mark be­comes not just a bit of brand­ing, but a func­tional tool for users and coders alike.

In tack­ling the as­sign­ment, Young and his team re­searched his­toric lan­guages for in­spi­ra­tion, rang­ing from cu­nei­form to Esperanto. But they found their an­swer in the orig­i­nal lin­gua franca of elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion: Morse code. While fly­ing to Hong Kong to pitch the Zigbee board his min­i­mal­ist-look­ing de­sign, Young was cer­tain that the room of en­gi­neers would ap­pre­ci­ate its sim­plic­ity and func­tion­al­ity. But, he said, they re­acted like your av­er­age con­sumer, too. “There was a mo­ment the CEO said, ‘It just sort of looks like a face! And I like it.’ ”

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