After the giant float of GDPR spam that reached your inbox in the past weeks, I’m confident you’re aware of the global impact the new legislation has. But have you taken a minute to consider what this means for the world of design and innovation?

We’ve all heard of the Internet of Things, along with the smart gadgets, smart fridges and a whole range of smart packaging that make it to the list. It has been estimated that by 2022 no less than 29 billion devices will be connected. And according to research, the combined active and intelligent packaging market value will reach $5.68 billion in 2018, numbers that clearly show that both companies and customers are seeking data based products.

1: Smart cities & GDPR

That’s great! But, the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR privacy legislation that came into force on May 25 has left companies somewhat unclear about how to offer the personalised products that customers demand. With invisible and ubiquitous smart city technologies, it’s often difficult to obtain free and informed consent. In 2017, ENISA published that there were no “legal guidelines for IoT device and service trust.” However, GDPR regulation itself does explicitly refer to the commonly used RFID chips as an example of identification technology depending on how the technology is used which could affect a range of smart products.


2: Why should you care?

In a world where everything is smart, internet-connected, trackable and linked to everything else, it is hard to keep track of where all our data is going. The intention of the GDPR rules is not to prevent the use of data, but rather to create more transparency and therefore build more trust. The rules focus on understanding where your privacy-sensitive data comes from, who’s using it, how it’s being used and being able to respond effectively in the event of a privacy breach.

Take RFIDs inside wearable technology for example, no matter how well they serve a customer’s own interests, they also pose a potential privacy risk. Your smart watch might be a lifesaver when it comes to medicine reminders and dangerous heartbeats but it also creates great risks when this information is leaked to people with bad intentions. In addition, over half of smart products collects a wide range of data that are not necessary for the product to function. The same counts for your smart packaging, it is lots of fun to see the world through the eyes of your favorite cheese or to get a wide range of top-notch recipes by simply waving your phone. However, all this interaction also gives packaging firms a goldmine of additional insight into consumer behaviour.

This data is often collected without any knowledge of what is being tracked or which parties might receive this information. As a result, you might be giving an uncomfortable amount of information away about your activities and preferences to firms who seek to apply “user behaviour analytics” to your private home life.

3: So how can we, as designers, deal with this?

Firstly, a clear distinction should be made between smart products that connect to the internet and those who don’t. If data is not sent remotely, the privacy and security implications are more limited. Nonetheless, the rule is simple, permission must be clearly given, the consumer needs to have provided an affirmative action and the permission must be freely given, specific and unambiguous.

Now it is up to us, designers, to make sure we offer clear and user friendly permission forms. In addition, we should avoid unnecessary risks and stop abusing our power by making sure the product only captures data that’s absolutely necessary for it to function.

Don’t fear honesty, statistics show that consumers are more than happy to share their data, as long as they know what the data is being used for and it ultimately make their lives easier. Plus, many experts do believe that tighter privacy requirements can improve customer experience. It gives brands an opportunity to build a relationship of trust with their clients.


4: Avoid frustration, be transparent

We all know the feeling: You just bought a flashy new fridge that you’re hoping will make your life so much easier. But then, as it turns out, you can’t use any of it functions unless you agree to give it access to all your data. Even if you don’t feel particularly comfortable doing this, you don’t seem to have much of a choice. Or imagine this really fun smart milk-pack. You take it home to entertain the kids but then as it turns out, you first need to login to Facebook to be able to access the game. Can you imagine the irritation?

Nobody likes to come home all excited about their latest purchase to then be hit by a wave of frustration when you discover your new buy requires access to an uncomfortable amount of personal information. So why should you have to find out later, after purchasing a product, bringing it home, and setting it up, that it is going to request your permission to collect and use your personal information to be able to use any of its futures?

Manufacturers should make sure they are clear about the fact that data will be collected. Not understanding what a product is or is not doing and not understanding what a product is capable of will create a negative user experience. They could, for example, give consumers some sort of warning that helps you decide (before purchasing) how comfortable you are sharing personal information. For example, smart packaging could say: “This product will require you to create a personal online account in order to access all features,” or, “This product will require your permission to collect personal information in order to function!” This would be in line with the new rules and is quite similar to other well-recognized disclosures on packaging.

5: Make it anonymous

With invisible and ubiquitous smart city technologies, it’s pretty difficult to always obtain consent. However, there’s a variety of steps companies can take to make sure they comply. For example:

A: Controllers of the technology can make sure all data is anonymised and if possible allow users to review their data.

B: Make sure you have a clear strategy to safeguard data:

  • Identify vulnerabilities by conducting independent security audits.
  • Implemente strong encryption standards (HTTPS / TLS) so that no personal information can be send over insecure channels or can be stored in an insecure format.
  • Make sure you have good metadata. In the event of the personal data you store being compromised, metadata could provide information on the creation date of the file, the name of the database hacked and when the data breach took place.

6: Keep it user friendly

In a review of research on how people perceive and interact with intelligent environments, researcher Eija Kassinen and her co-authors stated that “users lose trust and satisfaction with intelligent products if they do not understand them”. Many designs fail to bridge the gap between what seems obvious and what actually happens in reality.

You could have the most sophisticated app or device, but the customer needs to understand it in order for it to become successful. Therefore, aim to clearly inform the user, in a non-intrusive way, of what a product is able to do and what it is currently doing and make options or suggestions easily available to users.

Three tips to make it user friendly:

A: Designers and engineers of connected products should do their best to create a unified environment for the IoT system. In other words, they should integrate diverse independent components into a one-stop solution without losing functionality and reliability.

B: The most powerful tool designers have is the concept of familiarity. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be but aim for familiarity. Overly smart designs will likely not be understood by users while design that works on instinct actually works.

C: Make it monkey proof. When it comes to buttons and interfaces make sure it is super clear what their purpose is. Things that might seem very logical to you, might not be for the consumer. So before going into production, test your prototype and see how actually people use it.

7: Spot the opportunities

To quote the famous words of William Arthur Ward: “Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them,” While this article might be a lot to take, it should also inspire you! Smart products open a door to a whole new world of opportunities.

Not only can it drastically improve existing businesses and processes but smart products also open doors to entirely new kinds of businesses. Long gone are the days where visual elements are the only key factor influencing customers’ purchase behavior. Attractive interactive solutions can provide consumers with an added value that they are actually willing to pay for– even if it comes at a higher price. And it gives brands unlimited opportunities to make their product more engaging and personalised. From QR Codes and packages that change their appearance, to bringing products to life and emerging you in their world. Not sure about you, but I can’t help being excited to explore the countless possibilities…

This article is part of “The Magnificent Seven”, a series that explores the impact and influence of design with a healthy dose of must know. For any questions related to design, send a message to and we’ll write about it. If you enjoyed this read, don’t forget to follow us!