Prototyping for emerging technology: IoT

3 min read

At Common Good a key part of our design process is bringing ideas to life in the form of tangible prototypes. Making an idea real helps us to understand, communicate, test, and improve. It can also help us get closer to realising the future.

As technology evolves and everyday interactions rapidly move beyond the 2D screen interface I believe it’s becoming increasingly important for designers to learn about the potential of new technologies, and how to design for them. Broadening our skills and toolkits will empower us all to design better human centred products and experiences for the future.

Recently at the studio we’ve been experimenting and prototyping for emerging technologies like voice interface, cross reality (VR/AR/MX), and blockchain. In this first post I’ll share some useful resources, tools and tips for designers that want to begin prototyping connected products for the internet of things (IoT).

Getting started

Prototyping IoT is made up of three core components:

  1. The microcontroller board (your physical device)
  2. A cloud service (to connect your board to the internet and store data in the cloud)
  3. Your code (the firmware you’ll write to programme the board and cloud to talk to each other an give a set of instructions on how they should behave)

Arduino is an open-source electronics platform with a series of microcontroller boards that are super easy to programme and have an extensive free library of example code. Because of its flexibility and low barrier to entry, learning arduino is a great place to start.

You can pick up a starter kit which includes everything you need (arduino UNO board, sensors, LED’s, resistors etc.) to make fun projects by following tutorials in the project book. If your a fan of well designed books and satisfying unboxing experiences its worth investing in the official Arduino/Genuino kit. There is also a specific IoT starter kit if you want to jump straight in to IoT projects.

If you’re short on time, the fastest way to learn is to take a course. For those in the Manchester area I’d recommend the ‘introduction to Arduino‘ course at Mad Lab, which is a great intro plus you’ll learn how to make lights dance to the start wars theme tune! It was a lot of fun!

Tip: If like me you get flash backs to high school physics classes and wish you’d listened at bit harder to Mr Hughes, don’t worry! Brush up on your basic electronics here.

Learn through play

One you start with IoT you’ll soon discover that there are lots of different boards and cloud services available, which can seem a little overwhelming at first. We’ve found that the best way to understand is to experiment and play - simple!

You’ll find plenty of tutorials and the odd competition to keep you busy on Arduino Project Hub and Hackster.

I built a plant monitor for our studio to track light, temperature, moisture and alert the team when a plant needs to be watered… so we didn’t forget! is a useful cloud service designed specifically to connect your IoT project to the internet. It makes it simple to stream, log and interact with the data that’s collected by your IoT device. The step-by-step guides walk you through getting set-up.



Once you’ve mastered Arduino you’re ready to progress to the more advanced Rasbery Pi boards and Python programming language. Start small think big!

Prototyping for IoT has taught us all in the team to think beyond screens. It’s about connecting systems, not just interfaces.

We’d love to hear how you get on with your own IoT projects for good. Tweet us @commongoodco