Do You Speak Dotdot? Your Refrigerator Might

Entertainment By Elena Boaghi |

Dotdot is an honoree in the 2017 Innovation By Design Awards, Fast Company‘s annual celebration of the best ideas in design. See the rest of the winners, finalists, and honorable mentions here.

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.

Related: Announcing The Winners Of The 2017 Innovation By Design Awards

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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