Lessons from the voice design front line
Senior Industrial Designer, Will Merrill, was part of the team designing for series 2 of BBC Two’s Big Life Fix program, working to create a voice solution for Susan, a woman living with MS, that would let her continue to live her life independently. After researching different platforms and voice assistants, the team chose Amazon Alexa, and created a layer around the product – an ‘accessibility jacket’ – that is able to help her complete tasks on her own. For Susan, this meant stripping away the unnecessary and presenting a curated selection of core functionality.
The multi-disciplinary team borrowed from the well-established digital format of the drop-down menu, and created an audible menu system to help Susan filter the key tasks she wanted. Leaning on this menu system, the team was able to create a guided tool that helped her start slowly and get incrementally more specific about what she wanted Alexa to do. This solved the obstacles that someone like Susan experiences when trying to use voice control through a normal pathway, where you have an end goal in mind and working backwards to achieve it. As Susan sometimes experiences ‘foggy’ moments where she can’t find the right word to say, a simplified menu navigation solution was perfect.
Will focused on creating the physical components of the product, resulting in an owl form, the shape of Susan’s favorite animal. For any product, the physical components should provide some context to the intended interaction. Because the technology was so foreign to Susan, the team needed to make it feel as familiar and inviting as possible. The owl provided an emotional connection to the product, and was patient, giving Susan time to think as she navigated through her personalized menu. In addition to the visually appealing shape, the owl changes colors in different warm glows to represent if it’s idle or awake and listening – humanizing the voice assistant for Susan.
Watch the video to get a glimpse into our work with Susan.