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Overview

Echo Gourmet is an exploratory project into how a tech giant like Amazon could leverage their large network of services and hardware expertise to create a new class of educational voice assistant.

My partner, Dustin Chan and I developed this concept as part of our capstone project at DAAP. The project was split into four distinct phases; research, ID concepting, user validation, and concept app development. You can check out the app development here.

Maximizing human touchpoints by conducting interviews, surveys, attending cooking classes, and even running guided cooking made this a delightful project to work on. All content by me unless noted.

Role

ID & Interaction Designer

Teammates

Dustin Chan

Duration

Spring 2018

Deliverables

System Concept, User Experience Outline, &
Looks-like Model

**Note

Some research content is designed for desktop viewing.

The Problem

In the US people often order in or go out to eat instead of cooking at home and learning to cook can be a challenge. How might we add value to voice-based home assistants by creating a framework for an educational experience based around cooking?

41%

of people age 18-34 ate dinner out two or more times in the past week.

19.7%

of US adults own and use a smart speaker at home.

Research
Techniques

During the project a wide variety of research techniques were employed to help understand users, test ideas, and gather feedback to create the most complete solution in the amount of time we had.

Inquiry Research

When starting a project diving into current trends and interesting topics that relate to the technology being leveraged helps me to gain a base level insight. Reading articles and writing down our thoughts allowed us to easily pick out current trends and use them to create actionable design goals.

Read to Learn

Market Research

User Groups

Project Goals

Read to Learn

Market Research

User Groups

Project Goals

Ecosystem Immersion

One of the best ways to understand users is to put yourself in their shoes. In our efforts to better understand how our potential users think and act we participated in a few immersive activities including; using Amazon meal kits, taking part in novice cooking classes, and purchasing an Amazon Echo.

Christine, my wonderful Hipcook instructor

Using an Amazon Meal Kit

Online Survey

To help answer our questions and help create a better idea of who our stakeholders were and what they needed; we created two surveys. One survey dealt with perception of AI and home assistants, while the other dealt with how people deal with shopping, eating out, and preparing food.

AI Perception

Shopping & Home Prep

Survey Analysis

AI Perception

Shopping & Home Prep

Survey Analysis

Design Intent

Initial research lead us to create a system of physical and digital artifacts that focus on a few specific design goals.

1.) Create a system that is responsible. Make sure the final product is simple and enhances a users life.

2.) Design the physical product to act as proper kitchen artifact. It should look and feel at home in the kitchen.

3.)  Use the product as a way to experiment with extending current user experience flows.

Feature
Brainstorm

Initial feature brainstorming is a great way to think of not only much needed design decisions, but also a way to cover corner cases. It is also the time to let the ideas “get crazy” and be a little weird or off the wall. We decided to experiment with some lo-fi model making to show how the different ideas might work in a kitchen.

Feature Brainstorm & What-Ifs

Lo-Fi Prototyping

Making models out of leftover materials, found objects, and paper is a great way to get an idea of how a product might work and how potential users could interact with them. Photos by Dustin.

Takeaways

The prototyping session spawned a few insightful takeaways that helped to shape the rest of the design process.

Concept
Development

Developing the Amazon Gourmet hardware concept started with us focusing on creating a single device to replace or upgrade the current Amazon Echo line of voice assistants. Later on, the concept would develop to act as more of a system including a base unit, sensors, and charging hub.

Initial Sketch Dump

Echo Teardown

Using an Amazon Echo as a reference we completed a teardown and created simple block internals to design around. Photos by Dustin, hands by me.

Evolving Amazon’s
Design Language

In early 2018, Amazon’s products mostly consisted of black plastic basic shapes. The Echo itself was a tall, black, imposing tower. Our goal was to evolve the design language to using more textural elements, more organic basic shapes, and switch to using materials more suited to the kitchen.

Product Material & Form Inspiration

Initial Models with block internals

Revised System Concept

Concept
Refinement

We felt Focusing on Amazon’s unique light-based UX was important. This lead us to mimic the original cylinder shape. In an effort to make the monolithic cylinder feel more organic, we decided on a shape we called the “carafe”. The sensors were developed as a separate sprint and then later refined to mirror the design language of the base unit.

Carafe Refinement

Starting with with a basic cylinder we went through a few rounds of form development that ended with a complex blended form. The rounded square dish at the top acts as a tactile touchpoint, while the curved aluminum body lends a style that looks great in the kitchen and is easy to clean as well.

"Soft Cylinder" Exploration

3D Proportion Refinement

3D Prints

CMF Study

Final Carafe Design

"Soft Cylinder" Exploration

3D Proportion Refinement

3D Prints

CMF Study

Final Carafe Design

Sensor Refinement

We started the sensor design by focusing on usability and wall placement. After nailing down the base unit form language we redesigned the shell of the sensor to match.  

Initial sensor concepts

Selected Concept

Form Development

Detail Refinement

Final Sensor design

Initial sensor concepts

Selected Concept

Form Development

Detail Refinement

Final Sensor design

Charging Dock
& Mounting Plate

Because the sensors were designed to be as small as possible, a charging solution was needed. A system comprising of a magnetic charging dock and  wall mounted sensor baseplate makes it easy to place sensors wherever you might need one.

Wall Mount Development

Final Wall Mount Design

Charging Dock Concept

Charging Dock Development

Final Charging Dock

Wall Mount Development

Final Wall Mount Design

Charging Dock Concept

Charging Dock Development

Final Charging Dock

User
Experience

Creating the physical artifacts was only the first part of the design process. How a user might interact with the system and how the system relays information were important pieces of the puzzle. Using prototyping hardware and validation sessions we designed an exploratory framework that extends Amazon’s current Echo user experience.

User Experience Storyboard

A storyboard that envisioned how we wanted the system to work acted as our guide for the validation sessions.

Validation
Session 1

One of the best features of the Echo is the light ring. It allows users to immediately identify what mode the unit is in, whether there is a notification, or what may be wrong with the unit. We decided to extend these and created a sample set of our own interactions.

Discoveries from Session 1

None of the users had trouble making the dishes nor was anyone disappointed with the food that they made. After the session we discussed  what could be went well and what could be changed.

Our first idea was that we were too informal and that we needed to give responses that made more sense for what current technology can do.

Returning to our design goals we also realized that we were not utilizing any of the UX from the original Echo devices. This led us to develop new color based notifications.

Photos by Dustin

Light Ring
Interactions

One of the best features of the Echo is the light ring. It allows users to immediately identify what mode the unit is in, whether there is a notification, or what may be wrong with the unit. We decided to extend these and created a sample set of our own interactions.

Light Ring UX

Validation
Session 2

About a month after our first session we were ready for another. The goal of the second session was to validate the interactions we had been developing. We used an Arduino development board and a 3D printed model to help us test our new interactions.

We were looking to test a more technique driven learning model using explanations of proper preparation and more reliance on video tutorials. We also included an intro to each recipe to provide each participant with a list of ingredients and an overview of the steps required to reach the end product.

Arduino Setup for Light Ring Testing

Discoveries from
Session 2

Participants were more comfortable with recipes compared to our last session. One participant was given the momentous task of poaching an egg without any prior experience. A curated video of the technique resulted  in a perfect poached egg  on the first try. Photos by Dustin.

Final
Thoughts

Designing this concept and testing it with people made me appreciate the complexity of devices of this nature. I believe that a lot more testing of both visual and sound based UX would be what I would have explored next, given more time.

The final family of form and design language we created holds up to modern trends and doesn't look out of place at all. It was interesting over the last year to see the updates made to various Amazon and Google products as they launched features similar to what we were prototyping.

As far as reflection 2018-2019 seems to be the year of the large screen though and most of the new devices, like the Facebook portal, feature a large screen instead of just a standalone device. This was interesting as we thought that devices might rely on the connection to people's existing mobile devices and tablets to expand service integration and help lower costs of devices overall.