How do we use these new kinds of voice devices? With the approaching arrival of the Mark II, I cut out a tiny subset of that question and took a closer look. The structure of the report takes inspiration from scientific literature (I study molecular biology on the side).
Study period: November – December 2018
Report date: January 2019
- Voice assistant devices bring a new interaction model, and users do not always interact with such devices face-to-face as with other types of devices. Learning more about users’ smart speaker placement will inform the design of suitable GUIs.
- The objective of the study was to get more data about the context in which the Mark II device will be used and to support the adoption of either a more traditional mobile GUI or an “oversized” GUI (the company has previews of both).
- To study the aforementioned, a 3D printed shell of Mark II was obtained, distributed to the study participants (one by one), and its placement in the participants’ homes was documented.
- The study had to be carried out with these constraints:
- Zero budget
- Low amount of distraction from everyday work (the company does not have a dedicated user researcher)
1. Decide the scope given the constraints
- A small number of participants, but at least 10 with potentially multiple placements in the home
- Participants who are already familiar with Mycroft and do not have to be paid
- User tasks cannot take much time
2. Design the procedure
- Instructions for the participants were following: “You’ll get a 3D printed Mark II. Tonight, put it in your home where you’ll put the real Mark II – not the first place you can think of but where you’ll keep the device long-term. Then take a picture of the placed Mark II exactly from a place or two places where you spend the most time in the home, which are places from where you’ll talk to Mark II in most cases.”
3. Recruit participants
- 10 Mycroft team members who can easily get their hands on a 3D printed Mark II
4. Collect data
- Photos and descriptions
5. Analyze data
- In which rooms and in what places do participants place the device?
- From what distance do participants talk to the device?
6. Sum up take-aways
- Study deficiencies:
- A small number of participants
- Participants recruited only from within the Mycroft team
- The distances between a user and the device were not measured instrumentally and an average distance could not therefore be calculated
- The living room and the kitchen are the most popular rooms for the placement of Mark II
- Interpretation: The reason is those two spaces are the most frequented in the home (during waking hours)
- Though a minority, some participants placed the Mark II in their bedrooms, which are comparatively more intimate spaces in the home
- No participant placed the Mark II in a bathroom (despite the device being a music player)
- This may change when users get multiple devices per home
- Another reason might be users’ concern about the possible interaction between an electronic device and water (this might be a potential opportunity for high-humidity-proofing or waterproofing a future device, which would also be useful in the kitchen)
- The results support the adoption of the “oversized” GUI based on the distances observed
- Imposes a limit on how much information should be displayed at a time
- To improve the readability of the content on the display of the device, it seems it would be beneficial to enable a future device to “look” directly at the user when activated with a wake word, if possible.
- There are many directions further research studies could go next and into more depth
Mycroft Chief of Design