Posted on 10/18/2017 via BSH Home Appliances Group

Making Mykie: An Interview with UX Researcher Sebastian Löhmann

Mykie has made an appearance at the CES in Las Vegas and twice at the IFA in Berlin. Here, Sebastian Löhmann shares part of the research story behind developing our interactive kitchen assistant concept.

What is Mykie?

Mykie is our BSH concept for an interactive personal kitchen assistant. He uses Home Connect technology to connect and monitor appliances throughout the home. You can talk to Mykie and ask him to do things for you, such as turn the washing machine on, tell you what’s in the fridge or find a recipe.

Tell us the story about making Mykie.

My team – the UX design team had a hand in making Mykie. My colleague – UX designer Leo Sommer – and I, we made the first wireframes for the user interface, made the first drafts for Mykie’s animated eyes and created some of the interaction design for the integration of different modalities such as touch, speech or projection. From the beginning, the joint BSH team of UX and robotics researchers wanted our personal assistant to sit in the kitchen and integrate into family life – but we had to consider the needs of the consumer. First, we conducted some research about personal assistants, before taking part in an intensive 8 week Design Thinking project with a design agency. Design Thinking was perfect for Mykie as it is a user-centric approach to design, this way of working challenged us to think around the product and what our consumers might want it to do and to how they might want to interact with it.

  • Mykie was presented at IFA Berlin in 2017

Mykie was presented at IFA Berlin in 2017

How did you carry out the research for Mykie?

Once we had a rough plan for Mykie and knew some of the components we wanted to include, we began our research process which involved taking abstract foam models of Mykie into people’s homes to help them conceptualize it. At the same time, our corporate innovation robotics team worked on a fully-functional prototype of the robot itself identifying the necessary base technologies and pushing these to a level at which the technology was ready to use.

The UX research process involved interviewing people in both Munich and New York. Our chosen testers in both cities were given the foam models and could decide what functions they wanted Mykie to perform, and were able to further equip the prototype themselves, e.g. with a microphone, eyes, ears, etc before being interviewed about their experience. One important finding was that our testers responded most to the models in which Mykie had a ‘face’ and ‘body.’

  • The user interviews took place in Munich and New York. In this picture: Sebastian Löhmann.

The user interviews took place in Munich and New York. In this picture: Sebastian Löhmann.

How did the research in New York differ from the research in Munich?

In Munich, we tried our Mykie prototype in a shared flat with multiple users, with a person who travels a lot (an air steward), an older lady living in a tiny apartment and a young woman who has a baking blog.

In New York, on the other hand, we focused mainly on experts and designers, and those who spent a lot of time on their mobile phones and with other technology. We also took into account the needs and preferences of people living in different areas. For example, we interviewed people in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, we noted that in Brooklyn the shops are mainly small, specialist stores and grocery delivery services such as Hello Fresh are common, which gave us some ideas about what consumers wanted.

How emotional and ‘human’ did you want Mykie to be, what did you decide?

Apple’s Siri and Amazon Echo’s Alexa are like people in the way that they interact with the user, but they do not have a body or facial features. We wanted Mykie to go further and display his emotions. So, throughout the research and development processes we had to consider things like how the head would turn and how big it should be? And whether he should have a face? We did find, though, that eyes were more than enough to show basic emotions, and were, in fact, also easier to animate.

What did you learn about the experiences of users and their desired relationship with robots?

Our most important finding was that the testers wanted complete control over Mykie. In other words, they didn’t want him to be able to do things by himself, but to suggest things, such as ‘should I start the dishwasher’ so that the user could make their own decision. They also said that it would be creepy if Mykie was too human-like.

So, we played around with a number of different interaction modalities. Throughout our research in the USA, we tried out a range of different voices by fitting our plastic model with a Bluetooth loudspeaker, considered the tonality of his voice and played around with the idea of him giving orders or making jokes.

The methodology we used was called “Wizard of Oz” prototyping. As I said before, we used a rudimentary foam model of the completed Mykie, which was quite simple and asked users to apply some magic and role-play with the model, using their imaginations to see how they might interact with him.

What is Mykie’s current status?

The robotics team is currently working on the UI & ID design, twisting and turning function and interaction of Mykie, its voice and touch screen and has built a small micro-series, which is shown all over the world in selected locations and exhibitions. We also presented Mykie at this year’s IFA in Berlin, and took him to the CES in Las Vegas! The future is looking very exciting for Mykie and the BSH team behind him, we’re looking forward to seeing how he interacts with and affects our consumers’ lives.

  • Users received foam models and were able to decide on functions

Users received foam models and were able to decide on functions