I was hired to help a fledgling product team transform their initial concept lab pitch into a production-worthy multimodal design for an entirely new hardware product category at Amazon.
I was employee number 3 on the Echo Look project, joining product manager Maggie McDowell and Lab126 product leader Robert Zehner – along with our VP and champion Eva Manolis. The team had received approval to take a prototype and turn it into a full-fledged product proposal. However, the initial proposal was not commercially viable, and our team adapted rapidly while maintaining our connection to the customer problems being solved.
My work on the project began in September 2014, during our initial ethnographic research. The product went into public beta in April 2017, and was released to the general public in May 2018.
For deeper insights into the process, check out my interview with O’Reilly Media about working on the Echo Look:
A few design samples are included below. but as with many new product releases, much of my work is still confidential.
Heading into a CEO level product review, we realized that our original idea was unlikely to obtain approval for a variety of reasons, and we brainstormed alternatives that would still solve the problems we identified in ethnography. One such strategy was the “Look”, a camera that plugged into the wall and attached to an existing mirror or wall, relying on an app for visuals. I decided to explore the idea with a pair of storyboards to show how the experience might translate to the home – both good and bad – on Day 0 and Day 60.
The Day 60 storyboards were revised several times and eventually shown to Jeff Bezos for approval, alongside the initial PR-FAQ. As a result, the project received enough funding to advance to concept review, the next hardware checkpoint.
Setting vision for a growing team
Once we received approval and funding, we were on the clock to move our initial concept for the Look from a single storyboard to a fleshed-out concept that covered all presumed core customer use cases. Furthermore, we had to do so in a way that allowed the entire hardware team to review and participate.
With the Product Manager and other key product stakeholders, we brainstormed a core series of use cases, based heavily on earlier ethnographic studies and our Amazon “working backwards” PR-FAQ documentation.
The result of the brainstorm was a series of 15 storyboards that incorporated key use cases in an end-to-end, customer focused narrative. These storyboards were reviewed by the entire product team, generating key discussions, new JIRA tasks, prototyping priorities, and the basis for our Concept Review documentation. I wrote and illustrated all storyboards – the goal was to work as quickly as possible to get ideas out for discussion.
Most of the vision boards from this stage cannot be shown since they include unannounced features.
All-Up Voice UX Ownership
In addition to my responsibilities as the initial product designer for the Look project, I owned all of our voice deliverables from project inception until my departure from Amazon two years later. My scope of responsibility went far beyond normal voice design:
- Create all voice design deliverables: sample dialogs, utterances, intents, scripts, and flows.
- Drive the partnership with our audio designers to determine what earcons would be delivered
- Design and run several solo research studies, culminating in a 15-participant study to see whether voice was a key feature for the product (the feedback was resoundingly yes, resulting in a greenlight for the additional expenditure to add microphones to the product
- Author the speech-related portions of the initial Echo Look Business Requirements Document (BRD) used for hardware production – which required an intimate familiarity with the hardware production process and our specs.
- Identify, seek out, and work with dozens of key Alexa domain and hardware stakeholders to obtain agreement to enable Alexa on the Echo Look (as opposed to simple grammar-based recognition.)
From Blank Page to World Stage
After the release of the Echo Look, I transformed my insights from working on the product into a talk that’s been featured as my keynote at Design Matters in Copenhagen and as a mainstage talk at Interaction 18 in Lyon, France.