Amazon Echo Dot Redesign

Cognitive Ergonomics Project

UX Researcher & Designer

9/1/17 - 12/15/18

Overview 

For my cognitive ergonomics master's course, I decided to apply my user experience research, design, and cognitive ergonomics skills to redesign the Amazon Echo Dot (Echo). Cognitive ergonomics, also known as cognitive engineering, is a discipline that focuses on how well the use of a product is designed to match the user's cognitive abilities. The ultimate goal is to improve product usability by considering and accommodating human factors such as human perception, mental processing, and memory (Interaction Design Foundation).

About the Amazon Echo Dot

The Echo is currently the most popular home smart assistant with 70% of the market. It is powered by an artificial intelligence personality called "Alexa", which gradually learns user preferences. The Echo can perform a variety of tasks, and I chose this product, because smart assistants are becoming widely used and having UX research and design experience in this product category is vital.  

Echo Functionality
Accompanying Echo App

Secondary Research

To begin the redesign process, I began collecting data on the tasks users wanted to perform most. ​I also wanted to know if the tasks users wanted to use Echo for were similar to the tasks smart assistant users as a whole wanted to perform. There was significant overlap in tasks. The most common tasks for Echo users specifically and the overall smart assistant users included: setting a timer, playing music, setting an alarm, and reading the news. Those that didn't overlap, but were in the top percentage for Echo users or general smart assistant users included: asking questions and checking the time. 

Quantitative: Echo users' common tasks

Quantitative: Overall smart assistant users' common tasks

Analyze Echo Reviews from Amazon.com

After identifying the most common tasks users wanted to perform, I began analyzing the Echo reviews on Amazon.com. To get a holistic view of responses and a deeper understanding of design problems, I chose to analyze 10 reviews from each star rating (1 - 5) , totaling 50 reviews. Users reported 8 common problems with the Echo. 

10 

10 

50 Reviews

10 

10 

10 

User-reported Problems

Primary Research

After completing the secondary research, I began planning the strategy for conducting primary research. Knowing the most common tasks users wanted to perform and understanding the primary problems through the user reviews on Amazon gave me a basis for designing the interview and survey questions. 

Interviews

20 Participants

Students and Professionals

Experience Level

Advanced and novice 

Ages

18 - 50

Questions

Understand product difficulties

Surveys

Combined results for the 4 participants:

After completing the interviews, I administered a survey to get a deeper understanding of the factors Echo users are most concerned about. There were four participants, all of whom were new users. Participants were asked to rank these factors from most to least important. The factors included: degree of accuracy of voice recognition, level of difficulty of set-up process, preference for device wake up word (i.e. "Alexa"), preference of colors or patterns of lights on the device, and the level of importance of having a music function. 

To equate the rankings received by each participant, a balanced incomplete block (BIB) ranking was used for analysis. The results found that the accuracy of the voice recognition was the most important factor among the five factors. As the Echo is a voice-controlled device, the survey results validated the original hypothesis that the interactions and usability of the Echo’s voice commands would be most important to users. Specifically, voice-control with high accuracy was the most important factor, and then an easy set-up process is the next important factor. In addition, users didn't care too much about the change of the lights.

Survey Balanced Incomplete Block (BIB)

The corresponding 4 × 3 BIB table applied to the ranking below.

Problems Identified

After completing the secondary research, interviews, and surveys, the following 10 problems were identified: 

Problem Focus Areas

Problem Focus Areas

Since it's not feasible to focus on all the problems I identified, I selected the following  4 areas in which to recommend solutions: 

Better Support for Error Management
Bridge Gulf
of Execution
Clear Indication of System State
Declutter App Homepage & Improve Usability

Design Recommendations

Better Support for Error Management

1  Adaptable Automation

Allow user to set & customize the automation levels for Echo's functions. 

Example for purchasing products from Amazon:

Level 1: Purchasing using Echo is never allowed.

Level 2: Confirmation is required.

Level 3: Speak to purchase.

Enable Continuity of Conversation

Provide transparency to tree of voice commands. Give informative feedback for adding an interaction and when ending a command or question. 

Examples:

Weather: Today's weather or different day?

Places: Current location or other places?

 

Bridge Gulf of Execution

Convey Affordances

Users need a better understanding of what Echo can do and how to execute Echo's capabilities. Add "Can do" and "How?" features, so user can ask Echo if it can perform certain functions and how to perform them, if available.

Examples:

Banking: Check bank account? Transfer money?

Calling: Call user's parents or friends

Sports: Report the score of a current sporting event?

Clear Indication of System State

Enable Clear Indication of System State

Provide different mode indicators: on / off of the device, Listening and Thinking modes, and Continuing the Conversation modes to keep users informed. Use light to indicate status: general users (light colors), color blind users (light patterns)

Examples:

System on: green light or specific patterned light

Conversation continues: blue light or different specific patterned light 

 

Declutter App Homepage & Improve Usability

Minimize Cognitive Load & Create Minimalist Interface

Alleviate disruption of user attention by removing unimportant information, aligning homepage to users' frequent tasks, and ensuring interface fits users' mental models.

Examples:

Disruption of user attention: remove carousel slider

Align to users' frequent tasks: put easily accessible tiles on home screen for music, news, setting timers, etc.

Add back button: allow users to easily return to former pages

 

Prototype of App Homepage Redesign

As mentioned above, there were multiple issues with the Echo (Alexa) app's homepage:

  • Disruption of user attention

  • Unorganized user history

  • Unimportant information

  • Inconsistency in fonts and sizes

  • Unclear icons

  • No back button

  • Unclear system status

Lessons Learned

After completing extensive research, you often discover more problems than can be addressed at one time. Sometimes, I find it difficult to choose which issues to address, because I want to fix them all. Selecting the right ones at the right time is a skill that takes time to refine. 

Also, I found this to be a particularly exciting project to work on because voice-first technologies will continue to be greater and greater parts of our lives. I am looking forward to my next smart assistant redesign.

Research & Design for Good

© 2021 by Jill Meyerson