Amazon Fire TV Cube
Amazon Fire TV Cube is the first product to combine far field voice control with an on-board universal remote. The original vision sounded quite simple: Customer should be able to walk into the room, say “Alexa, watch NBC” and Fire TV cube will turn on your TV and make sure NBC is playing.
Fire TV Cube adds 2 additional key features: far field voice control and universal remote capability. In this project, I was the lead designer on the universal remote capability. There were 2 big issues that I was trying to tackle:
- Universal remote is based on old infrared technology, but far field voice assistant is still quite new as I was writing this in 2018. As voice forward experience is all about minimizing friction, IR technology is notoriously known for generating friction.
- The bulk of the work was in setup. We know from established Fire TV research that customer want to get through setup as quickly as possible, but a first glance of the process did not seem uplifting: it was almost twice as long as the overall flow that it was supposed to go into.
Neither me or my PM partner wanted to triple the set up flow. Tons of work went into optimizing the flow so that minimal amount of customer input is required to teach Alexa how to control TV and AV receivers. Since my team is situated inside a larger internal design studio at Amazon, I had great resources and design partners to help with the work. Our process at a high level looks a bit like this, from my perspective:
The bulk of the work was on me and the UX writer. It was my job to decipher technical and business requirements and turn them into customer facing designs; with help from the UX writer, we presented the designs in ways that regular people can understand. We then worked with user researchers to set up lab studies with real customers; this was where we tested the designs and iterated based on real customer feedback. Although I was not the one interfacing directly with customers, I got to observe the study and received feedbacks in real time.
However, with this particular product, given its technical complexity, there was another step before all the standard design process happened: how do we avoid tripling the set up process? The final answer came from engineering innovations and lots of agonizing hours of flow optimization. How can we move things around to eliminate one screen? and one more, and maybe one more? This is where I spent the bulk of my time. It might not look like typical design work, but it is. I looked at every single set up flow from a high level to make sure they were as frustration free as possible. The task forced me to back out of visual design decisions so that I can focus on the overall experience. It was only when the flow was in the best shape it could be, then I start working with UX writers and visual designers to fine tune each screen to it’s perfection.
Research and Final Thoughts
We were only able to test the setup experience twice before sending it out into the world. However, the findings was very consistent: most customer wasn’t entirely sure what just happened. However, customers were happy that the flow was short and they were thrilled that they can turn their TV on and off with voice.
I had a hypothesis while designing the CX: people do not need to know the bigger picture in complex interactions like this. It was a controversial opinion. People usually prefer to be well informed. We, as experience makers, tend to feel more comfortable to disclose more so people have the resource to figure stuff out. Usually at this point it is the designer’s job to make relative large amount of information digestible. However, I argued that layout and color can only delay when customer gets overwhelm rather than eliminate; perhaps it’s more important to guide rather than inform. I designed the flow in a way that each screen only carries enough information to get you to the next one, and I never tell you what’s about to happen unless it may startle you.
This is also the starting point of the expansion of my role in the larger voice and Alexa experience on Fire TV. Starting with the Cube, Fire TV fully pushed TV into a multi-modal world. With Alexa, interacting with your TV is no longer just point and click. What does a full on voice experience look like in the center of your living room? Living room is the main space of interaction in most households and TV plays an important role. How might we enhance existing entertainment experience while enabling additional capabilities on the biggest screen in your home?