Shaping the future of the voice assistant in family context

Client:  VodafoneZiggo

Team: Jouke Zult, Matthew Jongbloet, Vera van Horik, Carmen Scherbaum

Disciplines: User-research, Concept, Conversational Design, Speculative Design, Voice – UX, Prototyping

School year: 2017 – 2018

What will the future Dutch family household look like – when it comes to daily routine and tasks – with Voice User Interfaces (VUI) as the main signal?

The Challenge

Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Siri are well-known voice assistants. But beyond the conveniences that these devices can provide, there are complex challenges surrounding this emerging technology when it comes to daily routine in family life. For example, when it comes to privacy, safety and social (dis) connection.

VodafoneZiggo wanted to explore the field and asked MDD students to create a strategic and speculative vision for the connected home of year 2025.

Predicting the future

Given the speculative nature of the project, one of the main challenges was to create an inspiring and critical future scenario grounded by convinced reasoning. Therefore, the research focussed on both the present and the future, so that a multitude of evidence-based arguments (in the form of future scenarios) could be developed to illustrate the Dutch family household in 2025.

We looked into dynamics, roles and environment in the field of family structure. These insights were supplemented by user-survey results, which implicated the attitudes of parents towards future technology, in relation to their daily activities and tasks. We came to realise that safety, health, and social (dis) connection of their children are major concerns for parents when it comes to technology.

In a co-creation workshop with Vodafone employees, we explored socio-cultural implications, potential use-contexts, and inspired ideation through scenario generation. Participants engaged in role-plays, allowing us to understand how future technologies could be fitted into the daily life of their family household.  The majority of the entrants had ideas of a VUI helping with organisation, planning, and social connection.

Vision on VUI

Upon collecting the  (mainly qualitative) data, we wrote our own ethical vision on how a VUI should be implemented in future households.

We came to four main values:

  • Be supportive.
    Proactively assist in handling recurring activities. How to engage with daily tasks?
  • Be honest.
    Having a clear role within the family. What role does the VUI play?
  • Be caring.
    Creating time for what matters. How can the VUI respond to the most important values of the family?
  • Be clear.
    Creating peace of mind. What is the best way for the user to interact with VUI?

Prototyping and testing Welby

In addition to our research, we designed and developed our very own prototype: Welby.

Welby’s scripting was supported by our four main values. The briefed target group was ‘young families’ and in the Dutch village Gorinchem we got the opportunity to test Welby in a ‘Mama Café’. It was remarkable to see the young mothers interacting with Welby without wondering how the system worked (where/how will the dialogues be stored, what does this mean for our privacy in the house). An important insight was that the mothers did not appreciate a commanding and pedantic attitude when it came to their personal daily habits (advice and corrections on how to prepare dinner, setting up alarms in the morning, etc.) but when it comes to their children’s interests and development (rules concerning TV and gaming time, homework guidance, etc.) this attitude was valued. This means that a possible future voice assistant should be able to detect which family member is interacting with the system so it can adjust the right personality to it.

Now what?

This project is a starting point for future designers, who can use our ethical vision as possible guidelines. To further communicate our work to the world, we visualised all the insights in a provocative, vision video called “The Synchronized Life” and and published our research on a fictive product-landing page (http:/welby.life).


Client: Research Group of Play and Civic Media / STEC
Team: Bambi Boland, Beatriz Ibeas, Ondrěj Kocholaty, and Genèviéve Korte
Disciplines: Game design, visual communication, animation and storytelling
School year: 2017-2018

Cities are no longer exclusively made by a municipality. In this day and age, we create a city together. Citizens, organisations, and municipalities all work together to make a city what it is. We call this process ‘city-making’.

The Research Group of Play and Civic Media was interested in a digital solution to improve bottom-up empowerment. That is, to empower citizens that are not in charge but should be in charge of decision-making in their own neighbourhood. After all, they are the ones who have to live there.

We wanted to give people who used our digital product the tools they needed to make their neighbourhood a better one.

The ‘Minicipality’ of Amsterdam
With more than 180 different nationalities the city of Amsterdam was not only part of our target audience description but also pushed us into a design direction where we wanted to focus on the beauty of diversity and how these differences make us stronger as a community. Through a process of paper-prototyping and a lot of brainstorms and discussions with the client we came to ‘Minicipality’.

Minicipality is a game played on a large interactive table. Participants use their smartphones as ‘controllers’ for the game. Made for a bar-setting, it’s easy to join and play for just a short while or for over an hour: you log in via your phone, get a character assigned to you, and start playing.

Meet the Minicipalitans
The characters, the Minicipalitans, are randomly given out. As a way to underline the rich cultural background of the city they are all stereotypes. Good-natured ones of course: a butch lesbian who wrestles bears and is super social; a Chinese tourist who has an active Flickr account; a deaf retired midwife who knits and plays bingo. The stereotypes did not only make people smile in their play-throughs but also helped players to quickly get ‘into character’.

When a player logs in they are asked to take decisions: do you want to slaughter the cow or start a vegetable garden? The player must make these choices bearing in mind the character they have got. If a player chooses something that goes against the character’s values their mood will decrease. So a decision must be taken: are you willing to sacrifice your own happiness for the greater good?

There’s no i in Team
The game punishes people that are self-centric and rewards working together. Through collaboration people are not only made aware of the in-game mechanics of teamwork but they also realise how this is mirrored into day-to-day life.

Additionally the game offers real-life information about initiatives in Amsterdam or, for example, how to get solar panels for your house.

Challenges and lessons
User-testing was a great way to spot flaws in our design. We started with a play test with fellow designers who picked up on details we could improve.

Tests that followed with users gave us insights on two important things: firstly players enjoyed and stepped into the shoes of the characters they received. A young girl who got an older adult objected to a choice because she was ‘old and weak’; secondly, all players said they got the message, which was that you need to work together to make something happen in your neighbourhood.

Funny enough, it weren’t only the players who learnt about that: our team also got to understand much more about communication and cooperation in the context of a project.