KINECT-ING WITH CUSTOMERS
Amana, an appliance brand owned by Whirlpool, was looking for a way to distinguish itself on an overcrowded sales floor. They came looking for an innovative way to engage their target customer and make the most of their limited store display space. Most brands purchase enough space to display several tiers of their product line, omitting only the cheapest products; this gives customers a chance to engage with a variety of products (belonging to that brand) before making a decision. However, sales floor space is expensive, and Amana wanted a way to showcase more of their product catalog in the space of a single home vignette (a display containing one of each of the brands major home appliances).
I worked on this project as a UX Designer for Kaleidoscope from January to July in 2013, functioning as project lead in charge of a small team. I was responsible for the research, interaction design, visual design, sound design, and copywriting for the point-of-sale experience. We partnered with Float (a full-stack development agency) for the experimental development work, and I also helped mediate the relationship between Float and the client.
GATHERING INSIGHTS, FORMING IDEAS
The project started with my team being tasked with conducting observational and secondary research of the appliance shopper’s journey. This research helped inform a collaborative brainstorming session between my team and Amana’s.
We formed small groups and observed subjects at "big-box" and "mom-and-pop" operations to note differences in environmental purchasing habits. By observing shoppers through the buying process, and speaking with sales associates about the typical selling experience we were able to uncover key insights and lay the groundwork for the brainstorm. We found that:
· Millennial and Gen Z shoppers tend to be distrusting of sales staff and cautious about being oversold. They like to do their own research.
· Shoppers complained about feeling overwhelmed by the environment, the plethora of options, and lack of differentiation between product tiers and brands, leading to stressful buying and feelings of post-purchase regret.
· Shoppers always want to touch and interact with appliances, even if they don’t know why or what they are looking for.
· Amana seemed to have an untapped college-aged demographic buying their first appliances.
· Appliance shopping, in general, seemed to be unanimously viewed as a stress-inducing, disliked experience.
Based on the research, we knew that we wanted to alleviate some of the stress with a unique engagement that would inject fun into the retail experience, while empowering consumers to make educated decisions they could feel confident about.
SEE WHAT STICKS
During the brainstorm, my team proposed the idea to utilize Microsoft’s Kinect (a motion sensing input device) to drive an interactive in-store kiosk that could be both educational and whimsical. The intent was to bring levity and happiness to a usually stressful situation through memorable, gesture-based engagement. The client was interested, provided we could get the novel tech to function robustly enough for commercial application.
We had an initial direction, but a lot of unanswered questions. From a marketing perspective, the objective of our client was to capture the ease of use and low environmental impact of Amana products. We created a value equity chart that acted as a measure for our early concept directions. The chart dictated our concepts should communicate that Amana products strike a balance between caring for the environment, and offer good performance at a low cost. Of the four concepts that were created, the chosen one hued very close to the center of our value equity chart. The concept, Smart Purchase, was about empowering the user with information (about the product and eco-friendly benefits) and letting them share or store that information.
MAPPING THE BASICS
Once we had a design outlook, we started establishing the display’s configuration and points of interaction. Our goal was to have a central hub screen that was controlled through gestural interaction (driven by Kinect) and interactive touch points on each appliance in the kiosk, which would queue up contextual info about the product on screen. The hub screen would also contain an interactive catalog of all Amana’s product offerings. Following this, I mapped up the UX framework for the concept and walked the client through our proposal.
TRIMMING THE FAT
One of the enduring challenges of this project was the constant effort to refine for simplification. At the outset, we had big ideas about fun interactivity and the gamification of the shopping experience. Many of our ideas had to be scaled back out of practicality, cost, and customer time management. We finally struck a balance between ease of use and focused delivery.
We also had the task of teaching the (often non-tech-savvy) user how to engage with a gesture-based display. Our team devised a solution that utilized a major Amana brand asset (the butterfly) to teach the “ropes” of navigation through a charming tutorial which unlocked access to the product catalog.
In collaboration with Float, we solved the challenge of adding interactive touch points to the appliances by employing two additional Kinect sensors, integrated into the vignette. The sensors monitored when any of the appliance doors were opened, and would trigger content about that appliance on the hub screen.
BELLS & WHISTLES
I utilized Photoshop to define the look of the UI, highlighting the Eco Frugality marketing campaign elements within the experience, creating an interface design that spoke to the high efficiency, affordable nature of Amana appliances. We introduced the butterfly as a companion element in the training (where, through a few simple steps, you attract it to your hand), and it is carried throughout the experience as the users cursor. Later, we learned that users loved the “attract” sequence where the screen is filled with butterflies that scatter and respond to your gestures as you move around.
Next, I collaborated with our animator to storyboard and design appliance-specific videos that thoughtfully detailed Amana product's energy and water savings. While creating the videos, I had the opportunity to work with an audio engineer to create customs sounds and sourcing voice talent. The videos ended up being well received, as their content was candid, relatable, and supported the underlying Eco Frugality message.
TESTING & REFINEMENT
By mid-spring we were prepared to debut our prototype at Whirlpool’s private brand showcase. We worked intently with Float through the final hours to fine-tune the Kinect’s sensitivity and reliability. Our hard work paid off in the end as all observers, including a VP of Whirlpool, were impressed and excited by our display.
However, the brand showcase highlighted issues with the training tutorial. Some customers seemed to be confused with the initial engagement. I went back to the sketchpad and mapped out four new tutorial options, ranging from more focused and guiding to more fun and a bit frivolous. Our team’s developer mocked up a working prototype of the concepts, and I scheduled ten one-on-one interviews with our target demographic. In the interviews I asked focused questions, such as:
· Which tutorial is easiest for you to complete?
· Which tutorial left you feeling the most comfortable with gesture control?
· Which tutorial excited you the most?
The answers to our questions gave us what we needed to make an informed decision on which route to take the training. Our decision to proceed with a more focused tutorial was best for the diversity and intent of the audience.
CONCLUSION & REFLECTIONS
Everything was ready for exhibition at the summer buy fair. Amana took orders for our vignette from stores across the country. We accomplished our assigned goal while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of point-of-sale engagement. Microsoft listed the Amana work done by my team on their page of “Partners Driving Innovation in Human Computing.”
Our vignette is a sensory experience that leaves the consumer educated and mentally stimulated, and I hope to see more like it in the currently bland retail environment. It enables consumers to make confident decisions and walk away with a unique and positive brand experience, which will stay with them long after they leave the store.