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“Overload, clutter and confusion are not attributes to information, they are failures of design” - Edward Tufte

Ever since the advent of  graphical user interface (GUI) and internet, we are overloaded with information and addicted to distracting interfaces. There are hundereds of apps and tons of notfications buzzing every moment. Even the productivity apps which promise us to inculcate better habits, productivity or efficiency, mostly fell short of expectations.

This design case study looks into the productivity problems of people and propose a solution using personal assitant technology.

Note: This project started from the 6 weeks Product design course from TU Delft and continued thereafter. 

people’s struggles

Empathy is a great tool to get to know people’s struggle. I surveyed 5 of my friends and colleagues who worked as...IT professionals, students and freelancers. I asked them about their work routines and productivity tools they used at work.

All the 5 users primarily used physical Notepad, physical Post-its, digital, mobile or web applications like Todoist, Any do, Google calendars, Post-its and Email reminders to track their work tasks.

Common interview questions:

1. Breifly mention your daily work routine, nature of work and environment.

2. What tools/methods do you use to manage time and accomplish goals?

3. What are positives of using those tools/methods?

4. What are the major distractions  following those tools/methods ?
Few important insights
(not in order of questions asked)

- User1(IT professional) “ I always keep my phone away when working….”

-User2 (Freelancer) “……I go in a proper work flow after a 45-90 mins..”

-User3 (student)”I have mixed set of creative and mundane tasks to follow”

-User4 (Freelancer) “…..usually follow To-DO list like AnyDO apps to record his productivity but always fall short of of following it”

-User5 (IT professional)”…I try hard to wake up early to go to the gym before going to work”

Problems in work routine

Some common problems found amongst the 5 participants

New ideas

After many good and bad ideas ideas, I finalised three ideas to tackle this problem.
1. Smart watch application
2. Smart tangible calender on the wall
3. Talking assitant technology

I went ahead with the third one!!

Methods used for idea generation:

Why a talking agent?
The problems of constant distractions, low motivation, information anxiety, ineffective routine are quite common. New technological paradigms like GUI on mobile or web medium has indeed made everything easily accessible at the click of a button but it has also created negative implications of - increased screen time and information overload.  Moreover, the productivity tools which promise us for inculcating better habits or productivity, struggle to get attention on an ever-increasing distracting GUI. How would a motivating quote help, if you have a new feature unlock from Candy Crush waiting on your screen? or a new Whatsapp message?

As the inventor of GUI once said....

Thus, a screen based approach would be going away from solving the problem. I chose to go ahead and explore voice interface technology.

Some of the examples of talking assitant technologies from 1965-2014

Examples of virtual and physical agents (From top left, in clockwise direction) Eliza(1966) -early natural language processing computer program which acted as psychotherapist), Pleo(2006)-a robotic toy which learns with time, Kismet(2002)-a social robot which picks up social cues, Microsoft clippy(1997)- a virtual agent which to help users learn about Micrsoft Word on windows, Teddy Ruxpin(1985)- a robotic soft toy for storytelling, Siri(2011)- virtual voice assitant on iPhone and Alexa(2014)- a tangible voice assitant and smart speaker.

Design Challenge

Personal assitant technology which is....

Sketches & physical models

Context scenarios & prototypes

Crafted in Adobe After Effects

As a productivity agent
Kaushal starts working at 10:30 AM in the morning and wants a distraction free environment. Hbito helps him track his work and productive.

Human like expressions



Lip movements

The Glossy look

Designed and rendered in Autodesk Fusion

Thank you for watching :)

© Sharang Sharma 2018

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