Products as pets
Sometimes I get to lecture a crowd or two about the near future of smart networked products and services. This is an image I have used to describe where product design is heading. It is originally borrowed from robot research, showing what they call the “uncanny valley“; the steep drop just before the curve reaches the upper right corner of the chart. It shows how people generally experience different kinds of robots, and that people feel that the almost perfectly human-like robots are the most scary.
We interviewed lots of people in different counties around the world about their feelings toward concept prototypes of smart networked things that talked, i.e. not looking like people, but expressing themselves in similar ways. What they told us corresponded quite well with the robot-experience-graph. Things that talked and acted too much like humans went to the bottom of the valley. If your toaster is HAL9000‘s little sister, it’s not good for most people.
When products have something that could be perceived as intelligence of some sort, they will be placed somewhere on that graph by the users. A wise design strategy for future smart products is therefore to go somewhere in the top left corner. We think. Our studies have strengthened our belief that this as a sensible approach. Echoing british designer Matt Jones; things should be as smart as a puppy.