Giving Technology a Familiar Face

Illustration of humanoid technology.

If there was one lesson to take away from CES 2017, it’s that soon all your technology will talk to you (according to the exhibitors, anyway). Many of the connected devices on display — from ovens, to baby monitors and vehicles — boasted built-in AI personal assistants. In Fast Company, Meg Miller asks if the physical design of these gadgets is taking on more human-like qualities to ease us into this world of talking technology:

“Everything about them—their silhouettes, movements, and conversational tone—is meant to relieve some of the friction that people may feel introducing this level of technology into their houses.”

A prime example is Toyota’s Concept-i car, which is “Less of a machine. More of a pal”. The kawaii cuteness of its exterior matches the cheery personality of its on-board virtual assistant ‘Yui’. The vehicle was designed according to Disney’s ‘12 Principles’ to seem lifelike —  it even has LED eyelashes over its headlights.

Making new technology feel familiar is not a new trick, whether it’s giving a calendar app a leather-like texture or putting horses heads on motor cars. Moving Brands’ UX Design Director Mia Chuang explains:

“It’s much easier to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone in baby steps, rather than asking us to adapt our behaviour completely. If these technologies respond with familiar cues – at least initially – learning to work with virtual assistants becomes far less intimidating.

Something similar happened when cars were unleashed into cities when horse-drawn carriages were the norm. Learning to ‘drive cars’ required a huge behaviour shift and they scared horses into causing accidents. One left-field (and unused) suggestion was called Horsey Horseless, which installed a horse’s head on a car’s body.”

Words by Jed Carter, Illustration by Minji Sung.

This originally appeared in Moving World Wednesday 20170111.

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