Pepper, UX Design Fri, Mar 24, '17
SoftBank Robotics Spotlight: The Life of a Robotics UX Designer

Sandrine Tourcher is a creative UX (User Experience) designer for SoftBank Robotics. Her primary focus is to make Pepper intuitive, easy to understand and easy to engage with. As such, having an understanding of human psychology and behavior, along with an ability to make this translate into a real-world user experience, is mandatory.

What Sandrine Considers Good UX

Consider everything especially your target user — it’s a mistake to design an app the same way for kids as you would for someone who’s older or even a developer. You must know your end user and what abilities they have. For example, when designing for a child who may be unable to read, using images instead of words is an effective way to make the interaction successful. Someone who’s older may require larger fonts and bigger buttons. Pepper was created to be adaptable to different users’ needs and every user experience should begin with its target user in mind. Pepper puts the user in control, giving them the option for two-way communication in a way they feel most comfortable i.e. speech or touch. The guiding principle is that the user shouldn’t have to adapt to technology, but rather technology should adapt to them.

The Real Challenges

It can often be challenging for humans to learn how to use new technology. Every piece of tech requires an understanding of specific iconography, features, navigation systems, device management etc. Pepper however is easy to understand and use because it gives humans propositions on how to interact with it. This is another example of how Pepper adapts to humans and not the reverse. However, one of the big challenges is ensuring that Pepper is not being developed on like a tablet-based app. This is the most common error outside developers make. The tablet should not be the sole basis of Pepper’s customer interactions; by default interactions should take place through verbal communication and body language, unless the user specifically prefers the tablet. In other words, the tablet is Plan B.

#1 Rule for Robotics: Test, Test, Then Test Some More

From prototype to alpha, from alpha to beta, from beta to before and after release. Start your testing early with users — both internally and externally. No matter how far along you are there are always things that can be improved upon. On the other hand, it’s always interesting to see the aspects of an app people love that you never expected. For example, we had no idea how much people would gravitate towards Pepper’s hands. In short, testing needs to be undertaken every step of the way, because even if you’re confident that the product is ready, users often behave in ways that will surprise you.

Parting Words: Don’t Be So Robotic

Users will never behave the way you expect them to because they’re not machines. Everyone has their own way of using the same system; every developer codes differently and they don’t always organize that code in the same way (understatement of the year). Furthermore, we all have different ways of expressing ourselves especially when confronted, many for the very first time, with a robot. Factoring in and testing for that surprise and delight is easily the best part of being a UX designer for Pepper.