In late 2015, Mozilla announced it would transition its focus away from Firefox OS to the emerging world of the Internet of Things. As part of that shift, the Connected Devices group was asked to create new IoT products to live under the Mozilla banner.
The Connected Devices group adopted an open innovation process in which any team member could put propose a product idea. I proposed a product idea and got the go‑ahead to form a team to work on my idea.
This project was unusual (and fun!) because it had no preconceived notions about what the product should be. This gave us the freedom to let user research guide our way—we talked with people and uncovered needs and desires that we then used to shape our product ideas. To approach this challenge, I led my team through a series of focused user research studies, each one designed to test a specific product hypothesis.
Exploring the IoT Landscape
In looking at the IoT landscape, we noticed that many IoT products designed for children and the elderly actually seem to be designed for the needs of their caregivers.
Caregivers for the two groups have similar questions. For example, "Can my child do this alone without my help?" or "Can my elderly parent remember to do this?"
Our first hypothesis arose from those observations. We wondered if children and elderly people wanted something different from what their caregivers wanted.
Defining the Problem
Through user interviews, we learned that children and elderly people are anxious about the volume of phone communications they manage. Both expressed a desire to communicate with others without the stress and FOMO of things like text messages and notifications.
Our second hypothesis arose out of this research. We wondered if an ambient device would help people focus on the loved ones they cared the most about, while minimizing focus on those outside their immediate social circle.
First Learning Prototype
To test our hypothesis, we built a simple lo-fi prototype and asked girls (aged 12 to 15) to use it for five days. The prototype allowed the girls to send simple "messages" composed of colored light combinations to their friends.
We learned that girls in this age group are keen to know the status and availability of their friends. And they used the lo-fi prototype to try to uncover that.
Based on this first prototype, we created several more experiments designed to learn how the girls might use an ambient device to bring them closer to their "best friends."
Pivot to a New Audience
Another team at Mozilla was working on a project with similar goals but with a more specific audience. So we decided to join forces and combine our efforts.
Our research showed that about 50% of U.S. children under the age of 10 have their own phone. The other 50% face challenges connecting with loved ones, because they have to wait until a parent is available to help them make a phone call or send a text message.
So we pivoted our project to help these children connect with their grandparents in an easy way that didn't require them to rely on parents to help them.
Second Learning Prototype
We created another lo-fi prototype and asked grandchildren and grandparents to use it for a week. The prototype gave kids and their grandparents a one-button push way to call each other or send an emoji.
The kids loved the prototype because it allowed them to act independently and autonomously. The grandparents loved that they could easily communicate with their grandchildren, though most of the grandparents wanted to do so via an app on their phone.
Using what we learned from all of our experiments, user testing, and prototyping, we developed a product plan to launch Haiku.
Haiku is a delightful communication tool that empowers children to connect simply and directly to their grandparents. At the same time, it allows grandparents to communicate with grandchildren using their preferred device—their cell phone.
I was the Product Lead for this project (and also one of its UX Designers). I led a team of engineers, designers, and program managers through the process of developing a new Internet of Things (IoT) product for Mozilla.
Mozilla is an open-source organization, so we did all of our work in the open.
User Research Studies
The entire Haiku team—engineers, program managers, and designers—participated in the user research studies for this project. Each person on the team conducted user interviews and helped with the analysis. Involving the whole team in user research had a huge positive impact on our team because it connected everyone to our audience in a very direct way.
Creating a physical device is a time-consuming and expensive process. Our approach was to create what we called "learning prototypes"—objects with the lowest-possible fidelity that would help us answer our most urgent questions in each of our research cycles. They were clunky and awkward, but each one allowed us to learn directly from our audience in the shortest time possible.
Protoype User Experience
Engineers and UX Designers worked together to design the experience for each of our prototypes. Because we wanted to create our prototypes quickly, this process was very collaborative in order to create the simplest user experience that would help us learn what we wanted to know.
Application User Experience
It was important to the Haiku team that the physical device function like physical telephone—you buy it at the store, plug it in, and it works. No user accounts, and no complex setup.
Current technology didn't allow us to make it as simple as an old-school telephone, but we came pretty close. In the final design, a parent would connect the device to the home's wireless network, and then the child could use the device without additional help or setup.
A lot of IoT devices "look like technology," instead of looking like an object in the home. Because our product was about the human connection between people, we wanted it to feel warm, human, and touchable.
We created a design brief to help our external industrial designer understand what we wanted this product to be. And we were very happy with the results!