In class activity: Virtual Assistants


This was the very first in-class activity in the HCC 629 fundamentals class. In this activity, every student had to:
-find a problem/an opportunity
-define the problem while understanding its scope and
-design the solution.
The total time duration given was 15 mins. After pondering for a while over the problems around me, I decided to go with the common problem in the online shopping space- the gap between the real and virtual user experience. Listed below is my approach towards tackling he problem:

Empathize (Understand the problem space)
-The online shopping experience is not that engaging and delightful as the real one. In real world, customers get to see and feel the product, roam around in the shopping center and get recommended and assisted by the sales person. This enhances the overall experience. But, in the online space, once has to search for the products in the huge world of virtual objects and it’s difficult to find good deals as there’s no one to assist personally. To add to the dullness, the UI of most of the shopping websites are unorganized and lackluster which makes the shopping experience not so exciting.
Time duration: 3 mins

Define (Define the problem)

-The online shopping experience is non-engaging, self driven and overall dull. This eventually decreases the number of users (customers) and in turn hampers the business.
Time duration: 2 mins

Ideate (What, is the question.)
-The problem could be addresses by introducing ‘Virtual Assistant (VA)’ in the shopping experience. The VA, an animated on-screen character, would have the following responsibilities:
-act as a personal assistant for the customer
-recommend him best deals
-engage him in a friendly conversation to understand his needs.
This increases user’s confidence and builds a good rapport with the VA, eventually enhancing the shopping experience.
Time duration: 4 mins

Design (Dig into the How of the What question)
-As mentioned earlier, the VA would be an animated on-screen character with the ability to understand and respond to the natural language queries inputted by the user. Based on the user’s input, the VA would recommend better deals in that space, suggest more product offerings and keep the user engaged. Also, on the appearance front, the VA would try to deliver a realistic feel to the user of being a human (friend). On festive seasons like Christmas, Autumn, the VA would change its appearance to suit the theme.
Time duration: 6 mins

Present (Voila!)

-I presented my rationale behind tackling the problem by applying the design thinking principles in proposing the solution. The solution was critiqued by my colleagues in variety of ways viz. technical feasibility, business value addition and economic feasibility.

VA Desktop Mockup
VA Mobile Mockup

Few of the important peer considerations I found worth incorporating were:
-Performance (quick response): This suggestion talked about tackling the delay in the response from the VA whether it be sound of text. I believe it’s fairly feasible due to the advancement in today’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies to implement a system which can understand and respond to user’s natural language queries i.e. Apple’s Siri. But it’s definitely a crucial investment decision for the firm.
-Variety of characters: This was an excellent suggestion about having a variety of characters for different users; cartoons for kids and teens, matured but fun characters for adults. The suggestion would be very useful in the phases after prototyping since till prototyping it’s important to define the scope of the fundamental solution.
Time duration: 2 mins

Note: All the aforementioned time frames are approximately stated.