User interface design has become a critical component of product development, particularly in the field of robotics, where the interface serves as the primary mode of communication between the machine and the user. In designing the user interface for robots, it is essential to consider various elements, including behavioral patterns, speech commands, motion, and visual interface. When we began work on Aido’s UI, we realized it was a unique challenge. We had to factor in multiple elements in the interaction design.
One of the most critical elements of a robot’s visual interface is the faceplate, which must balance likability and utility. According to consumer research, a friendly faceplate design, like the one used in Aido, can make the robot appear more welcoming. However, it is also important to avoid making the robot appear too human, as this can be perceived as creepy by users. Our challenge with Aido’s interface was to balance likability and utility. We decided to use a faceplate for Aido as the primary visual interface.
The design of Aido’s faceplate is broken down into three distinct visual elements: the face, notifications, and app interface. The face is particularly important, as it serves as the primary communication medium between Aido and the user. Eyes, they say, are windows to the soul. We subconsciously seek and meet the eyes of those we speak to, humans or pets. It would be natural to seek the same for a robot designed for the home. Aido’s eyes were designed to reflect friendliness, with an iris that moves to indicate visual input and a bridge between the eyes that serves as a voice guide during conversations.
Notifications are another critical element of Aido’s visual interface. Aido uses large, flat icons with a sharp background to display notifications, ensuring they can be seen at a distance or when the device is in motion. The interface also accommodates voice and touch commands, allowing users to see a notification icon and ask Aido to act on it.
Finally, Aido’s app interface was designed to be simple and intuitive, with only key visual elements shown on the UI. Voice commands activate additional functionality, but most of it is hidden behind a menu icon, providing users with an element of comfort while still allowing them to navigate the interface using voice commands. We consciously designed the interface for these elements so that only key visual elements are shown on the UI.
When designing the user interface for robots, it is also essential to consider behavioral aspects of human-robot interactions. Research shows that there is a “desirable interfacing distance” that robots should maintain when approaching humans to avoid violating their comfort zone. Aido maintains this distance from users unless they walk over to it. Additionally, Aido’s designers incorporated cues such as a “ding” sound to confirm it has finished hearing users, haptic sensors to let users tap it to close a task or wake it up from sleep mode, and a Toblerone-inspired switch menu to allow for seamless transitions between visual elements.
In conclusion, designing a user interface for a robot requires careful consideration of various elements, including visual design, behavioral patterns, speech commands, and motion. As noted by user interface designer Don Norman, “Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.” By incorporating feedback from prospective users and considering behavioral aspects of human-robot interactions, designers can create intuitive, user-friendly interfaces that help to foster positive relationships between humans and robots.
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