Bob Worrell on Connecting Voice and AI With Product Pragmatics

Design is a relationship that can be defined as a conversation between the user and an artifact. The designer of the artifact utilizes design language that resonates with collective meaning understood by the user through visual cues. Predating the ubiquity of screen interfaces, within industrial design, we referred to this interaction as the “man/machine interface.” This drove the Bauhaus mantra of “form follows function” for decades, and was also the early impetus for human factors engineering (HFE) to guide the efficiency and safety of the machine interface. Products looked exactly like how they functioned, and the appearance of their physical components complied with standards for safety.

With the introduction of screens into product design, user experience (UX) still uses the collective understanding of visual cues alongside text to facilitate literal conversations with the users through on-screen inputs and outputs. Advancements in product design have strived for a natural exchange between the user and artifact. Today, with the emergence of voice and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, Worrell is harnessing these tools to not only create more natural interactions through voice user interfaces (VUI) but to also collect emotion-driven ethnographic insights straight from the mouths of patients.

The importance of these conversations has guided us to new rigor in our ethnographic research process to differentiate between what people need versus what they say they want. We’ve developed an algorithm that prioritizes requirements that determine actual human behavior. We call this methodology “Censys.” Censys has led us to discover that the “form follows function” axiom does not hold the same weight. Understanding the contextual, cultural and emotional experiences of patients has become an even more powerful driver of the conversation people have with products. Thus, our new focus in product design is “Form Follows Empathy.”

Additionally, as designers and as part of the product development conversation, we employ the linguistic tool of pragmatics through implicature–that systematically allows us to derive product designs and forms that are more relevant and appropriate to the context of patient needs. We call this “Product Pragmatics.”

Our goal as designers is to behave cooperatively in a conversation with patients, to look beyond superficial meaning in order to extract understanding based on their expectations of how the world and their culture works in order to develop the products that are intuitive to understand and interact with.

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