Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Product Concept: Cyber Cat Heating Pad

Having read the first two chapters of my interaction design textbook, I decided to begin applying the frameworks that I've learned to the numerous product ideas that float around in my head all the time. These ideas will vary in subject, scope, category, and seriousness (or rather silliness). My purpose here is not to develop commercially viable products but rather to explore and experiment with the stuff that I am learning. This is just the first of several of these explorations.

Product Description
A cat bed with a heating pad designed that is internet-enabled and able to sense and share information about the cat's presence and activities on the cat bed.

Goals & Requirements

Usabiliy Goals
  • The heating pad needs to be easy to set-up, and its standard functionality (e.g. turning on heat and setting heat levels) should be available without the need to set-up connection with internet application.
  • The online application should be simple enough to set-up without the need for a user manual. A set-up assistant (a.k.a. wizard), or limited functionality can be used to assist new users may be required to achieve this objective.
  • The cat bed should fit a window sill (9" wide) while still being able to accommodate an average sized cat comfortably (20" long).
  • The cat bed should to provide heat and a comfortable environment for the cat. The cat bed should leverage a comfortable fabric and the heat should be easily adjustable to support this objective.
  • The online application should provide advanced user the ability to customize their virtual connection to cat bed via visual, textual and sound displays. The display should be customizable on multiple levels, via templates for novices, via advanced preferences for intermediate users, and via API for advanced users (with programming/development experise).
  • System should leverage and interface that is memorable so that users can easily recognize how to carry out activities even after prolonged periods of inactivity.
  • System should protect users from common errors, such as accidental temperature changes (e.g. mistakenly turning off heating pad), and limit action for novices to simple activities related to data visualization.
Experience Goals:
  • Aesthetically Pleasing: what is the users initial response to the cat bed's appearance? Is it one of enjoyment, pleasure, or dislike?
  • Delightful: What is users users response to the presence awareness visualizations and alerts? Is it one of delight, surprise, enjoyment, or annoyance?
  • Rewarding: Does the user suspend disbelief to enable a remote connection to the cat on the bed? Is the user's connection experienced as rewarding, boring, cutesy, or frustrating?
  • Entertaining: In what ways does the user engage with the cat bed on an ongoing basis? Does s/he feel entertained, satisfied, safe, frustrated, or surprised?
The Conceptual Model

The metaphors and analogies: Most important metaphors and analogies that can help user understand what the product can be used for, and how to use it.

The metaphors:
  • The main metaphor is closeness, the idea of having your pet close to you wherever you go by receiving updates about their presence and activities on the cad bed.
  • Another metaphor is connection, the idea of being connected to your pet wherever you go by being able to respond to the cats presence in a way that impacts an aspect of the cad bed (e.g. temperature, light, sound).
  • Customization is also an important metaphor, the idea of being able to customize how the pet's presence is communicated and how your responses are made manifest by the cat bed.
The analogies:
  • The most obvious analogy is using a standard heating pad and cat bed.
  • Monitoring a home webcam is an useful analogy to describe the presence monitoring feature of the product.
  • Receiving email and text messages is an useful analogy for the presence alerts.
  • Setting preferences on web applications such as email clients, social networks, or feed readers is an useful anology for the simple customization features of the system.
  • Selecting templates is an analogy for the using pre-created set-of-preferences options that are developed based on wide range of themes.
The Concepts: Concepts that users are exposed to when using the product, including objects they manipulate, their attributes and actions that can be executed on (and with) them.

Physical Cat Bed and Related Concepts:
  • The comfort layer is made up of the outer fabric and soft stuffing that provide comfort and are durable.
  • The heating layer includes a safe heating solution that features remote temperature controls that override virtual controls.
  • The electronic layer includes the sensors and processors that enables presence awareness by supporting data collection and distribution via wireless connection.
  • The protection layer ensures that all elements are kept protect from the environment (including the cat).
Cat Bed Application and Related Concepts:
  • The communication module is the main user interface. It displays data visualization, alerts and controls. Data visualization includes real time presence monitoring, and over-time data infographics. Alerts include cat zen and standard updates via website (these can also be delivered via a widget on social networks, desktops and mobiles, emails, and SMS). The controls enable users to set the temperature of the cat bed, and activate light/laser or sound. Users can create own cat zen or use existing from other users and product developer.
  • The preference module allows users to input information about the pet and provides customization options for the communication module, widget, and alerts. Pet information includes such as name, birthday, attitude, likes, dislikes, and picture. Communication options include setting visualization and channel settings for real-time and over-time event updates related to pet's presence, position, movement, and duration. Multiple preference settings can saved as templates and shared with others.
  • The third module is the database. It captures data from the physical cat bed receives, stores the information in the database, makes it available through an API, and transmits it via built-in channels.
  • The last module is the API, which enables advanced users to develop extensions to the functionality. All cat bed sensors would be accessible via the API. Applications could be shared online.
The relationships and priorities: Define the relationships between the concepts, for instance whether an object contains another, and the prioritization of possible actions.

Relationships between concepts:
  • The cat bed is comprised of four related concepts described above, here is an overview of how they relate to one another: The comfort layer is connected to the electronic layer by the presence of sensors that enable the presence sensing. It is also adjacent to the heat layer, which is responsible for heating the comfort layer to provide a warm environment for the cat. The heating layer is connected to the electronic layer to enable the electronic layer to control the heat settings on the cat bed. A manual override on the cat bed itself ensures that heat settings can be changed directly from the cat bed. The protective layer encases the main components of the electronic layer and the bottom of the cat bed for protection purposes.
  • The application contains the four related concepts described above, here is an overview of how they relate to one another: the communication module, preferences, database and API. The preferences is part of the communication module. It enables users to customize the how the data captured from the cat bed is displayed via the application interface, widget or alert. The database holds the data and makes it available for existing application and new ones developed via API.
Action priorities for cat bed:
  • Priority of action for the cat bed: The bed should usable as a standard pet bed first and foremost; the next most important user action related to the bed is setting and controlling the temperature of the bed (manual temperature settings override application-based ones); this is followed by the ability to activate the electronic layer and link the cat bed to a computer via wireless connection.
Action priorities for communication module from application:
  • From a general use perspective, the most important actions afforded to users via the communication module are: (a) first, the ability to easily log-in to his/her pet information; (b) then comes the ability to toggle between real-time and over-time visualizations; (c) next up is the ability to change the visualization style for either real-time or over-time visualizations; (d) then comes the ability to communicate with the cat bed via sound, light or temperature; (e) which is followed by the ability to access the application preferences; (f) then the ability to give thumbs up or down to cat zen haikus; (g) followed by the ability to submit your own haikus; (h) sharing haikus via email, social networks or SMS is next on the action priority list.
  • From an initial set-up perspective here are the priorities: (a) to allow users to easily connect to their cat bed; (b) provide a wizard that allows users to get started quickly using predefined templates easily, without needing to access detailed preferences.
Action priorities for preferences module from application:
  • The most important action on the preferences module is setting up of pet information including name, birthday, attitude, likes, dislikes, and picture;
  • Next up are the preferences related to visualization which include in priority order: (a) setting of awareness preference (what events related to the cat's presence should act as triggers for visualization purposes?); (b) setting and saving channel preferences (what channels should be used for each communication triggered by an event?); (c) setting visualization preferences (how will the communication be presented in each channel?); (d) saving awareness and preference settings into templates that can be easily swapped from the communication module; (e) set cat wisdom preferences (Ability to activate or deactivate? Select haiku library, standard or user generated.); (f) saving cat wisdom preferences into templates; (g) share awareness, preference, and cat haiku templates with other users;
  • Last are the preferences related to data visualization beyond the application, including: (a) settings for widget-specific preferences; (b) settings for API preferences and authentication.
The Mappings: A description of how the concepts described above map to the user experience that the product is designed to create.
  • The design and construction of the bed will be guided by aesthetic, sustainability as well as comfort-related considerations. The look and feel of the artifact will be designed to be aesthetically pleasing; the materials and methods used for manufacturing each layer of the beds will be sustainable; the bed will be designed to be comfortable for the cat. These principles aim to provide aesthetically pleasing products on visual, ethical and emotional levels.
  • The visualizations provided by the application corresponds the different events associated to the cat's presence and activity on the cat bed. Using interesting visualization options to bring the pet's presence to life across physical distances, using both reminders and contextual awareness, will serve to provide delight to users throughout their day.
  • The controls provided by the application correspond to actions that the user can take to impact the environment of the cat bed. Users will be able to choose between multiple possible actions. These action include but not are limited to the following list: generating a sound, activating a light, changing temperature, activating a webcam. These features aim to provide the user with an interactive experience that is rewarding.
  • Caring details, such as the cat haiku, and the open API enable the user to interact with the data generated by the cat bed in innovative ways. These features are provided to enable the user to connect with their pet in an entertaining way.
A Family of Products
Here are some ether ideas for my fun, and utterly silly, ideas for cyber cat products: the cyber scratching post, and fuzz ball playing field. More to come on these (maybe).

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