Rethinking Design for Man & Machine: Q&A with Huemen’s Stephanie Tuttle
Design has an instrumental role in delivering powerful experiences. HARMAN’s mission to unlocking and elevating experiences for a wide range of stakeholders, from automakers and audiophiles to enterprises and consumers, is centered on intelligent and intuitive design. But pushing the limits of creativity in design requires out-of-the-box thinking and that’s at the heart of the work being done at Huemen, our world-class and award-winning design agency that relies on a rich brand legacy and deep technical expertise. To get more details on how the Huemen team focuses on better understanding the relationship between humanity and technology, in an effort to develop incredible design and product innovation, we had a chat with Stephanie Tuttle, Principal Design Researcher for Huemen at HARMAN.
Q. You lead human factors research for Huemen. What does that involve?
Human factors is the study of human and machine interactions, which includes how we’re training humans to use a machine, or designing a machine to work better for humans. In my work, I’ve applied psychological theories with technology to design better experiences. The work we are doing at Huemen in Novi is more focused on the automotive space but we also deal with product design in other industries.
Through this exercise, the one thing I’ve learned is that it is important to link the human experience to the technology that we’re working on. For example, earlier this morning, I was benchmarking a vehicle. In this benchmarking practice, we have a set of usability heuristic principles that we apply, but we use more experiential data points as well. I used research from the hospitality industry to find experience factors that are effective and measurable.
We’ve found that these benchmarking vehicles tests are valuable to measure experience factors engagement. Engagement is all about focused attention, how long we’re using a certain product and the sensory experience derived from it. It is about being able to measure all of those objective measures like A) Can we use this without error?...and B) Can we use this while driving? But also address questions like C) Are we enjoying this? …and D) Do we want to use it again?
Combining those two measures gets at what humans are all about. A mix of performance-based, design-based, objective and subjective measures. Human factors research is all about applying a soft science to a hard science.
Q. What type of research are you conducting to help with product design and improvement including user research, expert evaluations, and research reviews?
We like to start out each of our projects with an empathy-driven exercise, basically connecting with the potential users of the product or service, and assess their exact needs and desires. This helps us define the scope and the experience factors of the project. We also do a research review. In this, we see what has been done already that can help us come up with a ‘design thinking’ framework.
Design thinking is an innovation-based creative process where people from across HARMAN come together, and combine resources to really help each other get all the relevant viewpoints and information needed to deal with the problem we’re trying to solve. With this approach, we actually get to know what the real issues are, and also see the underlying opportunities. If there’s a pain point in the traditional design of a given product for a user, we can get that information and use that data to drive innovation and design for the end user. This creates successful outcomes for everyone involved.
Q. What parts of the design process does this research impact?
Research activities continue through the design process, from empathy to evaluation. A big benefit of this process is that it is iterative. Let’s say, out of the first design thinking workshop, we come up a prototype. We can take this prototype, and do some really targeted user testing to see what’s resonating, what may not be working, and build from there. We can measure the experiential outcomes and make sure we’re meeting
Q. How does this work impact design language overall, and how does Huemen help lead the design processes across HARMAN?
The more we know, the better we are equipped to make good design decisions. It also helps us figure out new details that we may not have thought of before. Having this data really enables strategic innovation. If we go into a design thinking workshop without any data, we could
ideate on something, but we have no supporting information or facts to help us decide on what would be good to invest in as a prototype. So we’re taking a much bigger risk with that approach.
We help drive decisions on what to research, what to develop, what targets to set, and more. We have a design thinking workshop framework called Proxemics, which means the space between two things. It can be two humans in an interaction, or between a human and machine. We want to know how that is affected by location, distance, and identity. We can also use it for machine-to-machine interactions.
We’ve been looking at this for different projects like dealership design. We have a lot of clients who want to use our technology to improve the experiences within their dealerships. But we need a theoretical framework to identify the opportunities where technology really can enhance things. Otherwise, we’re just injecting a bunch of technology and seeing what sticks. But with this level of research, we can perhaps reimagine the intro kiosk where we integrate a design that is smart, connected, and truly helpful to the customer and sales teams when someone arrives. It is also looking for technological enablers, combined with personas based on research, to create new solutions that improve the areas our clients need. We’re even redesigning our own Huemen spaces to be more conducive to this type of work – keeping individual work styles and what we want to achieve as a team. We want to answer some critical questions. How do we create a space that makes us engage more? How
do we make a space that helps us innovative?
Q. In your own words, what does it mean to you to truly “lead by design”?
I’ve been in this industry – meaning tech and human behavior – for 17 years. I’ve worked across business lines, I’ve worked for the government, consumer products and the automotive industry. I’ve seen product decisions being made for all types of different reasons, but I think the best decisions are always based upon data. It is always best when we actually know about the user, the product, and the use case. When we consider all of these factors, and really build a model from those considerations – we get the best results.
When we can keep a focus on these principles, it also eliminates politics, opinions, and other factors that can influence these decisions. Sometimes we have to make a decision that way. But it doesn’t always yield the best outcome. The earlier we enact this type of design and empathy-led thinking into a project, the better it is.
It is objective, it prioritizes user testing and data gathering, and it helps us focus our scope and decisions – all driven by objective data. And the outcomes really say it all – the yield is so much higher from a user experience standpoint. And in the end, we’re even working on ways to measure those very experience factors.