As people everywhere have sheltered in place at their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve learned something quickly: we all crave the human connection, and we’re willing to quickly adopt and build a dependable relationship with technologies that help us keep that connection alive. Why? Because it is a value we all need and hold important to our survival. That new need is behind a spike in demand for video conferencing apps that give us a glimpse into each other’s lives as we work, converse, laugh with, and share with each other from afar.

Videoconference platforms are getting are having a moment right now because they are delivering on our value of human connection. Delivering this value via lovable features (e.g. virtual backgrounds, press to talk, reactions, etc.) creates an immediate dependency that earns trust (dependability, support, joy). Understanding what features will deliver on the customers’ value sets begets the first steps of building a trusted digital relationship. As the pandemic takes hold, we are shifting our collective attention to other types of technologies such as voice, virtual reality, tele-health, food delivery services, and e-commerce platforms and asking how they might also connect us. As we do so, I think it’s important that we not get ahead of ourselves and assume people will adapt technology as eagerly as we have done so with video conferencing in the early weeks of the pandemic. In particular, the designers of technologies fueled by artificial intelligence cannot forget a fundamental lesson from before COVID-19 hit: people need to trust the technologies that enable new ways of living and working.

Let’s take a look at one of these technologies; voice. Voice could potentially enable better, healthier ways of living and working because using our voices does not require us to touch a germ-filled surface, as my colleague Mark Persaud pointed out in the blog post, “Mindful Innovation in a New World.” Mark also accurately stated that innovators developing these solutions need to be mindful of the wants and needs of people, now more than ever.

Recent studies show that people also crave the human touch from voice assistants. Because voice assistants usually do not connect us with other people, the device itself needs to become something more than a conduit to a human. I believe the key to meeting consumers’ needs is for product development teams to design for emotional trust. Doing so requires the right tools. And, fortunately, those tools exist.

People Seek Humanity in Voice Assistants

Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, people were already wanting a sense of humanity from voice assistants, but they were also having trust issues with them, as two recent studies demonstrated.

Kids Trust People over Voice Assistants recently reported the results of a study that tested kids’ trust levels with different source of information, including digital and people. The kids were far more likely to trust an answer to a question if the answer came from a teacher instead of the internet. They also placed more trust in other kids over the internet even though the kids studied knew that another child was less likely to have more information than they have.

“The scientists hypothesized that the children trust people over a disembodied voice because people are tangible and it’s easy to imagine other people having the information you lack,” the article noted. “The vague idea of the internet or a voice from nowhere as a source of knowledge takes practice. That’s part of why studies show that kids like to ask voice assistants a barrage of questions, pushing them to see if they know about magical animals in particular.”

People Want Humanity from Voice Assistants

The University of Waterloo conducted a study in which people interacted with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri. The subjects were asked to respond to how they had perceived each of the virtual agents to measure consumer trust. Finally, they were asked to describe what each digital assistant would look like physically if she were a human being. The more humanlike the voice assistant seemed, the more likely people were to trust it.

Design for Emotional Trust

I am not surprised at these findings. In November 2019, I blogged about how product designers need to design for emotional trust, not just functional trust. It’s not enough for a voice assistant to perform flawlessly. People must also feel comfortable interacting with them. Remember, voice assistants are part of our lives now – they’re in our homes, our cars, and our workplace. As we spend more time at home amid widespread sheltering in place, voice assistants are an even more constant companion in our most intimate living spaces. For us to actually use them (as opposed to buy them and ignore them), we have to feel comfortable interacting with a device. The voice assistant needs to have the right tone for the audience and the tasks a persona is trying to accomplish. An adult exercising might need an interaction that feels more like a tough-love coach. But a child may need gentle grandparent-like encouragement.

Trust is Earned From the Depth of the Relationship

The core of design thinking is creating products that remove friction and addresses real user needs. But because minimum lovable intelligent products will enter the most intimate spaces of our lives, popular design approaches such as design thinking are capable of developing emotional trust if we harness its value a bit differently. How do we do that at Moonshot? We spent countless hours, dissecting what trust is about and how it relates to designing digital relationships. One outcome of our deep dive was the creation of our latest canvas/framework called The Relationship Canvas.

As part of our relationship canvas, we have designed a half-day remote or in-person MLP workshop where we focus on designing for relationships. In these workshops, teams work together to come up with a concept that solves the need or challenge facing a target audience As part of this, one of the cornerstone exercises is the use of our “relationship canvas” that enables the teams to define the type of relationship in correlation with their minimum set of lovable features. The relationship canvas consists of three parts:

  • Value List. Instead of beginning with a problem statement (a common way to create a product prototype under design thinking), we create a list of values we know our target customer possess based any available user research. Some examples of values we have seen are speed, reliability, convenience, and transparency. We identify and discuss those values and prioritize them from most to least important. In doing so, we recognize that the totality of values forms the components of a trustworthy relationship with the customer. We believe personal values are the foundation of building trust and creating a lovable experience and delivering on it.
  • Features List. We ask workshop attendees to discuss and create a laundry list of features that would satisfy the set of upvoted values. The team discusses and identifies features that could satisfy those upvoted values. This creates a double-edged sword for the team to discuss what might be the minimum set of features for solving the challenge and delivering on the trust ‘lovable” relationship. Why features? Because identifying the right features from the start are crucial is defining the MLP and setting the stage for to the product being repeatable and dependable; two crucial elements of trust. (See my post “Designing Intelligent Products Requires Designing for Relationships” for more detail.)
  • The Relationship. Lastly, we have the teams review their upvoted values and features list to identify which relationship wrapper would be most suitable to delivering both. What relationship would connect your personal values and those features? A coach? A teacher? A grandmother? Doing so puts the first stake in the ground for establishing the tone, how the experience comes to life, and its content — all facets of how to bring about a trust customer experience. If you select a trusted relationship to work around, connected to someone’s values, you create a connection with utility.

If you are interested in giving it a go in your next collaborative session, please click on this download.

One of many things this pandemic has highlighted for me is necessity is the mother of invention. As we have seen in the past two months, consumers, educators, families, businesses have created an immediate relationship (to the tune of 200 million users for Zoom in just March 2020) with technology, digital services, e-commerce platforms, and with each other out of necessity. Folks that have never seen a teleconferencing tool are embracing it to fulfill a core job of theirs; connecting with others. The same is being witnessed with food delivery services and other businesses supporting survival in a shelter-in-place life. As we come out of this, it will be interesting to see how our relationship with technology is supported and sustained when we go back to hanging out less than six-feet apart. Based on my own observations, when the circumstances present themselves humans are resilient because we can adapt to new needs and thus create new habitual behaviors. The most successful companies coming out of this pandemic will find survival in seizing the opportunity to understand their customers’ new behaviors and the new relationships (new products, services, and revenues) it affords.

In that case, our relationship canvas is both timely and relevant and will continue to help business and individuals identify the most critical path for creating that immediate dependable relationship with their customers and fulling their next job to be done. So take the first step by taking our canvas for a spin and let us know how it is in the comments below.

How can we help you?

The above description hits on merely the high points of a relationship canvas, but the headline here is that the tools exist to help you design for trust. Solving product and experience challenges around trust is not new for us. Our process called FUEL (Future Unified Experience Lifecycle) was intentionally designed to push on “trust” because we recognize that trust is not assumed, it is earned. To learn more about our workshops and ways of working around designing for emotional trust, contact us

Meanwhile, for more insight, I recommend that you read these posts:

These posts build upon our own experiences in the trenches designing lovable smart products.

As always, please remain safe and sound because we are in this together.

Amish Desai

Amish Desai

Head of Experiences