Four themes woven throughout my new book on multimodal and cross-device design

On December 1, 2020, my first book Design Beyond Devices will ship worldwide. As so many authors do, I wrote this book partially because I wish it had existed when I was tackling the big unknowns on projects like Alexa Notifications, the Echo Look, the Echo Show, and Windows Automotive.

But I was also inspired to write because as an industry, we still seem to be focusing on individual touchpoints rather than focusing on the customer’s journey between touchpoints. …


In the era of COVID, all of us are learning what it’s like to lose control and lose freedom.

There was a time where I perceived myself as just another healthy young person. That ended in 2006, when I had my first brush with serious medical issues. A pelvic pain when I inhaled turned out to be a grapefruit-sized cyst that required emergency surgery. That experience required 2 days in the hospital and 4 weeks out of work.

Two years later, unexpected significant weight loss turned out to be sudden onset hereditary hemachromatosis — by the time we caught it I was a few months from permanent liver damage. I needed phlebotomies twice a month for 6 months, and every three months for the rest of my life to prevent liver failure.


Discovering our innate human aversion to obstacles, and reflections on coping with “stay at home” orders

A colleague on a conference call during the coronavirus shelter-in-place orders shared her perspective: “I’m basically working from home all the time anyway, but now I haven’t been past my driveway in a week. It’s getting to me.”

Her story, and many others like it, have called up memories of a lesson I learned while working at my first job — as performer in the entertainment department at the Sesame Street theme park Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA.

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The author Cheryl Platz, dancing in a garish bowling shirt and holding a plastic saxophone as she dances to “Put Down the Duckie” in the Rock Around the Block parade at Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA.

The entertainment department was not just responsible for performing; we also owned the setup and maintenance around performances. This included all 4 theaters in the park, but it ALSO included prepping the park’s main thoroughfares for parade crowd control. …


Artificial intelligence leads to uncertain outcomes. What does this mean for our approach to product design?

Some days, it feels as if we’ve awakened in the early scenes of a Terminator film. Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere: on the news, in our phones, even in our light bulbs. With each new product claiming “smart” behavior, we sacrifice another sliver of control over the world around us in exchange for what we hope will be a more frictionless life.

But AI is inherently unpredictable, and the product design techniques we’ve developed in past decades assume a predictable, controllable outcome. Tragic outcomes like the recent Boeing crashes depict the worst case scenario: unexpected circumstances creating outcomes we didn’t foresee. …


Network more effectively with better strategies for finding the right mentor in your field

It’s an inevitable sign one has “arrived” in an industry: the steady drumbeat of “Do you have time for a coffee?” requests. Paradoxically, these requests snowball as we become busier, to the point that the request for time seems almost laughable.

So what’s a prospective mentee to do? You’re probably peppered with platitudes like “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” and “It never hurts to ask!” Why not just send a message?

While those tips are true under some circumstances, I’m here to tell you that they aren’t helpful strategies for potential mentees. Odds are, your chosen mentors are busy, stressed, and fielding many such requests. Instead of blurting out, “Will you mentor me?” or “Can I buy you a coffee?”, …


Looking to get started in voice or chatbot design? Learn the basic terminology and concepts to empower better design decisions.

As we used to say at Amazon, the tech industry has passed through the threshold of a “one way door” with regard to conversational experiences. Our industry will never look back at the world of purely point-and-click websites as the end-all and be-all of customer experiences.

My own path in the space of both voice UI and conversational design has been a long and winding road: from video games to CRM cloud services; from Cortana to Alexa. …


How do we stop leaving household members behind in the march towards smarter homes?

A recent New York Times piece took a new look at some unintended effects of the smart home revolution. Entitled “Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse”, the article raises unsettling questions about how the Internet of Things can upset the balance of power in a home, and be turned against inhabitants who may not have direct control or full understanding of these devices.

“Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power.” …


Common pitfalls in chatbot design, and how to avoid them

Whether you’re building a chatbot or extending a voice assistant, we’re still in early times for conversational UI. As I’ve prototyped my own bots, built skills, and consulted on others, the guidance I give to other designers has coalesced into a few key areas where particular caution is warranted. Let’s explore five common areas of difficulty found while designing for conversational UI, and a few considerations for emerging from these danger zones unscathed.

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Proceed with caution when approaching these five dimensions of conversational UI.

1: Proactivity

As with many before you, you may be tempted to lean into proactive prompting: dialogue delivered to a customer out of turn. Traditional conversational UI is delivered in immediate response to a customer request, but proactive dialog might start a conversation instead of responding. …


We shouldn’t focus on having the right answers — it’s about asking the right questions.

It took me time and separation to understand this, but some of the best career advice I received to date was from my manager on the Windows Automotive team: “I need you to be right less of the time.”

When this line was first delivered, I will admit that a small voice inside of me thought “Ha! Proof! I AM right a lot of the time!” A bit of indignation followed… because what’s wrong with being right?

But Craig went on to explain that by leading with the “right” exploration most of the time, I was cutting off the creative process. And he was right. My recommendations were well-informed and had merit — but in the end, is there really one right way to do anything? Could I honestly say I fully understood every business requirement that might guide a decision between two options? …


How to “talk the talk” when interviewing for a voice user interface design role.

An increasingly common inquiry I receive these days is from hopeful first-time voice designers facing an interview. “What should I expect?” “How can I prepare?” “Any tips for interviewing for the Alexa team?” Rather than dole this advice out one-on-one via messages, I’m taking to Medium to share a few thoughts.

Of course, before you pursue a voice design role, I hope you’ll reflect upon whether such a role at this stage in your career will truly provide satisfaction and growth. A dedicated role in voice design isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re visually motivated. …

About

Cheryl Platz

Designer, actress, teacher, runner, speaker, world traveler, writer, gamer… a twenty-sided woman. Founder of design education company Ideaplatz, LLC.

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