One of my very visual driven clients wanted to create an avatar for its speech assistant. I was on the project, to bring interactivity to the exploration by handling new tools, creating prototypes and managing any technical input. In the first meetings with the client I laid out the process that

we have. On the one side visual aspects like movement, orientation, intensity and on the other side abstract elements like states, emotions, and responses. We would have to define them and bring them together in a meaningful matter. 

The client appreciated this process but clung to endless visual explorations, direction changes and dreaming about “sassy” responses while ignoring the limitations of the AI. Coming from a purely visual department he only focused on aesthetics and appearance without accepting the complexity and the dependencies of his undertaking.

The client was lost in the woods shouting in all direction but not waiting or listening to any answer. 

We needed a compass. A simple device, to follow a line that is universal and helps him understand his surroundings. So, I focused on the building block we have been ignoring because it was to obvious. Human behavior and a visual representation. I grabbed our youngest developer and asked him to merge a Microsoft Kinect to a Unity-Prototype with skeleton tracking. Within a day we had a live motion tracking setup with nearly unlimited visual rendering power. The jumping dots on the screen immediately connected with you emotionally as you recognized another human being behind it. The effect the client wanted all the way – It was there!

But it was too easy and still too obvious. We couldn’t put a whole body into the avatar. So we reduced it to the minimum. One object. Something abstract and easy to observe. But with orientation. A cube.

Within three days we had a stable setup for recording, a questionnaire triggering emotional responses, and a group of willing colleagues being our test subjects.

One week later we hovered over our astonishing and yet so obvious test results. We finally saw the patterns in our everyday behavior. We saw the little nuances in movement that we use to emphasize our messages. We saw the differences between extroverts and introverts, and even between the truth and a lie. From the beginning it was right in front of us, but we needed the reduction and abstraction to understand it and to put it into words.

As we presented it to the client he was blown away. He never thought an “scientific” approach with analyzing data would be so beneficial to the “creative” and “explorative” approach.

Our results where immediately presented with the latest visuals in the next board meeting. The feedback was amazing and our efforts where described as an exemplary approach to the brands designs and future.

Unfortunately, the further development was transferred to another department within the client’s universe, as we have been digging on somebody else’s turf. 

Welcome to the corporation.

I still look back at this project with juvenile joy, as it is the perfect example of how abstraction and reduction can reveal aspects you might have always seen but never recognized. It’s about identifying the little pattern that will lead you through the process and to the product.

It helped me to lead the client, and it helped the client to lead the project.

But yet it feels so obvious. 

Which is the constant struggle of a good UX Designer. 

In review your always just a Captain Obvious.