Allowing easy access to the essential application features for Google Home users.
As part of my UX Tree Mentorship Program I am looking into the Google Home Application to identify and validate improvements for user experience. I have chosen this application because of the initial research and my observation of the current user feedback from Google PlayStore.
My role: UX Designer
Duration: Feb 2021 – May 2022
Platform: Android mobile application.
Method: Double Diamond
Google Home App is the application that allows to set up smart devices within the home space, provided with multiple features, and some personalisation. For this case study I will be paying attention to the smart speaker and currently available manual controls.
I am looking at incorporating essential features for the users who still feel uncomfortable to switch fully to voice commands, or in cases when the technology is letting users down. According to the app reviews on Google Playstore, the users often mention that too many features are hidden and they must spend plenty of time to figure them out, along with the voice controls not always recognising the commands. Therefore, it is important to have manual controls for the users until the technology has not perfected itself. Having manual controls means users won’t give up on the device if voice controls don’t work and users can stay within the Google ecosystem while using other smart devices.
This Case Study discovers the opportunities and learns current user’s pain-points in order to improve accessibility and app flow.
For this Case Study I use a double diamond framework. The double diamond is based on a framework by Kees Dorst, professor of Innovation of Design at the University of Technology. The framework is divided into two phases, the design process can be divided into a problem phase and a solution phase. A problem phase is when designers explore a problem and end up with a clear definition of the problem. The second stage is the decision phase, where ideas are generated, prototypes are visualized and tested. At the end of this stage, the final product is created and delivered to the end user.
- User reviews
- Competitor analysis
- Survey results
- Overall findings from Surveys
- Problem Statement
- User personas
- Empathy Map
- User Journey
- Design Materials
- Redesigned version of Routines
- Music/Podcast switch
- Redesigned version for Music/Podcast switch
- User testing 1
- User testing 2
- Results for current users
- Implementing improvements
- Future improvements
- Final prototype
The Discover phase includes the research and investigation of materials that will help to learn more about specific problems. After the observation of user’s feedback from Google PlayStore, I have conducted a competitor analysis, followed by a user survey to collect qualitative and quantitative data.
To validate the need for this case study, I have started my investigation from observing the user feedback from Android Play Store. According to the app reviews on Google Playstore, the users often mention that too many features are hidden and they must spend plenty of time to figure them out, along with the voice controls not being always recognised.
“Sometimes it is unclear where settings live that could affect your overall experience”
“It’s features feel antiquated and are hard to navigate. I can’t control anything”
“The poor interface and user unfriendliness is bad enough, but now it just won’t work”
“App missing details and additional functionality”
I have reviewed six smart home applications. Below are some of the problems that these applications have in common.
- App flow
- More feature and controls would make life better
- Lack of accessibility and consistency
Current App Flow
Minimalist interface of the application can cause frustration to a user who is not yet comfortable to use the app via voice commands.
I have used Google Forms to create an online user survey aimed at Google Home users (specific criteria is Google smart speaker user). To learn about their frustrations and favorite features and also to support previously collected findings. The survey was distributed using Social Media channels – Facebook and LinkedIn. The Survey included opened, closed, and linear questions to collect qualitative and quantitative results. Follow this link for detailed questions.
Overall findings from Surveys
Overall findings (based on 11 users) show that generally the application is used to set up new devices, and not so much for manual controls or playback.
- The main demographic for Google smart speaker is between 26 to 35 years of age (82%).
- For the majority around 70% of users – it is still important to control the smart speaker using manual controls.
45% prefer to use mostly voice and sometimes require the application
18% use mostly application and sometimes voice
9% still use application only
- Almost 91% use Google Home Application to interact with their smart devices.
- 54% of the users do not use Routines or do not know about its existence. Routines feature is a preset list of commands that can be adjusted by the user, for example a Bedtime Routine may include an alarm clock, sleeping sounds etc.1.8
Common User Complaints
Dig through the application to find what I want.
Small understanding about other smart devices and what they can do.
The application doesn’t have all features I need.
Finding what needed in settings. Voice controls not always recognised.
Analysing Results - Current User Frustrations
Minimalist interface of the application can cause frustration to a user who is not yet comfortable to use the app via voice commands or at times when the voice commands are not being recognised.
This means that the application should gradually prepare and educate the user how to use all features by voice, before removing essential controls. Also keeping in mind that sometimes the voice commands do not respond correctly, technology has not been perfected for any smart home application yet. Therefore, the brand should have a backup plan, for the user to easily switch to manual app controls if voice is letting you down.
How might we minimise frustration for Google Home users and allow easy access to the essential application features?
This stage is focusing on the user, and how the user interacts with the product. Defining the user personas, their goals and pain points, journey map, and task flow will help to understand and empathize with the user.
The aim for the Define stage is to filter through all the findings from the previous stage. This will help to narrow down the problem and will identify the bottlenecks and opportunities.
User Persona 1
Age: 32 Years Old, Male
Education: Bachelor in Computer Science and Information Technology
Location: Vienna, Austria.
Professional: Thomas is working for IT company, he is relatively new and about 3 years with the company. To pursue his career with this company he has moved to Austria from Ireland, and lives in a spacious city apartment. He loves discovering smart gadgets that improve quality and comfort of his life, this is one of the reasons he decided to invest into Google Home App and compatible devices. His first purchase was the Smart Speaker – he loves listening to music.
- Loves the idea of controlling devices from different rooms.
- Likes to follow and adapt new technology to improve daily tasks
- A shortcut if the voice command not working
- To control smart devices – speakers seems to be the main issue
- Accessible features in the Google home app
Technical Devices Owned:
- Google Home Speakers – uses daily
- Lighting – uses daily
- TV – uses daily
- eBike – uses 5 times p/weekT
User Persona 2
Age: 29 Years Old, Female
Education: Bachelor Visual Communication
Work: Graphic Designer
Location: Frankfurt, Germany.
Professional: Stella is a Designer and works in Frankfurt for Web Development Agency for the last 5 years, she recently got promoted to a team lead. She lives a little bit outside of the city and gets to work by train. Because of her busy work she has little time for gym, and tries to maintain her workout routine at home. She uses a smart speaker for her exercise and she finds it great when it works. Also, she is using Fitbit to keep track of her heart rate and monitor activity.
- Loves the idea of controlling devices from different rooms.
- Stella uses some routines as well in the morning while having breakfast and in the evening for bedtime.
- A shortcut if the voice command not working
- Learning new features in the Google home app
Technical Devices Owned:
- User has Google home speakers (2) – uses daily
- Fitbit – uses daily
This tells us more about the user’s needs, goals and emotions.
For the user journey I have recorded a user while they use the application. I have asked them to think while they perform four different tasks I have set them up to do.
Start and Explore the Application
Select a Speaker
- User finds many services and unknown features
- User finds and selects a speaker without any problem
- User plays audio on Spotify, then comes back to GMH and starts to Cast Audio
- User would expect to use this app as a house remote.
More explanation to showcase the potential uses for the app, explaining the features
for this task
Use one app to
More guidance for app usability would keep the user retention
ROUTINES – 50% of the users from the Survey do not use Routines, or do not know what they are.
MUSIC/PODCAST SWITCH – One app to control the playback will improve user experience.
HIERARCHY – As a continuation for improvement of the application the Hierarchy of device could be a next step.
The third stage of the process marks the start of doing actual design, i.e., making the solution to the problem outlined in the first two stages.
I have used the existing library and adhered to the Google design UI elements.
Redesigned version of Routines
For the redesign of the app I have replaced the play symbol with the plus. The logic behind this is that when a user selects a Routine they now have the option to add it to their speaker, and set it up almost like an alarm clock.
To arrive at the final design layout, screen iterations have been going through different element placements, until reaching the most balanced layout. Ideally these screens have to be also tested with users but keeping the time frame in mind, I have relied on my intuition and my mentor’s advice.
2. Music - Podcast Switch
Does not have this feature. Currently to play music manually (if voice commands don’t work or any other reason), the user goes through the following screens.
Below are the sketches – a starting point to design a new feature, this way the user will have an option to switch manually between music and podcast.
To arrive at the final design layout, screen iterations have been going through different element placements, until reaching the most balanced layout. As well as overseeing the current design for Google Podcasts, this helped to develop the visual playlists.
Redesigned version for Music/Podcast switch
The deliver stage is testing what was prepared in the previous stage, getting the feedback and iterating.
1st User Testing
For the first user testing I have used the contacts who have volunteered to participate in user testing from my initial user survey. I have created two prototypes, one is the original app flow, and the second is the redesign option. I have used Maze to perform user testing, and have followed Neilson’s golden rule to test with 5 users. I have tested both prototypes with the same users, this way they could compare one to another. The users were contacted by email with a clear explanation and option to contact me any time if they have any questions.
1. Routines Flow
Some of the users feedback to this task was that they wish there was more information about the actual Routine and what it will play.
Additional screen for Routines Flow
An additional screen was added – this screen is from the original Google Home App.
2. Finding Routines via Speaker
A more structured design was created for the Routines via Speaker, users will have more understanding and better controls.
User Testing 2
For the second user testing I have used a similar method as with the first user testing. Only this time I have used social media such as LinkedIn to recruit volunteers to participate in the user testing. This time I have tested prototypes with two types of users;
1. Completely new to Google Home App
2. Current users of Google Home App.
Results for Current Users
Results from the Current users of Google Home App show.
1st Task – 100% of users find the Routines where expected. With 25% less suggestion from the users compared to 50% suggestions in the first round of testing. Some opportunities for this task; increase the target area for the button, improve the hierarchy for the new screen.
2nd Task – it took 2.5 seconds less for the users to complete this task. Some opportunities are to test with a bigger bank of users and to also test how users feel about the playlists. Is there a need to provide more controls for what lists users can add?
Contrast for the Routines icon and increased button area for the Routines.
From the heatmap below, it seems that the users find the new added screens from the Original Google Home App confusing, potential solution can be a redesign of the hierarchy as well as making icons a little bit less consistent to break down the pattern.
What I have learned
This project has been my first experience redesigning an existing application. I have learned the importance of narrowing down problems to identify optimal solutions. As well as user testing should be conducted with a variety of different users – this will give me a wider angle for considering multiple improvements. If I had more time I would try to collect user surveys from bigger scope of users – this would uncover more problems.
Future research can work in the direction of Hierarchy to improve users’ understanding of the app. As well as diving into the onboarding process to greet the new users and give them better understanding of some features such as Routines.
Overall, I am happy with the results achieved from the second user testing, which shows improvements in user satisfaction with the new feature for Music – Podcast switch, and reduced time spent on the task. The Routines feature however, has improved in satisfaction for the current user, but for the new user it is confusing, and they require information on how to use it, what it does and the benefits of this feature.