In the summer of 2015, I got the chance to join the Experience Design Group of Comcast as an intern, doing industrial and interaction design for XFINITY TV and smart home products. It was an exciting and memorable experience to me - working for one of my favorite domains as home entertainment and automation, working agilely by prototyping, and working on real products to be delivered to mass customers.
Most of my design works can not be uncovered here, but I would love to share my experience and thoughts.
Part 1: See the Industry Landscape
My work started with playing the large collection of gadgets the team kept. In the testing room, I played with almost any products related with TV and smart home here, including "Developer Preview" products that were not in the market yet. But, I was not just playing with them. I tried every features of the products and documented my experience in detail. I even take some apart to see how certain features were enabled by hardwares. In days, I felt myself grown up from a home gadgets hobbyist into half an industry insider.
Part 2: Design. Prototype. Test.
While playing with products, my design work also started. There were many projects going on simultaneously, ranging from set-top box to smart thermostat. They were going to be the next generations of XFINITY TV and smart home hardwares. I contributed to a variety projects, but my major projects are designing the next 2 generations of voice remote for the XFINITY X1 system.
In early 2015, Comcast has released the new voice remote, XR11, bringing the voice-activated TV watching experience closer. When I started, XR11's successors, XR16 and XR18 were still in sketch book. XR16 would have a much more compact size and a simpler interface by utilizing gesture and voice command. Meanwhile, XR18 was more distinct from the tradition perception of remote. It was going to be the always-on voice control hub of the entire home.
I was involved in almost the full cycle of the XR16 design process. The team moved fast, so I got the chance to learn and contribute to from early sketches to final appearance models. And with the trust from the team, I led the development of the real-size interactive prototype for XR16.
The challenges of designing XR16 was not only developing one small form factor to fit all customers' hands, but also designing its new gesture and voice hybrid interaction to work smoothly with both the current and future versions of X1 TV OS. The rough and quick prototypes our team made along the way helped us identify many problems. But a fully interactive prototype for user testing is critical. Previously, the team would outsource this prototype making through agencies. With my help, the team was able to develop the prototype onsite, pushing the design iteration faster. Using 3D printer and Arduino, I made the prototype that shared the same form factor of the real design, along with a reprogrammable interface. So the user testing team could quickly test different button/gesture interaction setups on TV UI with this single prototype.
XR18 bore a vision of a voice activated smart home, not only for TV, but for all smart devices connected to the home network. During my internship, I worked on the following parts.
Not like XR16 for which I could gain many insights from competitors' products, XR18 was a whole new product to which few references could be find. The designed user scenarios would cover many aspects of home life. What kind of feedback the XR18 should give in different scenario? how would the TV interface change? How to handle the experience when put into always-listening mode? There are many questions to answer, but the challenges also brought new opportunities in design.
Other Design Work
Besides the design work for XR16 and XR18, my work also included developing shared design vocabularies for future XFINITY products, designing the lighting of the new set-top box, auditing the smart home kit production samples and creating reports to vendors. Also, my work extended to UI design on TV OS, contributing to the design of a smart home experience provided with more integrated softwares and hardwares.
Part 3: My Takeaways
The 3-month work at Comcast was intense and fruitful. I learned so much yet had a lot of fun. I would summarize my takeaways as:
I understood that the design of the future hardware is about the design of the service and experience it delivers.
I learned to bridge user experience design and industrial design skills to create products which can empower users.
I learned to design while thinking the entire experience of the system, and other products in the system.
I learned the principles to design the products for both the majority and the minority.
I utilized my prototype skills across physical devices and on screen interactions, for real consumer facing products.
I gained knowledge about design sound and voice interaction.
I leveled up my skill of communication across different teams through both written and visual documentation.