Inga: An Intelligent Voice Assistant for Ikea

Client: Ikea
Collaborators: Yeonjin Park and Shih-Hsueh Wang
Project Duration: Seven weeks
Role: Motion design, conversational prototyping, customer journey mapping, and concept development
Technical Skills: Voiceflow, Figma, Adobe Premier, Adobe After Effects

Challenge

Our challenge was to create a multimodal virtual assistant for a business that affords customers new ways to interact with an existing product or brand.
The use of virtual user interfaces (VUIs) is now also expanding beyond task-oriented interactions to those that involve complicated, imprecise user objectives. As a team, we wanted to explore how conversational AI can create a VUI that understands and interacts with complex human behavior and needs. To do this, we partnered with Ikea to explore a taste-driven and highly subjective consumer activity: decorating your home.

Outcome

Inga: A virtual assistant for Ikea. Inga offers Ikea customers the experience of a personal shopping assistant. Helping customers clarify their needs and navigate every stage of the Ikea experience.

Prepare your shopping list

Customers often need help choosing from Ikea's vast catalogue of items. With Inga, they can receive targeted recommendations by simply speaking to Inga about their existing furniture, budget, taste, or room layout.

Customers can then shortlist items that they like and try them out using IKEA's existing AR feature. If they want to visit a store before making a final decision, Inga directs them to the closest store with their items available.

Augment the in-store experience

After welcoming users to the store, Inga directs them to the showroom section that contains each item on their shopping list.

As customers see and try out items, they can use Inga to look up an item, add it to their cart, and navigate around the store.

Visualize your furniture

When they finish shopping, customers can visualize the furniture they selected at Ikea's in-store kiosk. If customers used Inga to measure their space while at home, they can also view a 3D simulation of the space and place items within it.

When the customers finalize their cart, Inga suggests decor items based on their selections and asks them if they want to purchase any of the tools necessary for assembly.

Warehouse Assistance

Inga maps out an efficient path for customers to follow as they pick up their furniture from the Ikea warehouse. If there are heavy items, Inga will send an Ikea employee to assist them.

Recommendations based on your space

Inga uses the data gathered about a customer's taste and room layout to offer targeted recommendations that match their taste with Ikea's evolving product line.
Process Documentation

Process Diagram

Our team began by outlining our design process, including the major tasks that we wanted to achieve at each stage of project. This diagram became a point of reference for us over the seven-week project.
I: Discover: Exploratory Research

User experience audit

We wanted to understand Ikea's existing digital product ecosystem. To do so, we created example user task flows for Ikea's app, website, and in-store shopping kiosk.
A user task flow of Ikea's in-store kiosk. Click to see our user task flows of Ikea's other digital products

Semi-structured interviews

We observed three customers to see how the navigated the Ikea in store showroom and warehouse. We also interviewed two customers who used Ikea's digital products to make their purchases. These conversations yielded three major insights:

Research insights

Importance of In Store Experience
Interviewees repeatedly spoke about positive experiences with the Ikea store and showroom.
Exclusive Planning Service
For larger projects, such as a kitchen renovation, Ikea’s employees work closely with customers to design and develop precisely the products that fit their needs.
Analogue Workarounds
Despite existing digital tools to improve the customer experience, Ikea customers avoid using them. Instead, they seek out employees or use analogue systems like paper cards to write down furniture numbers.

II: Define

Design Objectives

Moving out of the research phase, we developed four overarching goals to guide the design of our virtual assistant.
1
Unite digital tools
Unify Ikea’s suite of digital tools, helping customers navigate their Ikea experience online and in person.
2
Expand planning service
Provide every customer the experience of a personal Ikea planner, which is typically reserved for major remodels.
3
Reduce common inconveniences
Answers common customer questions, reducing inconveniences and lessening the burden on employees.
4
Improve customer retention
Use data on customer taste to make targeted recommendations from Ikea’s evolving product line.

Defining key interactions

Storyboarding revealed that a voice assistant was needed most in the pre-store and in-store navigation phases of the Ikea customer journey.
To uncover areas where a virtual assistant might be useful, our team divided the Ikea customer experience into the pre-store, in-store, and post-store phases. We then storyboarded potential interactions at each of these stages.

This exercise revealed the personalized, human assistance most in the pre-store planning stages, when they were determining what to potentially buy. Once in the store, visitors needed a more passive intelligent interface, that would help them navigate the the showroom and warehouse.
II: Develop

Customer Journey

Our journey map helped to clarify how Inga would operate at each stage of the customer experience. We made sure that the voice assistant struck the proper balance between guiding, collaborating, and being controlled by the user.

Voice Prototyping

Testing out the virtual assistant's dialogue in Voiceflow helped our team prompt and constrain user behavior in order to limit the number of potential utterances and the possibility of an error state.

Screen Prototyping

Iterating on mobile and kiosk screens helped to clarify where a touch interaction could complement the conversational interface, such as when the user is selecting on-screen images.
Once we had clarified the essential states of our voice assistant and the general screen layout, we transitioned to mid-fidelity screens to understand finer UI details like proportion, contrast, and transitions.

Virtual Assistant Characteristics

In designing a virtual assistant, personality characteristics like tone of voice, language, and speech pace become critical touch points for users. We wanted Inga to project a friendly, empathetic, and diligent demeanor.
To accomplish this we set about defining Inga's personality along a series of scales. Working off of this slider, we tested voices to find ones that struck the proper balance between robotic and naturalistic.
Robotic and Playful
Human and Initiating
Human and Friendly
IV: Deliver

Concept Growth

As our prototypes developed, we refined our concept by (1) emphasizing moments of collaboration between users and Inga and (2) expanding Inga's post-purchase use cases.
Insight
The main value proposition of a conversational interface is for a product to understand natural human behavior and collaborate with the user to achieve a goal.
Action
In our prototyping, we emphasized moments where users collaborate with Inga to achieve complex goals like deciding on decor. This meant deemphasizing our design objective of reducing common inconveniences.
Insight
To meet our design objective of improving customer retention, we needed to ensure Inga added value for every Ikea transaction, large or small.
Action
We added scenarios to our customer journey map to explore how Inga could offer recommendations for large or small purchases personalized to the user's physical space and decoration taste.

Visual Design

Inga's visual identity had to fit within Ikea's existing brand identity, while still establishing itself as a distinct brand element.
As the world's largest furniture retailer, Ikea is a globally recognized brand known for bold colors, simple geometric forms, and an irreverent attitude. Inga's virtual identity builds off of Ikea's recognizable brand elements, while forging its own distinct identity.

To do this, we kept Ikea's core color palette and the bold typographic style of its logo. To communicate Ikea's fun and quirky brand personality, the form of our VA is broken up into pieces that stack together like the pieces of Ikea furniture.
Documentation of our visual design system. Click any image to see in more detail.

Motion Design

The motion of Inga struck a balance between providing important information and the sense of playfulness that the Ikea brand is known for.
Our team landed on eight final motion states to visually communicate with users. While very common states would be relatively nonintrusive, less common ones--such as our welcome and celebration states--would provide the viewer with a more complicated and fun animation.
Welcome: Introduces Inga to new users
Speaking: Indicates Inga is addressing the user
Listening: Shows recognition that the user is addressing Inga
Loading: Signals that Inga is processing a request
Idle:  Signals that Inga has completed a user request
Confirmation: Signals that Inga has completed a user request
Notification: Signals an announcement where immediate user attention is required
Celebration: Signals when the user completes a major task, just as assembling a piece of furniture

Project Takeaways

“For users, conversational AI offers for the first time a means to interact with technology using their own words. For technology to understand them, not the other way around.”
Andy Peart
Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer at Artificial Solutions
The true potential of conversational interfaces is not in maximizing the efficiency of task-oriented user objectives; it’s not about issuing commands like “turn on the lights.” The potential of conversational AI lies its ability to interact with natural human behavior, in all its nuance and complexity. Inga is a step in that direction.

Inga’s core feature is using conversation to make what can seem like complicated and overwhelming decisions around furniture and decoration intuitive and manageable. In so doing, Inga delivers on the promise of the Ikea brand, making quality furniture and interior design easy, affordable, and fun.