Meet Ikea's Voice Assistant: Inga
Yeonjin Park, Shih-Hsueh Wang, and Priyanka Goel
Kyuha Shim and Dina El-Zanfaly
Motion design lead, UI design co-lead, concept development, interaction design
Figma, Adobe Premiere, and After Effects
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 AI continues to grow as it offers efficient solutions to problems facing people and businesses, as well as quick ways of accessing relevant information. AI-powered Voice User Interfaces (VUI), in particular, have shifted the way users interact with computers or machines. Virtual assistants (VA), a type of VUI, such as Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, and Samsung Bixby, can access and analyze users’ locations and online activities, and they have become an important means for users to interact with other services and applications.
However, the use of 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 natural human behavior.
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
While at home, users use Inga to get recommendations on Ikea furniture that would work in their space and try out items in augmented reality. Inga asks users a few key questions about existing furniture, budget, taste, room layout to recommend items. Customers can then shortlist items that they like and try them out using augmented reality. If they want to visit a store before making a final decision, Inga directs them to the closest store that has their items available.
Augment the in-store experience
After welcoming users to the store, Inga alerts them when they arrive in a showroom section that contains an 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
Once customers reach the end of the showroom, Inga alerts them that they 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 gives suggests decor items based on their selections and asks them if they want to purchase any of the tools necessary for assembly.
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 she's gathered about a customer's taste and room layout to offer targeted recommendations that match their taste with Ikea's evolving product line.
To begin, we analyzed Ikea's existing digital products, creating example user task flows for the mobile app, website, and in-store kiosk.
In addition to our diagramming, we also spoke to Ikea customers and employees about their experiences with Ikea and feelings about the brand. This yielded three major 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.
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.
Moving out of the research phase, we developed four overarching goals to guide the design of our virtual assistant.
Unite Digital Tools
Inga unifies Ikea’s suite of digital tools, helping customers navigate their Ikea experience online and in person.
Expand Planning Service
Inga gives every customer the experience of a personal Ikea planner, a service typically reserved for major remodels.
Reduce Common Inconveniences
Inga answers common customer questions, reducing customer inconveniences and lessening the burden on employees.
As Inga learns about customers taste, it can make targeted recommendations from Ikea’s evolving product line.
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.
We analyzed Ikea's brand identity and discovered four key words that guided the characteristics and appearance of our virtual assistant: fun, quirky, and assemble.
As the world's largest furniture retailer, Ikea is a globally recognized brand. At the same time, the Ikea brand is known for a quirky and irreverent attitude. We wanted the design of our virtual assistant to build off of the power of the Ikea brand identity, while also incorporating its quirky personality.
To do this, we kept Ikea's core palette of blue and yellow. We also continued to use the bold typographic style that is found in the Ikea logo. To communicate Ikea's fun and quirky brand personality, the form of our VA is broken up into pieces that stack together like play blocks. This also alludes to the furniture assembly that Ikea is known for.
The motion of Inga struck a balance between providing important information and a sense of playfulness to viewers
As we iterated through motion states, our team decided that we wanted Inga to be distinctly playful. While very common states would be relatively nonintrusive motion states, less common ones--such as our welcome and celebration states--would provide the viewer with a more complicated and fun animation.
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.
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.
Several rounds of sketching helped to clarify what interactions would best utilize the conversational interface versus interactions that are better suited to a touchscreen.
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.
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.
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.
In our prototyping, we emphasized building out moments in the customer journey were users collaborate with Inga to achieve complex goals like deciding on decor.
Large furniture purchases are an infrequent occurrence. To ensure that Inga isn't a limited to a narrow use case, we needed to build out the VUIs functionality for small, everyday furniture purchases as well.
We added post purchase scenarios to our customer journey map to explore how Inga could offer recommendations personalized to the user's physical space and decoration taste.
“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.”
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.