The process of designing for HRI involves various techniques drawn from multiple fields, such as engineering, HCI, and industrial design. Different methods may prioritize technical aspects or human-centred considerations, but the ultimate objective is to integrate both aspects to create a successful HRI system.
Engineering design process
The engineering design method is a process that engineers use to solve problems and meet requirements. This process involves considering multiple solutions and selecting the best one that satisfies the given requirements. Engineers can use simulations to model and test the performance of their solutions. For well-understood machines, engineers can even calculate the specific design parameters necessary to meet the performance requirements. However, simulations cannot always capture the real world in sufficient detail or compute all possible designs. In such cases, designers may be dealing with a “wicked design problem” that has changing, incomplete, interdependent, or indeterminate requirements, making it difficult to follow a linear model of design thinking. HRI design is often a wicked design problem due to the lack of information about the appropriate behaviours and consequences of robots in social contexts. To address this, designers may focus on producing satisficing solutions that are just good enough for the purpose they are meant to serve. This approach is common in all human endeavours and is almost unavoidable in HRI, where technical capabilities may never reach the ultimate design requirement of the robot performing just as well or better than people.
User-centred design process
The engineering design method is limited in guiding HRI development when it comes to open-ended interactions and spaces. Satisficing may lead to measuring only what is easy to measure and not what truly matters. User-centred design (UCD) can address these issues by focusing on the people who will use the robot and the contexts of use throughout the design process. UCD is a broad term used to describe design processes in which end-users influence how a design takes shape. Users can be involved in many ways, including through initial analyses of their needs and desires, evaluating various design iterations, and providing feedback on the final product.
Designers are often faced with making design decisions for which there are no obvious answers. Prototypes of different design options can be built and tested with the target audience to elicit responses and ensure that preferences or differences are truly caused by the design feature under consideration. It is important to test early and often because making changes later in the process can be costly.
Designers should not only consider primary users but also secondary and tertiary users who may come into contact with the artifact intermittently or be affected by its use. Stakeholders, or those involved in and affected by the robot’s uses, can be identified through research, and involved in the design process through various user-centred methods, such as needs and requirements analyses, field studies and observations, focus groups, interviews and surveys, and user testing and evaluations of prototypes or final products. By involving stakeholders, designers can ensure that the robot meets the needs of all those who will come into contact with it, and not just the primary users.
In recent times, HRI researchers have adopted more collaborative and participatory design methods for creating robots. These methods involve including potential users and other stakeholders in the decision-making process about appropriate robot design from the beginning of the design process. This is different from bringing users in only during the evaluation stage of the design process, where their input is used to test certain assumptions already expressed in the design. Participatory design recognizes that people have expertise in their everyday experiences and circumstances. It has been used in the design of computing technologies, especially information systems, since the 1970s. In HRI, participatory design involves finding ways for users to become engaged in making design decisions about robots, such as by developing particular behaviours for robots or designing robot applications for their local environments. Participatory design with robots has its difficulties. People have many preconceptions about robots but little knowledge about the technology involved in making them, which can lead to unrealistic design ideas. Designers also have little knowledge of the day-to-day lives and experiences of people in many of the applications where HRI is most needed, such as eldercare. Participatory design is a relatively new concept in HRI, but it is becoming an increasingly important component of the HRI design methods toolkit. As more applications for diverse populations and everyday contexts are envisioned, collaborative and participatory design methods will play a critical role in creating robots that meet the needs of their users.
Bartneck, C. et al. (2020) Human-Robot Interaction: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108676649.