During a Micropublications workshop hosted by Chris Murphy we were set a challenge: Create and visualise a product within one week. Don’t constrain it by today’s technological standpoint – the more fantastical, the better.
Voice assistants and conversational interfaces have made consuming content more fun and informal than ever, and as these platforms grow more and more content will be created and catered to them. But where does that leave people who can’t talk? How do they access this new content? These questions were central to my design thinking, and the project itself became more and more about accessibility. And thus, the chatmate sign language rings were born.
Illustrator & Photoshop
I had to wear a lot of hats for this project, inlcuding:
To start my thought process and to try and spark some ideas, I created a venn diagram centred around content, frequency and platform, and combined an element from each. I ended up with some interesting concepts, but none compared to the combination of Health (Speech), Siri and Daily. This sparked the idea of creating a way for people with speech impairments, particularly those who sign, to engage with voice assistants and access all the content they have to offer.
To help drive my project in the right direction, I created a basic user persona to give me a clearer idea of my target audience, and to keep all my design choices focused solely on the user and their experience. Built with real life accounts and issues in mind, this user persona was key in ensuring I was directly addressing user pain points and providing interactions and content that could help create an equal experience to a speaking user.
As sign language is centred around the hands, rings seemed like the most effective way to capture dialect. Therefore, Chatmate became a set of smart sign language rings, worn on each finger, which monitor and translate sign to voice assistants. This allows those with speech difficulties the opportunity to access content and the companionship that comes along with such devices. The rings themselves are synced to the Chatmate app, enabling the user to set preferences and access learning materials.
Accessibility became the heart of this project, but this also posed some issues. I needed to ensure that whatever the product, it would provide an experience equal to users who do speak. This meant ensuring long range communication with the rings, ease of use and the ability to sync them with a range of devices. The first two issues were solved at once, with the addition of motion sensors inside each ring. The sensors could track and translate the sign from different rooms, and the raised area to protect them could provide grip. To enable the rings to work with a range of devices, I create the Chatmate app, which allows the user to sync the rings to multiple devices at once.
The colour palette for Chatmate was heavily influenced by the recurrent trend of digital assistants being designed with very limited colour palettes. Keeping the palette stripped back was important in ensuring that there was some sort of assimilance between the rings and voice assistants. And what better colour than blue to do this job? The blue ring on the Amazon Echo, the flashes of blue we see when talking to Siri - this colour has become synonymous with conversational design.
The Chatmate logo went through several stages, but each iteration didn't feel right. I wanted the logo for Chatmate to communicate to the users - and what better way to do this than to incorporate actual sign language into it? Therefore, the main body of the logo is the sign for 'OK' - one of the most universal and recognisable gestures - and to bring in the voice assistant element, I added three lines to indicate speech.
View the final project pitch here
For every product or service that is accessible, there are countless others that are not. Accessibility should be and needs to be one of the core elements of design; if it's not accessible, what's the point?