Design Principles for Autonomous Driving

A riderless racehorse runs alongside jockey Avdulla at a race in Australia

It’s 10.45am on December 28th 2016, and I am driving south on Alma St in Palo Alto, CA to see my friend Ian. On the other side of the road coming toward me a modern day BMW Izetta, but without a driver or passengers.

I experienced the kind of fear jockeys have when a loose riderless horse tries to keep up with the herd. The owner of this loose horse? Google. The horses name? Waymo. Without a driver, could I trust in Google’s Waymo technology to keep me and other drivers safe?

What if the car were made by a less reliable software company? Would I trust their riderless machine not to crash into me more, or less?

In 2009 Google began researching autonomous driving. Waymo has driven 1 million miles so far, first in open country and now in cities. Zhaoyin Jia, is the technical leader and spoke at the AI Frontiers conference in Santa Clara today. He spoke of the research that informed two design assumptions they made regarding the safety principles of their design.

Design Assumption 1 – Let the car do the driving, not a human. Cars are the leading cause of death for people between ages 15 and 25 in the US, and 94% of car accidents are caused by human error.

Design Assumption 2 – Don’t design a human assisted driverless car. Design the car from the ground up to work on its own. From watching drivers multi tasking whilst driving, for example, reaching into the back seat to retrieve a phone charger from a bag, then plugging their phone in to charge it, the team realized people put trust in machinery, and they get into trouble.

This case study in identifying assumptions, informed by data and ethnographic research, has made me feel more confident in Waymo the riderless horse. Next time I see him galloping along the leafy streets of Palo Alto, I won’t be as alarmed.

The key to effective multi modal design is?

1. Antennae Sculpture 2. My shadow – a radio frequency 3. Studio environment housing equipment.
From “Frequency and Volume” an installation by Rafael Lozano Hemmer on display at SFMOMA, December 2012

My first project on joining [24]7 Inc was to design a multi mobile consumer application. What made it multi modal was the use of the speech and mobile web browser used together on a smartphone.

Creating this multi modal application provoked rich collaborations across parts of the company that had been recently acquired and were new to one another. The combination of late nights, adrenalin and frank conversations sparked an energy vortex that was hair raising, heart pumping and the very essence of Silicon Valley startup life at its finest.
As I tried to write up my notes about the affordances our design had created to share with our sales team, I was horrified to discover that the passion was not coming through on paper. Was it easier to design than to write about it? Was I too close to reflect on the enormity of what we had just accomplished? My writing fell flat where spoken word inspired confidence.

“The key to effective multi-modal design, I wrote, is to ensure each mode plays to its own strength. When combining modalities of speech and screen together, the screen is best used for displaying visually intense or data rich information, for example, choosing a date from a calendar. The voice channel, when employing continuous interactive speech is good for taking short cuts, for example, speaking a bank account number, than typing it using a mobile keypad… “

Unimpressed with my write up of our design, the team asked for a re-write, but nothing came to me. Seeking inspiration for my writers block, I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and found myself experiencing an alternative multi modal design experience.

Rafael Lozano Hemmer built a participatory installation that makes radio frequencies visible in the gallery. The installation is made up of a large antenna sculpture outside on the roof; a gallery, where visitors interact with a vast array of private and public radio signals and a studio environment housing technical equipment that works on its own.

In the gallery each persons shadow is detected by a computerized tracking system and their unique position and outline determines which frequency is scanned. Visitors use their bodies as antennae and tune into each radio station.  Moving your body left and right lets you tune into different radio frequencies. With people walking around the gallery together, each affecting a different signal, a cacophony of radios channels is heard. A voice in a sea of voices. Chaotic but not discordant.

Changing the volume involves walking back and forth making the silhouette of your body on the gallery wall change from big to small – loud to soft. The playful engagement, easy discovery and group dynamic put a huge smile on my face.

The installation, “Frequency and Volume” is one of several projects Rafael Lozano Hemmer has worked on since 1997. His participatory installations examine ways “the physical and public environment can be transformed into a data space in which intangible information is mapped onto a physical location.” This piece is a response to the Mexican governments shutting down of unregulated stations in indigenous communities in the states of Chiapas and Guerrero in 2003.

The key to effective multi-modal design, I can now rewrite, extends far beyond describing modalities and what they are good for. The key to effective multi modal design is to make the user smile. A smile born from the joy of playful discovery. A discovery that comes from participating with technology in community where one can be seen and heard and feel safe to do both.

The Future of Conversing with Technology

The Future of Conversing with Technology: Churchill Club Open Forum. Aug 2012. Palo Alto, California.

If you have ever wondered what computers might be like in the future and how we might interact with them, then read my notes from tonight’s Churchill Club open forum: The future of Conversing with Technology. A large crowd turned out to hear candid perspectives and insights from a diverse and lively group of visionary experts including Apple co founder Steve Wozniak and panel leader, Quentin Hardy, Deputy Technology Editor, The New York Times

Quentin posed several questions to the panel: What does it mean when we have a greater sense of intimacy with our machines? What shape will the industry look like as a result of voice – Nuance has taken the path of being the provider to many, Apple the provider of task fulfilling devices – Where will voice take us in the future?

Sheryl Connelly: Global Trends and Futuring, Ford Motor Company
Voice interfaces have the advantage of not having to adapt to the way we converse with natural dialog, this creates an opportunity for progress. Progress Ford call simplexity – it is how consumers will engage with information through voice technology at Ford.

“Using voice changes how you interact with your connected devices including the car.” From changing the temperature, to the radio station, voice becomes a means to a perpetual connection, through Bluetooth. It is a hands free and heavily amplified experience designed to overcome external noise.

“Young people don’t want a car as a status symbol, they want a productivity vehicle. Today there is market demand for the consumer to have connectivity in the car seamlessly. With the average Beijing commute time at 5 hours, having a device car that helps people be productive is key.”

Ron Kaplan: Senior Director and Distinguished Scientist, Nuance
Began his career as an engineer at Xerox Parc where he thought about how to create the illusion of simplicity for ordinary people from a really complex set of offerings. Parc went down two paths toward answering this question, the GUI and the CUI

The conversation user interface (CUI) aspired to use ordinary language to perform the actions people wanted to achieve. “This is using language like you would talk with a friend. The CUI understands what you want, when you say it, without saying everything. Perfection is not required, you just need to be comfortable getting the effect in a natural way, understanding 80% of what is said is fine. That’s about as much understanding as some conversations I have with my wife and the trash still gets put out on time.”

Steve Wozniak: Co-founder, Apple Computer
Today computers can engage the senses of touch, hearing and speech. Computers should save us from thinking, that is the model for voice interaction in the future. Speech alone has great possibilities because it is really robust, you can say things wrongly, say things that don’t make sense, but you can still understand one another. You can say things a lot of ways you can be understood and this is the way of the future. Engaging the senses, our devices must watch our face and know what we are thinking from our expression. In the long term, smell becomes important. We need to create our new best friend in our pocket.

Dan Miller: Senior Analyst and Founder, Opus Research
Security becomes interesting as you are carrying so much information on your device. Voice biometrics lets your unique voice become the thing that secures the device you are speaking to. A natural user interface way to wake up the machine using your voice allows only you to use the device. Voice is perfect for this. He would like a universal communicator to let him speak to his TV and thermostat. There are so many complicated home devices we don’t know how to use and the complexity undermines their utility.


So, wonder no more what computers might be like in the future and how we might interact with them. As Morgan Freeman and Martin Scorsese discovered in their commercials for Siri – it’s time to put down the mouse, pick up the microphone and learn to talk “proppa” to the “best friend in your pocket”. The question is, will it recognize your voice the next time you wake up with a cold? The Churchill Club open forum: the future of conversing with technology – nicely done.


Are designers the catalysts for cultural change in their time?

Costume by Jean Paul Gaultier for Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour
Costume by Jean Paul Gaultier for Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour

Are designers the catalysts for cultural change in their time? Jean Paul Gaultier thinks so. He claims that the role of designers is “to translate the changes of those times, to note the mutations and mirror the evolution of society”. Do designers really aspire to take on this much responsibility? After attending “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” an exhibition of 35 years of his fashion at the De Young Museum yesterday, I believe he is and continues to be a catalyst for our times and here are some ways he does this.

I met Jean Paul Guiltier in the early 1990’s when he visited the Royal College of Art in London to meet with students to talk about his work. Madonna had just released her book “Sex” which I was desperate to own but could not afford. She was riding high on the success of her Blond AmbitionWorld tour that Jean Paul Gaultier had designed the costumes for. The signature cone breasted corset became an icon of pop fashion culture overnight. Their collaboration was a mutation in the world of music and entertainment. Their work was playful, provocative, demanding, irreverent. It pushed us as all further and faster into the future than we would have gone without their collaboration.

Back at the Royal College of Art, Jean Paul Gaultier spoke with us with excitement, humility and a little admiration for us being design students in London. For him, London sub culture made a huge impression.  Second to Paris, the streets of London are his most overriding influence. Traveling to the UK in the early 1970‘s, he go his first look at punk – the alternative  artistry that would stimulate new aesthetic codes. He found inspiration in the energy of the London’s streets, in Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s SEX boutique, and in the glam-rock style popularized by David Bowie and his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. According to the exhibitions curator “Punk’s anti materialist principles influence the designer, enabling him to explore a nonconformist fashion. Gaultier adopted punk’s offbeat recycling. The total rebellion, the trash, the “destroyed” look appealed to him.”

“The raw side of punk, with its Mohawk haircuts, almost tribal makeup, allusions to sex, torn fishnet stockings, black, kilts, bondage straps, mixing genders and materials – all that spoke to me, suiting me much better than some of the traditional ossified conventions of the couture world.” Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier's Punk inspired work on show at the De Young Museum 2012
Jean Paul Gaultier's Punk inspired work on show at the De Young Museum 2012

As a student in the 90‘s punk was still a part of the London scene. Crossing the class divide, groups of punks were evident everywhere, often sitting like peacocks in Trafalgar Square – they dared you to stare back at them. It crossed my mind – what would you need to make your hair stand up straight in a mohalk  – I heard sugar water was the answer, but the ratio was a secret.

Looking at Jean Paul Gaultier’s translation of London punk into his couture line you see both “costume” and fashion. His work translates the changes of the time but does it in a way that is refined and beautiful. It leaves no room for the grime, grit and puke of its London roots.

His work is both conceptual and beautiful, at times too literal in translation to bear. This fabulous gown (see below) features an exotic animal print. You have to look really closely to see that a 1000 hours of bead work created the animal print illusion – no animals were harmed in the making of this dress.

Jean Paul Gaultier's Animal Print gown on show at the De Young Museum 2012
Jean Paul Gaultier's Animal Print gown on show at the De Young Museum 2012

In another example of this aching attention to concept is seen in this 2009 long silk satin and lace “cage’ over a sequined chiffon and lace sheath. The “Calligraphie” gown took 295 hours to create.

A concept is something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics and making it into an object of thought. For Jean Paul Gaultier he takes concepts like ornamentation or nonconformism and translates it into a garment which challenges our view of what clothes are.

There is no doubt that Jean Paul Gaultier’s designs translate the changes, the mutations and the evolution of society – he is truly a catalyst of change. Thank you Jean Paul for reminding me of this sacred design responsibility.

Jean Paul Gaultier's Calligrahy inspired gown on show at the De Young Museum 2012
Jean Paul Gaultier's Calligrahy inspired gown on show at the De Young Museum 2012

Design Innovation: Step 3 Inventing New Product Solutions

Diagram of the design innovation continuum: Step three - inventing a new product solution
The design innovation continuum: Step three - Inventing a new product solution

Design Innovation: Step 3 Inventing New Product Solutions show cases the creation of a new type of cookery book. You might have been expecting a mobile or web design innovation, but I experienced such delight receiving an innovative new cook book, I chose to make this post about “The Family Meal” by Ferran Adria to illustrate the invention of a new product solution in a crowded field.

People have new ideas for products all the time. If you live in a creative melting pot like Silicon Valley it is not uncommon to see something you thought of coming to market by someone else. As Steve Vosniak said “As a tinker and inventor my whole life I have learned that getting to market place as as difficult as inventing the thing itself. “

Culinary innovator Ferran Adria is not shy about inventing new culinary product solutions. He closed his three star Michelin restaurant, elBulli to spend two years focusing exclusively on culinary innovation, specifically exploring the relationship between physics and cooking and developing an entirely new restaurant format.

Farran Adria is famous for inventing new food solutions with his “deconstructionist” approach to food preparation and producing signature dishes like freeze-dried foie gras, atomized martinis and edible hibiscus paper. His goal is to “provide unexpected contrasts of flavor, temperature and texture. Nothing is what it seems.”

The process Ferran and his team go though to deliver these innovative creations reminds me of the business development processes taught by the likes of Founders Lab, Steve Blank and Eric Ries. He takes a step-by-step strategy, informed by customer insight to successfully organize and invent a new product solution.

With the release of “The Family Meal” documenting the food his staff eats whilst inventing the future of gastronomy, Ferran Adria takes his deconstructive approach and re-invents the cookery book.

Cookery books, like cars, have been around for a long time, but it took Henry Ford to see something no one else did – “lets make a car for everyone”, was his great contribution that led to the Model T Ford and the assembly line. With the arrival of “The Family Meal” we have a cookery book for everyone.

Like a car assembly line, “The Family Meal” takes the components of making a meal and puts them in the right order and makes it possible for anyone to perform all parts of the cooking process from menu planning, shopping, prepping, cooking and plating. There are seven design innovations I particularly admire about this cookery book

7 Design Innovations of the “The Family Meal” Cookery Book

  1. 31 complete three course menus are provided so menu planning is not required.
  2. Shopping for lemon grass in London’s China Town 20 years ago, it took me a long time to find what I was looking for since the signs were in Chinese and the ingredient was new for me. Once at home, the recipe I was following made no reference to how to prepare lemon grass, so it ended up in the rabbits cage. In “The Family Meal” all the ingredients are photographed which makes shopping a breeze and encourages the adventurous to try cooking with unfamiliar ingredients.
  3. Photos of all the completed meals plated on white flatware helps you to ow what you are aiming for. Food plating wasn’t taught at my school.
  4. A visual story board of the entire cooking process is provided making it easy to refer to and pick up techniques during the cooking process. No steamed up reading glasses required.
  5. A visual timeline from start to finish solves the problem of knowing what to do when to ensure the meal arrives on time.
  6. Ingredient quantities are provided for cooking for 2, 6, 20 of 75 people, which is an incredibly generous detail for amateurs and chefs alike.
  7. The recipes consist of simple, affordable every day Mediterranean  dishes – no physics degrees, bank loan or molecular gastronomy techniques required.

I may never eat in his restaurant but I can nourish myself and my friends from this book. I have just read the recipe for Romesco sauce and I could taste it in my mouth by the time I had finished looking at the photos on the page. Now that’s design innovation of a new product on the virtual and physical plains.

Design Innovation Step 2: Creating New Levels of Performance

Where my blog post design innovation step 1 focused on improving existing products for greater efficiency or profitability, Design Innovation Step 2; Creating New Levels of Performance focuses on product evolution.

Evolution can be about adding new features, refining an existing product that has outgrown its usefulness or it can be about applying what is learned to a new product in the product family. An example of product evolution is the mobile game developer Rovio. Based in Finland, Rovio are the creators of the globally successful Angry Birds franchise.

The company started in 2003 as a game development studio creating games for mobile devices. In 2009 they put Angry Birds in the market as a casual game to run on touch screen smart phones. It became a worldwide phenomenon and became the #1 paid mobile application in the world.

Described by game reviewer Bonnie Eisenman as “a wacky castle-destruction physics game where you fire birds through a slingshot in order to kill piggies. The art is funny, the difficulty curve is great, and the levels are clever.”

Much of the success of Angry Birds was the fact that they were already an accomplished mobile game developer with 51 published games before Angry Birds launched. After 7 years in business, like many companies who focused hard, they became masterful at what they did. They achieved a level of understanding of how to do business, how to operate, how to deliver and who to partner with.

If you are committing heart and soul to designing a new product or service, you need to be fully committed to the business beyond all logical reason. You need to be able to stand up for it in the face of rejection and negative feedback. If your soul yearns to invent the next great product, recognize that sometimes you don’t know you are doing it until the market tells you.

In the case of Angry Birds, try, try and try again, is what led to the design innovation that took the world by storm. Sometimes invention takes time, patience and lots of practice. The story of Rovio and Angry Birds is the story of our own evolution. By continuing to refine, polish and practice who we are and what we do, we evolve ourselves and our work, to new levels of performance.

Design Innovation in Four Stages: Step 1 Improving Profitability

Design Innovation Continuum : Four Steps to Product Design Innovation

Design Innovation in Four Stages: Step 1 Improving Profitability

This post focuses on step 1 of the design innovation process, improving profitability of products for new and existing businesses. In its original context, the diagram from Cheskin Research, was probably conceived to illustrate how Cheskin might help an established business along the path to innovation. Today I look at this diagram and think how an entrepreneur might transpose this information and use it to dream up ideas for a new company.

The diagram shows four stages of design innovation along a continuum. The continuum starts at making improvements that increase profitability and extends to radical invention and the birth of a new market or organization.

Planning the design of innovation, in any size of company, is a modern day strategic imperative. In a world where change is a constant, what serves as a viable, desirable and feasible product one day may change the next. Sustained business growth demands a ruthless commitment to innovation. So lets look at stage 1 of the design innovation continuum.

Stage 1 Improving the Bottom Line

The goal of improving an existing product or service is to create greater efficiency and profitability. Its about building and sustaining the heart of a business by keeping it in a state of continuous market innovation.

When web portal Excite@Home improved its online registration with a customer informed redesign of the new user sign up form; more new users were able to join the service drawing new incremental revenue.

Design Innovation of Excite Registration Form. Before and After.

For an entrepreneur without a product to improve, the design innovation would be in finding an existing service, product or process they felt they could improve upon. For example, coupons and collective buying power are well known established business practice.

The entrepreneurs at Groupon innovated the practice to solve the problem city dwellers have knowing what they want to spend their time and money on. Three years after its launch, Groupon’s shows city dwellers the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in 43 countries. Who says taking an established idea and innovating it can’t grow your bottom line.

So if you an established business looking for a way to improve efficiency and profitability, walk in your customers shoes for a day. Take the funnel you built for them and look at how well your process for educating, engaging and enlisting new customers might be improved.

If the redesign of a new user sign up form could move the bottom line for Excite@Home, what improvement might you make for your new users to make the process easier? How do you greet them? What tone of voice do you use? What small thing could you improve to make a positive difference to the customer experience?

If you are an entrepreneur wrestling with a desire to build the next great thing, spend a day thinking about the things in your life that you truly deeply care about. Ask yourself, “what do I care about, that I am fully committed to beyond all logical reason?” As the guys from Venture Hacks wrote this week “Before product-market fit, find passion-market fit.”

Discovering your passion may lie in something you really care about. In the case of Groupon, what the founder really cared about, was improving fund raising through group action. Its called the Point and it helps people raise money, organize people, or tries to influence change for the better. From the Point, Groupon was born.

What is your true passion?

Can you visualize yourself telling the story of how the idea for your company came into existence to a panel of prospective investors. Can you describe with clarity, confidence and conviction what problem you are solving? What opportunities it affords and why investors should care to back your ideas?

Practice discovering your passion, because if it involves improving something you care deeply about, chances are it makes life better for all of us.

Along the design innovation continuum, improving a product, service, or process for profit, is the perfect place to focus your work whether you are an established business or just starting out.

Look out for my next post which is on step 2 of the design innovation continuum and discusses how to apply design innovation to evolve your business or startup.

Guidepad: design vision for a mobile travel application

Guidpad mobile application screen design

Mobile screens for travel application Guidepad

Founder Labs is a five week program focused on the first phase of launching start ups in the mobile space. In January 2011 I  participated in the program and collaborated with an engineer and product business lead in the design of a mobile application Guidepad.

Challenge: In only five weeks, the team met, determined a problem space and customer, prototyped a solution, sought customer insights and presented the findings and results to an audience of investors.

Response: Guidepad sought to reduce the stress of traveling for affluent travelers visiting destination cities in the USA. Available from concierges at high end hotels, Guidepad offered travelers a customized mobile phone with essential travel services, internet and phone. Above are screen shots from a use case scenario I designed for supporting a traveler safely back to their hotel in a city they may not be familiar with.

Response: To learn more about the my lean start up mobile work at Founders Lab, please read my blog posts that track the experience week by week.

Role: Designer

Year: 2011

ReQall: design vision for a mobile personal assistant

ReQall images from workshop

Scenes from the Reqall design vision workshops

Engaged by ReQall, a 4 year old mobile startup, to infuse the spirit of human centered design into defining the next generation of mobile personal assistant

Challenge: I set up and led a series of workshops with the entire international mobile team exploring the creation process for the next generation of service, informed by customer and team insights. The vision process included some of the following team activities which I led.

  • Sharing stories from the team and from customer insights, helped the team frame the context for design. The stories were about real people and their lives and served as inspiration opportunities, ideas and solutions.
  • Identifying patterns and themes arising from the stories, revealed overarching truths. The truths let us see the design challenge in a new light
  • Creating opportunity areas meant spending time on each pattern or theme and asking “How might we…” It was a stepping stone to idea generation
  • Brainstorming new solutions took the themes to the next level and were illustrated simply with words and pictures often on bits of card or the whiteboard. To keep the brainstorms real, we kept asking; How might we? Who will benefit from the idea? What is the value? How will payment be collected?


  • Generated opportunities, solutions and storyboards to inform prototypes for testing and feedback
  • United the team around a shared context for design of the next set of services
  • Fostered a generative mindset within the team
  • Led to solutions informed by genuine needs and connections to deep thoughts and feelings

Testimonial: “We brought in Sally to bring cohesion to our design process. In particular, Sally facilitated the team’s participation in the process by infusing human centered and emotional aspects into design – an area in which she excels. Her contributions are much appreciated by one and all on our team.”

Rao Machiraju, CEO, ReQall

Role: Workshop leader and facilitator

Year: 2010

Yahoo! Connected Life Design Vision

Yahoo! Connected Life Design Vision

Yahoo! Concept Diagram for the Connected Life Consumer Experience

Connected Life brought together three digital components of a typical consumers life – their phone, their television, and their computer. As creative director I led the user experience design teams to deliver the connected life customer experience extending Yahoo’s brand reach to become as ubiquitous as possible.

Challenge: Connected life consisted of Yahoo Go Mobile (aimed at mobile phones), Yahoo Go TV (for televisions), and Yahoo Go Desktop (for computers). With a Yahoo ID, users could connect the whole Internet to their mobile phone and Internet-connected TVs, as well as personal computers without using a browser.

Response: As head of user experience design for Connected Life, I built a world-class team of design experts to develop engaging personal and community-aware products in TV, desktop, broadband and mobile platforms.

The broadband and mobile teams had established products and revenue streams and could provide resources to develop the Yahoo! Go experience. The TV and desktop platforms were unproven businesses but needed a design vision which could demonstrate the value of the business.

Results: Using my experience in R&D and waterfall product development practice, I was able to build a multi disciplinary team of user experience designers capable of both pioneering new user experiences for TV and Desktop and evolving the existing businesses in broadband and mobile.

The investment in design paid off. In 2006 Yahoo! Go was unveiled to good reviews at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)

Today, much of the Yahoo! Go vision has been released from service. However, the legacy of the early ground breaking work lives on through Yahoo Connected TV,  and Yahoo! Mobile.

Role: Senior Director, Product Design

Year: 2006