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Mobility Products Should Be Friends, Not Merely Machines

For Oodi's new robot librarian, the first day on the job was rough. It tried doing its job, greeting guests and leading them to find their books, but few followed and some even bullied Oodi's robot, kicking and yelling at it.

"To help people see the robot as a friendly helper, Futurice came up with a simple interface: Googly eyes," Katharine Schwab from Fast Company writes. "The eyes help people make the mental switch toward treating the robot differently."

Although the googly eyes are just moving pieces of plastic, they pull off an important job, transforming the product from a machine to a friend. This difference is exactly what allows Oodi's robot to be successful at his job.

As humans, we've spent our entire lives interacting with other humans. We're REALLY good at it and it comes naturally to us. Machines, on the other hand, aren't so easy for us to understand because they don't behave like us.

If you want your customers to welcome, understand, and be loyal to your product, your product needs to be more than a machine. Your product should be a friend.

In order to become a friend, your product needs to be:


Why approachability matters

Approachability is the difference between people giving your product a first try or not.

As technology advances rapidly, the products of today can be quite intimidating. Products such as autonomous scooters and one-wheeled skateboards are frankly scary to some because the technology is so new, unfamiliar, and not yet understood.

As product developers, we know our new innovation is well-intentioned and is designed to actually simplify and add ease to our customers' lives. So, how do we encourage people to give our cutting-edge mobility products a chance? We make them approachable.

How to make your product approachable

In his book, "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business," Charles Duhigg explains that we can convince customers to give our new innovation a try,

"by dressing something new in old clothes and making the unfamiliar seem familiar."

By making the unfamiliar seem familiar, your product becomes approachable.

You can make your product approachable by relating its form factor to another product that the customer is already comfortable with.

Another way to "dress something new in old clothes" is to design the product using a friendly form language. Simple forms, soft edges, and curved surfaces come together to create a friendly form language.


Why relatability matters

Relatability is the difference between people successfully interacting with your product or not.

Minja Axelsson, a designer on the Futurice team, responsible for Oodi said that prior to adding googly eyes to the robot, "the bot’s form—basically, a box on wheels—was simply too abstract for people to make sense of what it was and how they were supposed to interact with it."

A more specific problem was that library-goers were often caught off guard by the robot's direction changes. This caused them to keep their distance and grew their distrust in the robot.

In order to know how to interact with your product, your customer needs to be able to understand what your product is and how to communicate with it. The most natural way to do this is to make your product relatable.

How to make your product relatable

We make your product relatable by designing its appearance and behavior to be more human.

Explaining why she decided to add googly eyes to Oodi's robot, Axelsson said, "The mobile robot by itself was too abstract to form a social bond with people. I wanted to give users something to look at, a sort of face."

To solve for the confusion it caused while changing direction, the eyes were programmed to look in the direction that the robot will turn. This makes customers aware of its next move.

In regards to appearance, one way you can make your product relatable is to give it a face (not always as literal as googly eyes) and a stance that is both honest and communicative of its intentions.

In regards to behavior, design your product to communicate through emotional, human mannerisms.


Why lovability matters

Lovability is the difference between customers being loyal to and defending your product or not.

Product and Operations Executive and Former COO of Shared, Tarani Duncan, said this about Shared's fat-tired scooter, "It's not designed to look super high-tech and futuristic. It's designed to be like, 'I'm here for you... let's do this together.'"

When designed to possess a lovable personality, a mobility product can become favored and ultimately looked out for in neighborhoods. Proving that they care for the scooter's well-being, Shared customers have stepped in to prevent acts of vandalism towards their neighborhood scooters.

Friends stick up for one another.

Oodi's library robot had a similar positive experience. "Once the googly eyes were in place, Axelsson says, the robot abuse stopped. Instead, people had positive reactions to it, and groups would follow it around the library like a little flock."

How to make your product lovable

You make your product lovable by giving it an endearing personality. Your product's personality needs to resonate with its users so that they'll form a social and emotional bond with it. In other words, build a friendship.

This personality can be formed from the actions, sounds, visuals, and tactile feelings that your product gives off. Rather than being void of life, your product should be full of spirit so that your customer has some soul to love.

For example, Tarani helped program Shared scooters to play riders a pump-up anthem as they take off. It's like the scooter is cheering you on as you rev up to seize the day.

By thoughtfully designing your product's personality attributes to support and champion your customer, your customer, in turn, will love and show a loyalty to your product.


If your product isn't achieving its full potential, take a step back and determine if it is being considered a friend or just a machine in your customers' eyes. Do they see your product as approachable, relatable, and lovable?

Once your product achieves all three, it'll become a friend that your customer cherishes and defends.


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