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6 weeks | Human-Centered Design Project 


How might we improve transparency and privacy for smart home device applications for people who are hesitant to purchase new technology?


With the rise of artificial intelligence, smart devices from Amazon Alexa to Google Home, and expectations for technological fluency, there’s a large stigma regarding data collection and the breaching of privacy. Applying the human-centered design process, quantitatively analyzing 50+ survey responses and qualitatively accessing 10+ individual and field expert interviews, conducting user and secondary research, our goal was to improve and understand transparency between technology and users. In doing so, we developed implementable solutions that strive to increase awareness about existing smart home device features regarding data security and privacy and UI redesigns to improve app clarity, organization and information flow for the user.

(Click to download pdf)

Data Security



Primary User Research 

Secondary Research 



Field Expert Interviews



Chelsea Tang

Shannon Lin

Anthony Pan

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"A balance exists between the potential in personalization and an intrusion of privacy. In an effort to create a more personalized and friendly experience, the individual must give more of their personal preferences to the unknown; whether this decision is offered upfront or hidden behind the UI, this is the paradox that generates uncertainty and skepticism within the public eye. Exploring what options are available to share, and how companies can optimize their utilization grants greater understanding in the benefits or ramifications of customization."

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Qualitative Measurements 

  • Audio recorded interviews: Transcribed into

  • Used language data visualizer to detect keywords and commonly reoccurring terms

  • Located in a private and quiet space for clear video recording

  • Recorded responses to interview questions to identify trends and synthesize insights

Quantative Measurements 

  • Google Form Survey: Initial form for participant feedback

  • Identified whether participants use smart home devices based on demographics

  • Asked surface level questions on data security/privacy

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Primary to Tertiary Stakeholder Map indicates relevant and affected parties 

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The results of our language processing revealed that smart home device users state that they “know” (173) about the device, while non-users tend to assume, abundantly using words like “think” (103) when responding to questions. The main keywords sorted after data cleansing was information, use, tasks, data, and features. 

Categorizing people’s skepticism about technology by age group, we discovered that people who are older tended to be more skeptical about smart home devices than college students, regardless of if they owned one themselves; these results corroborated our initial assumptions.

Drawing from 1 on 1 interviews with smart home device users and an expert interview with a current Amazon Alexa employee, we developed 4 primary insights. 

(See graphic for primary research anecdotes)


Paradox (Personalization of experience vs. data collection)

Collecting information allows for further customization of smart home devices.

Lack of Privacy Concern 

Young people don’t think they are saying important information that needs to be hidden.

Smart Home Device Usages

Smart Home Devices are primarily used for convenience. Most people are not familiar with the app and think it is counterproductive.


People don’t know how their privacy is dealt in smart home devices. Information on data security and transparency exists, but it is difficult to find.

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User-Centered Solution 1: 

Increase awareness about existing smart home device features regarding security.


Studying Amazon’s privacy and Alexa webpages, when onboarding, users can choose what they want Alexa to know, turn cameras off, tell Alexa their gender, and other personal information. At any time, users can turn on the mute button, and Alexa can’t hear them anymore; they can delete, view, or hear all voice recordings, and Alexa isn’t listening when the user doesn't say the wake word.

Current consumers are often unaware of these features. This could be improved by discussing privacy with the user during onboarding, illustrating these features on the Alexa homepage, incorporating a new section for privacy on the app, and integrating transparent interactions such as “Alexa, why did say that?“ into publicity videos. This would allow everyone to easily access, control, and understand what information Alexa collects

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User-Centered Solution 2: 

Redesigning UI to improve app clarity, organization, and information flow

Some changes we would like to suggest include:

  • Minimizing overlap between what is displayed on the device and what is on the app; Repetition is unnecessary and confusing

  • Making the interface less “clunky” and condensed, easy to understand 

  • Adding a specific page or ability for users to view the user profile Alexa has built on them

  • Adding a specific UI page about company data usage and privacy

Language Interface 

Another element we would hope to incorporate is increasing accessibility through improving the language processing interface. A common issue we heard during interviews was that Alexa doesn’t recognize people’s foreign accents. After contacting Elena, we learned that Amazon is working on this, specifically with a design conference discussing how Alexa doesn’t recognize black accents, hosted by the department on diversity and inclusion.


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Top 3 Design Principles Applied 

Based on the book "The Universal Principles of Design" by William Lidwell

Assumptions & Weaknesses we determined in our research process and solution development 

Past Iterations & Ideation

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Pollinator Threats


5 weeks | Systems Mapping 

Displayed in RSD Symposium Wicked Problem Mapping International Exhibition 

A systems map detailing the intricacies of the declining pollinator population in California alongside the catastrophic impact this has on our environment, governments, economy, and culture.


We studied governmental, technological, and societal interventions for improvement based on existing research, following a thorough design process of mess mapping to scope out assumptions about the problem space, a 3 horizons chart to organize current, transition, and developed 3 future solutions/ interventions on local, state, and global scales, and a STEEP chart to understand broad implications of the issue. (Click to open pdf)




Adobe Illustrator 

Secondary Research 


Anthony Pan 

Tara Banatwala


The pollinator population has been on a steep decline since the early 2000s: a reported average loss of 30 percent of honeybee colonies each winter. With California being one of the world’s agricultural giants, declining pollinator populations in California would have a disproportionate impact on the rest of the U.S. Declining bee populations will leave crops unpollinated, and farmers/ beekeepers jobless; as a keystone species, local environments will suffer from diseases due to a lack of genetic diversity. California’s liberal legislation allowed our group to study interventions applied to this complicated web of interactions.

Our methods include mess mapping to scope out assumptions about the problem space, a 3 horizons chart to organize current, transition, and future solutions on local, state, and global scales, and a STEEP chart to understand social, technological, economic, environmental, political implications of the issue. 

Our first intervention included bipartisan policies between nonprofits and the government through programs such as the "Pollinator Partnership,” the UNDP, bans against neonicotinoids, and habitat conservation. Our second intervention involved technological improvements to the pollination process through A.I., drones, and genetic engineering. Our third intervention looked at attempts at activism and public awareness, through organizations and individuals buying local.



  • Pollinator populations have been on a steep decline since the early 2000s

  • Beekeepers are averaging a 30% loss each winter

  • Between 2015 and 2017, California lost 270,000 bee colonies, 70,000 more colonies than the rest of the country

So What?

  • Almonds are California's largest overseas export

  • Crops such as almonds, apples, avocados, and grapes require bees for pollination

  • 1.6 million bee colonies are needed to pollinate 800,000 acres of land

  • Declining bee pollinations will leave farmers cropless, beekeepers jobless, and consumers hungry

  • Local environments will also suffer from a lack of genetic diversity


  • California loses more bee colonies than the rest of the US combined

  • One of the world’s most productive agricultural regions

  • Declining pollinators populations have a disproportionate impact on California's farming industries

  • These industries provide food for the whole world and hundreds of thousands of jobs towards the global economy

3 Main Insights

Organized within a honeybee metaphorical graphic, the wings on the left and right represent causes and effects of declining pollinators, and the abdomen explains existing protections regarding regulations on 3 scales. Smaller hexagons within the bee form illustrate positive and negative feedback loops within the system.

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Insight 1 

Human intervention and urban development alongside widespread diseases results in complex problems that negatively impact pollinator populations.

Insight 2

Decreased pollinator population leads to substantial damage in the economy and the ecosystem, creating food insecurity and loss of genetic diversity. 

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Insight 3

Current national governmental policies towards the preservation of pollinators are ineffective compared to state, non-profit, and university research efforts.

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Positive & Negative Feedback Loops 

Identified between stakeholder interactions within this problem space 

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Interventions: The Role of Designers

We identified 3 main classes of interventions that we as designers can work to improve organized from a global to local scale. The honeycomb in the background presents these proposed solutions. 

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Improving the Effectiveness of Governmental Policies & Action

This intervention regards improving existing governmental policies towards beekeepers and pollinator habitats based on leverage points 5 and 12 (changing the rules of the system and changing the constants, numbers, of a system) to encourage bipartisan cooperation between local, state, and federal governments as well as non-profits.


Some specifics include legal action against neonicotinoids, establishing incentives and payment for pollinator services to motivate farmers to manage their native pollinators with better care (modeled off the "Farming with Alternative Pollinators" project). Local improvements include mandatory conservation set-asides in specific areas where heavy declines are occurring, invoking endangered species laws, and furthering habitat planting on public land. 

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Technological Improvements to the Pollinator Process 

By changing the goal of the system from preserving prexisting methods of pollination, designers and researchers can use their capabilities to create new methods of pollination.

Data Analyzation 

Artificial intelligence can be used to monitor bee populations, analyzing data for behavioral patterns, which is passed to beekeepers. AI can also run accurate simulations of bee hives allowing scientists to predict patterns. Monitoring bee populations requires a network of beekeepers, farmers and researchers to collect data using sound, visual, and infrared sensors places hives. 

Gene Editing 

It is possible to breed new honey bees that are resilient to pathogens and parasites. Gene editing can be used to create disease resistent, climate proof, waste reducing, nutritious and more efficient crops, ensuring a more secure and consistent food supply.

Drone Technology 

Researchers are currently experimenting with drone pollinators that fly over crops and disperse pollen. The goal is for these drones to eventually replace pollinators in farms reducing the reliance of agriculture on pollinators.

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Increasing Social Awareness and Activism 


  • Encourage others to buy honey from their local pesticide free farms and beekeepers.

  • Local volunteer groups and movements through public spaces such as schools and parks should educate the population on declining pollinators

  • Encourage people to plant bee-friendly plants and monitor their local invasive species

  • Reduce pesticide use when gardening and landscaping.


  • Several United States Federal organizations have initiatives educating the public on declining pollinators and pollinator protection.

  • These organizations include the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, the Department of Agriculture, and the EPA. The US Airforce has even released a pollinator conservation reference guide.


  • Save the Bees movement which is promoted by organizations such as Green Peace

  • Many companies have taken to the cause as well by releasing merchandise and advertisements.

  • Social Media is also a hotbed for activism with the #BringBacktheBees tag trend twitter.


Mapping & Modeling

Left: Initial mindmapping of relevant terms and interactions prior to secondary research 

Middle: Concept mapping outlining nouns and verb interactions within the problem space 

Right: Initial research organizing relevant terms into causes and affects with verbs to describe these interactions