6 May 2009

User-centred approach drives the design of Intel’s new home storage solution

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Home storage architecture
In December last year, Intel design researcher Daria Loi made a very strong presentation at the UPA Europe conference showing how people in different cultures “keep, protect and find what they value”.

She and others in her team actually went into the homes of people around the world to see how they store both physical and digital things, in order to use their insights of people’s mental model on storage in the development of better digital storage solutions.

(The presentation is not online but can be requested by contacting surrealist.milliner@gmail.com.)

After all, we don’t store things like computers do. But what is a human-centred storage model and how to implement that in a digital storage system?

Now Intel has published two extensive and highly recommendable articles, co-written by Frank Hady, director of network storage pathfinding, and Michael Payne, director of experience definition and assessment, describing in detail how these insights of the design research have been taken forward.

Taken as a whole, they provide an excellent case study of the relevance of a user-centred approach in the design of new and innovative technology-based products and services.

The first article, “Why We Need Whole Home Storage Architecture“, describes the insights of the design research:

“Our findings indicate clear gaps in the ability of current products to simply and intuitively help people to protect, share and access media that is of value to them. […] This article presents an overview of what Intel’s consumer research tells us about home storage trends – and how whole home storage architecture can help fill the gaps.”

Five key insights came out of the design research:

  • People acquire digital media from many places with many different devices, and although people around the world share high-level objectives, including the desire to find and create digital media, protect and store it, easily find and access it, and ultimately enjoy and share it, there are also many differences to be taken into account.
  • The volume of digital media is growing rapidly, and it is clear that the continuing growth in the volume of media in coming years will be a huge problem for people worldwide, if comprehensive solutions are not made available.
  • Disjointed ‘islands’ of digital media stored on multiple devices make access difficult. As time passes and the media library and number of devices continue to expand, managing the entire media collection across these islands of storage can become an overwhelming problem.
  • People are concerned about the safety of their media. Yet many people do not back up, or if they do, they will often use failure-prone disks and platforms with limited lifetimes.
  • Today’s solutions have significant limitations. Many consumers report being overwhelmed by the task of managing their digital media collections and finding a storage solution that is reliable, trusted and easy to use

In response to these learnings, Intel sets out a vision: “We envision a whole home storage architecture that will bring the familiar, local storage experience to all the data and media in the home.”

This vision is then articulated in three key requirements: easy accessibility, data permanence, and fast performance, which are in turn given shape in a concept prototype.

Intel’s prototype solution for Whole Home Storage is described in the second article, “A Consumer’s Eye View of Whole Home Storage“.

Based on the user research and a number of usage scenarios — related to viewing and editing photos, storing and viewing videos, listening and sharing music, and whole home media backup — Intel created four value propositions that the prototype solution should cover:

  • It should be simple to set up and use
  • It should accommodate multiple user interfaces
  • It should provide personalization – and parental controls
  • It should preserve the essential magic of TV

The prototype Whole Home Storage solution, which seems to be mainly focused still on a unified directory structure, which is accessible by networked devices anywhere in the home, has been deployed in eight homes to allow early exploration of user experiences. The article describes the benefits and challenges faced by users, and concludes:

“It is clear from our experiences with the Whole Home Storage prototype that the solution has great promise, and people find interesting ways to use the capability. It is also clear that improvements in ease of use, especially during setup, would be required in a productized version.”

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