Snackbot Interface Redesign

Snackbot is a mobile autonomous robot built by an interdisciplinary team at Carnegie Mellon University. Snackbot has two jobs: One job is to serve as a research platform for projects in robotics, design, and behavioral science. The other job is to serve snacks.

As part of our HCI Methods course, my group worked with the Robotics Institute at CMU to redesign the user interface for scripting Snackbot using Contextual Design Methodology. The problems with their current scripting tool are that they are very unintuitive, unstable, and not integrated. Thus, we were brought onboard to solve these issues with a focus on the design aspect. (check out our interface walkthrough video below)

Role: User Experience Designer
Duration: 09.2010 – 12.2010
Skills: User Research, Contextual Design, Wireframing
Tools: InDesign, OmniGraffle

Focus Setting

After talking the faculty and getting a better understanding of the project, our team agreed on two main foci:

  • Human Robot Interaction – How is research is conducted on the Snackbot?
  • Interface – What elements are missing in the current interface?

Data Gathering

In the initial process of practicing Contextual Design, our group ran into a problem where there wasn’t any expert users we can observe using the old interface. We therefore decided to break down the Contextual Inquiry participants in to two groups: Researchers and Animators, each tackling one focus. Through the observations, we hope to find out how animators use current animation software and how researchers normally script the robot to do what they want. Observation data were gathered from 3 researchers and 3 animators and taken into consolidation. We end up with consolidated models that gave us insights on workflow, culture, and task sequence.

Design Generation

After doing grounded brainstorming with the consolidated models, we did an Affinity Diagram session and from that came up with 32 design ideas. We later evaluated each one and combined what we believe is crucial in our prototype and synthesized them into 5 big ideas for interface design:

  • Making Snackbot more human-like
  • Affording feedback
  • Indicating platform constraints of Snackbot
  • Supporting collaboration and reuse
  • Merging Interfaces


A mocked-up prototype was generated from the consolidated design ideas. We then modified it and produced a paper prototype for user testing. We tested out the prototype on 5 novice users and their feedbacks were incorporated into the second iteration of the design. Our end result combined the originally separated expression, speech, and animation editor into one clean editor suite.

Final Documentation available here

Interface Demo Clip available here