by Davide Spallazzo, Martina Sciannamè, Mauro Ceconello
Artificial intelligence is more-or-less covertly entering our lives and houses. In this context, virtual assistants such as the renowned Amazon Alexa and the products that embed them, are the most representative of the first wave of materialization of artificial intelligence in the domestic domain. We focus on these products, studying their tangible form and appearance as well as the interaction modalities of 10 domestic virtual assistants already in the market or close to be. Our analysis highlights two main approaches in terms of shape: on the one hand AI is embedded into common home appliances – usually speakers – while, on the other hand, robot-like assistants are taking ground. Concurrently, we portray a still immature reflection on this issue from a design perspective. We highlight a frequently poor translation of functions into tangible shapes as well as a lack of reflection on interaction design basics, such as: input and output modalities, feedback systems and functions discoverability. The subsequent discussion frames the results in a broader reflection about shape, function and meaning paving the way to alternative paths to follow for the design of future home virtual assistants.