Koala CUI

Koala demonstrates the value and differentiation of CUI with consideration towards
achieving symbiosis within the public transportation system in Umea, Sweden.

Find the full brief at Microsoft Design Expo 2016.

To develop Koala, our group applied a design process that includes design ethnography for problem identification and various participatory design methods. We worked very closely, discussing and evaluating collected data to reach a stage from which development in a common area of interest could be initiated.

Working on whiteboards to collect and organise thoughts, along with observations scribbled on post-its and journey maps formed the basis for this.


Christoph Zobl
Eduardo Pereira
Melissa Hellmund
Shigeo Katsura-Gordon

Concept Development
Media Production



We began by trying to understand the basics of observation within the bus system of Umea and started to snowball our way through interviews, leading us from an airport kiosk to various bus drivers, who allowed us to follow their route with them.

Progress was documented using one-shot videos. Here is a sample.


Upon reaching the users of the system, we became more comfortable in interviewing and started mapping their journeys, as well as following up on details such as the use of bus cards through individual legacy stories.

This allowed us to gather much more in- depth knowledge of the relationship between people, things and places.


We then synthesised this information into memos, creating models and explanations for various cultural and social norms within our context, as visualised on the board (above).

Using situational prototypes in breaching experiments subsequently gave us an idea for how people will respond when those
norms are challenged.

Cultural Probe

Our cultural probe intended to provoke the users and authority to think about the service environment in new ways. Our kit consisted of several images of existing service touch points (ticket machines, stops, info spots), and role played video footage of a potential CUI redesign of those touchpoints with our Microsoft tutors.
We took this mini experience map to Umea Public Transport coordinators, which triggered interesting responses in relation to improving their service.

At Umea Kommun, 2016

pic_groupwork melissa and chris 4 copyBW
pic_whiteboard with categoriesBW copy
pic_user journey mapsBW1
pic_user journey mapsBW2
pic_user journey mapsBW3
pic_categories draft 3BW

Concept Development

To identify a focus area, the most pressing points derived from research were combined with individual interests, under the scope of the project. In our case, we had to condense a huge amount of information from interviews, therefore we clustered themes and combined common issues between themes.

Fortunately our group was able to think as a team and collaboratively work in an open space, which allowed the concept to be revised and improved fairly rapidly, with great outcomes. With three initial concept directions, the final design actually encompassed elements of each, in addition to the information gathered through user involvement.

By going through four iterations of testing and refining the interface and conversation map utilising the users’ feedback and input, we ended up being able to define a set of principles that can guide CUI development in this context.


Each of the four iterations was developed in a co-design environment, tying in users as much as possible (bubbles below)

Watch a live user test.


Guiding CUI Principles

These principles may be applicable to CUIs in other environments and potentially in personal assistants, however our limited testing scope defines this set for the public service arena.

Further development should be focused around exploiting the power of interrupts and temporality in conversation turn taking.

The project attempted to look at a CUI from a public perspective and therefore challenge the norm of how these interfaces are used purely as personal assistants or meta-voices, derived from the way we saw symbiosis in our ethnography.


Create physical presence for CUI and respond to human physical presence


Make it clear you are conversing with a CUI


Define conversation turn taking and integrate interrupts if technically possible


Use language to guide conversation within system’s offerings


Deal with problems outside the system scope, like providing links to other services