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SXFI Carrier Project UX Design Takeaways

Designing for Sonic Carrier is the first project that I am fully responsible for, from product-level interactions to software interactions. I'd like to share a few takeaways of this project.

Design Model of Soundbar
Implementation Model and Mental Model

This project was initiated as a scaled-down version of the Sonic Carrier soundbar with a compact design and collaboration with Dolby Labs on Dolby Atoms. In contrast to the Sonic Carrier, we aimed to reduce the number of buttons on the soundbar significantly. After we visited several internal staff who’s holding soundbar products, we got the answer of what a soundbar is and what it does:

It's an integrated bar-shaped speaker to bring them a better audio experience for home living activities, which is mainly TV watching. It receives the audio from a TV, processes it, and outputs the final result.

Thus, to users, the most fundamental things they need to set up, be aware of and control are audio input, processing effects, and final audio output. This guides us to determine what are buttons to be placed on the soundbar. Comparing to the Sonic Carrier (top of the image below with 11 groups of buttons), instead of providing individual buttons for each function, we decided only to keep a few buttons on the soundbar, which is reduced to 6 buttons only. The simplified design of buttons reduces the learning and memory burden for users, while at the same time it also aligning with the product's positioning of compactness.

Comparison of Button - Sonic Carrier (Top) and SXFI Carrier (Bottom))

The other example is that we provided the controls in the app closer to the mental model instead of the implementation model. The actual soundbar system is much more complex. It has tweeters, drivers, and a separate subwoofer box, which in general outputs high, mid, and low channels respectively. However, the tweeters and drivers are integrated into the soundbar, while the subwoofer is part of the audio output and represents the low frequencies yet it’s an independent unit away from the soundbar. Conventionally, in the Sonic Carrier and other multi-channel sound card products, we listed down each channel for a user to adjust the levels and delay (see image A Snapshot of Calibration in Sonic Carrier). Considering that only the soundbar and subwoofer are tangible to the user, I designed a new calibration flow with the acoustic team, instead of providing the user a fully adjustable calibration (see image A Snapshot of Calibration in SXFI Carrier). In the new calibration flow, the user just needs to provide the distance of the soundbar to the listening position, the distance of the subwoofer to the listening position, and the ceiling height, the app would calculate and set down the settings to the soundbar and subwoofer to get the best audio experience. Besides, users have control of subwoofer volume and soundbar volume independently and the relative delay which may be affected by other factors.

Snapshot of Calibration in Sonic Carrier (Implementation Model Based)

Snapshot of Calibration in SXFI Carrier (Design Model Based)

Here is a short video for Calibration:

Design a Synergized System
There are plenty of control options, including a decent remote control and Creative's excellent mobile app

Review from avforums.

Ecosystem was a design focus for product lines of each company at a macro level of planning. When looking at an individual product, there is also an ecosystem of its components and sub systems. This is the ecosystem I'm going to talk about, as a designer to be able to contribute.

In the previous Sonic Carrier project, though there are several sub systems – a TV system, a remote control, and an app – to support the soundbar, their capabilities are similar to each other. When designing for SXFI Carrier, I wanted to design these sub systems harmonious and mutually beneficial, rather than simply existing independently of each other. Thus, I brought up the sub system’s purpose:

  1. Buttons on the Product are the most reliable yet limited number, so it provides the most fundamental functions.

  2. Remote control has more numbers of buttons to support more actions and controls. However, it only supports simple functions due to the lack of a visual interface. Remote control shall provide all the functions of the products, as remote control would be the most often used intermedia to control the product. The remote control is an extension of the control of the buttons on the product.

  3. The app has a sufficient interface and superior capabilities. The app can support all the functions covered by the remote control and also provide some complex customizations to the product. The app is an extension of the control of remote control.

To be more specific, the functions of each controller are listed in the table below:

Interaction Sub-systems of SXFI Carrier

Every user is able to control the soundbar without the app, while the app assists user to achieve advanced customizations, such as customizing the buttons of the remote control. The buttons on the soundbar are always accessible to perform the fundamental controls when the remote control or mobile app malfunctions in certain cases.

Literature Review and Expert Interviews are Important

This is the second TV soundbar project of Creative and the first project I was in charge of UX completely. The internal knowledge of this product category is limited, yet there are several other players involved in this TV soundbar market, such as Yamaha, Sony, Samsung, and LG. I read through a large number of user manuals of these soundbars to get into the soundbar’s domain. Meanwhile, as a collaboration project with Dolby Labs, the Dolby Atoms soundbar design guideline is another piece of literature to help me dig into soundbar products. Besides, as a soundbar is an audio device detached to TV, I have also explore the TVs to get to know about their behaviors as well.

One of the finds is about HDMI connectivity. Before that, the company knows very well about the USB connection, yet little about HDMI connection. (There are HDMI and HDMI e-ARC ports on the soundbar.) One of the functions - HDMI CEC (consumer electronics control), was discovered from the literature review. Gathering the information and behaviors from these soundbar and testing with one of the competitor’s soundbar, I defined the HDMI relevant behaviors for the soundbar according to the actual context of the soundbar, such as the feature that it auto powers on and auto switches together with the attached HDMI devices and provide controls and status of HDMI in the app.

Auto Switch Toggle for HDMI

Furthermore, in the design of the calibration flow, I arranged two interviews with the acoustic experts and determined the factors affecting the final audio experience. The calibration UX flow was initiated based on the findings of expert interviews and considering how the users measure these factors in their homes.

Compliance Requirement

I was involved in the Sonic Carrier development of the software and learned little about the compliance requirement in that project. When comes to SXFI Carrier project, it's the first time for me to get to know about compliance requirements. As the soundbar is an AC-powered device, according to the EU regulation, these electrical and electronic equipment are required to meet several power consumption limits when in standby or off mode, and also required to enter the low power consumption within 20min of idle. (Creative sells products globally.) This was totally new to me before this project.

There is rarely direct communication between the UX design team and the hardware compliance team. Fortunately, in the early stage of the project, the compliance team raised the requirements to the team and caught my attention on the potential impact to the interaction design. After a few rounds of discussion with compliance team, hardware and firmware team, I finally defined the standby behaviors of the soundbar and also provides some customizations to the user via the app. It also has an intricate relationship with the HDMI CEC, and it is customizable via app.

Energy Saving Function


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