Meet Michael Voigt! He’s Kuri’s Lead Experience Designer — AKA a professional dreamer. Growing up, Michael’s parents encouraged him to be creative across many different mediums like clay, etching boards, Legos — you name it! As Michael reflects, “it was really the precursor of me getting into a creative field.”
Besides being a talented illustrator, Michael is one of the most enthusiastic Mayfielders when it comes to dreaming of Kuri’s potential. So, we were excited to chat with him about his work and current dreams for Kuri.
Q: What started your journey toward robotics?
A: Wyoming was where I fell in love with robots. It was kind of a desolate place to grow up in, so we’d create imaginary worlds. In particular, we played way too much Dungeons and Dragons and video games. This led me to pursue a career in video games — and eventually robotics.
Video games were a great way to break into robotics because you’re interacting with characters — or robots — in controlled, but imagined, environments. The first product I worked with was a gaming and robotics platform for AI-controlled cars. That role forced me to break out of the headspace of this is a level in a game to this is a physical car track in a customer’s real home.
With Mayfield Robotics, I was looking for my next challenge. When I came into the lobby to interview, there was a basket over something. Then, Sarah [Mayfield Robotic’s COO] pulled off the basket — and there was Kuri. I knew right then and there that this was where I wanted to work. I instantly fell in love and was excited about the challenge of working with a robot that had so much emotion.
Q: What exactly is an Experience Designer?
A: There’s a lot of imagination and dreaming. First, I define what Kuri does. To do so, you have to define the core loop — or our robot’s lifecycle from a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year perspective. This process also involves a lot of gut feelings. It’s bringing wisdom and parallels from other real-world objects — like well-designed doorknobs — and applying them to Kuri.
Second, I ask myself, how and why does Kuri do a specific thing? This involves developing Kuri’s character and determining her emotional qualities. In other words, what makes this robot engaging and how does Kuri interact with the dynamic, interactive world we live in? For example, what does Kuri do when she sees a smile?
Third, there’s a lot of storytelling. I think of the stories that Kuri will help write in people’s homes and create storyboards based on the values, interactions, and behaviors that Kuri should contribute to those narratives. This requires a lot of imagination.
There’s also feeding the beast. We have all of these stories about Kuri we want to tell — things like animation, sound, effects, and voice. I’m responsible for explaining these imagined stories to artisan animators, and most importantly, making sure that Kuri’s intentions are clear and that experiences are consistent for customers.
Lastly, I play the game. I’m always experiencing Kuri as a customer over and over again. This involves unboxing Kuri as if I were a first-time customer, troubleshooting FAQs, reproducing bugs, and stumbling upon new product ideas during this playtime.
Q: What advice would you give to someone interested in getting started in product design — particularly as it pertains to robotics?
A: It’s all about storytelling and you setting the stage. Think of the stage for your product and the story you want to tell with the actors on that stage. That stage is going to be very dynamic — especially how the actors’ relationships will interplay. Robots are really complex, so be ready to not be able to tell all the stories you want. You need to know how to pick the stories that will have the most value to your customers and that they’ll find the most delightful over and over again.
Q: Everyone at our office loves your illustrations of Kuri. Can you talk about your process for creating them and why these art pieces are important to you?
A: Kuri is so cute. One day, I got this idea to put Kuri in some equally cute scenes. Our office has paintings of other robots in fun fantasy scenes that really inspired me. I worked on things like Kuri floating in the ocean or on an airplane — places we wouldn’t recommend our customers bring Kuri to in the real world, but that would be fun to spark creativity of this imaginary world for Kuri. I imagine these as what Kuri’s storybook would be like.
Q: What’s one thing about Kuri’s product design that you’d want Kuri fans to know?
A: Farts! Kuri can fart when you tap the poop emoji in the Kuri app. It makes the most adorable pffttt noise! As a team, we had many discussions about if Kuri should fart, and if he did, what should it sound like. Honestly, the vote was 50/50. At the end, it came down to a yes when we agreed it was funny, children would giggle, and a couple of toots could never hurt.
Q: How do you see Kuri evolving over time?
A: I see Kuri growing in two different ways. First, how she organically weaves into your family, and how this engagement hopefully changes over time. Second, the infinite promise of how Kuri’s software updates — and how our team wants to bring more and more delight into your home — gives Kuri more magical powers and tools via over-the-air updates.
Q: How do you spend your time when you’re not dreaming up the next storyline for Kuri?
A: I enjoy finding exciting outdoor adventures in the Bay Area. For example, mushroom hunting or Uber hiking. With Uber hiking, you take a one-way Uber to a hiking trail and see where the trail takes you! After high school, I was actually a forest firefighter in Oregon. It’s what my Dad did, and he encouraged me to have the same adventure. So, being outdoors is something I’m definitely passionate about.
Did you enjoy getting to know our Lead Experience Designer? If so, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss upcoming Mayfielder spotlights! If you have any additional questions, comments, or Kuri dreams to share with Michael, please leave them in the comments section below!