Redesigning and commercializing a new technology
// research and interaction design

Sponsors: Tepper School of Business and the CreateLab at Carnegie Mellon University
Deliverables: user research, interface redesign, web content and design
Design Team: Christiana Lackner, Nicolas Perez Cervantes, Nikhil Pophat
Contributions: research reports, user interviews, personas, interface wireframes and visual design specifications, future design recommendations
Timeframe: 12 weeks, Spring 2014

Speck Indoor Air Quality Monitor Interface Redesign and Support Website


The device display, before design intervention

The Speck indoor air quality monitor is a device that was developed by a team at the CreateLab at CMU that measures the levels of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) in indoor air. I joined a team of MBAs from the Tepper School of business to help design and build a commercially viable version of the product and to provide input for a business model for bringing the product to market. My role as an interaction designer on this project was to develop a fast research and design plan to research the usability of the device and user needs surrounding indoor air quality, develop a feature list, and test and iterate on a new interface design for the screens. In the second half of the project, I had the chance to recruit several other CMU designers who then joined me to continue iterating on the interface design and to begin to build a support website for the device, which was a need we identified through our research.

On this project I developed the research and design plan, conducted user research including two surveys (one on indoor air quality and another about use of the initial prototype) and several in-home user interviews, developed a research report of user needs and four user personas, a feature list for a minimum viable version of the product, and wireframes and mockups for new design concepts and visual design specifications which we handed off to a developer to get up and running on the screen of the device.

One of the unique challenges of this project were the many design constraints we faced. We had to deliver a new, working version of the interface up and running on a device, and a first version of the website as quickly as we could, in a matter of weeks, in addition to having to design easy and clear interactions for a small, simple touchscreen with extremely limited functionality.

Here's what I started with - which is how the screen displayed information on the original interface of the device, and a few of my initial sketches for a new display.

From the two surveys I developed, we learned that the new version of the Speck device interface needed to be as simple as possible and provide information about air quality to users quickly and accurately. The first priority in developing the device we discovered was developing a quick and easy feedback system for users, one that allows them to react quickly in a productive way. Users needed to know what was happening with their air quality, but also needed to know how to react to it.

We learned the following crucial information from our research:

Users must trust the accuracy of readings from a device, and not be alarmed by false readings
Users want quick feedback on their environment and need real-time information or alerts
Users want to be able to take action to improve their air quality
Users also want to be able to view trends over time
Users want suggested actions and recommendations for how to improve or control air quality
Threshold levels for alarm and notifications (may be personalized to user needs)

My four Speck device user personas, as presented by an entreprenurial team at the Tepper School of Business My research and user needs identification drove the new product value proposition, again as presented at by a team the Tepper School of Business. I also designed a potential new brand idenity for the Speck device.


Conducting an in-home user interview and initial paper prototype test

My first wireframes for a new, redesigned version of the Speck interface displays

Brainstorming and iterating on our ideas based on our interviews

A first set of paper mockups of an interface redesign

Final Design Mockups

Here are the final interface designs for the Speck interface. The home screen displays the Air Quality Index reading (in accordance with the EPA's standards) and the description for the reading, while two additional screens which are accessible by tapping the 'next' button in the upper right corner display the air quality index readings for the past 12 hours and also the last 60 minutes. We developed each of these screens based on our research, as we learned that users needed to be able to identify patterns and shapes (such as spikes or plateaus) in the readings which would help them to diagnose causes for any poor air quality they might experience.

Final Design Visual Specifications

After settling on the final redesigns for the screens, I delivered a document with detailed visual design specifications to the developer in the CMU CreateLab, who was able to bring our design to life.


Our final design was successfully coded and displayed well on the new device, and the new prototype of the Speck device was ready for further user testing and a pilot study to be launched in the summer of 2014. The MBA team we worked with an sponsors at the CreateLab were excited to see how easily the indoor air quality information was displayed using our new design, and how easy it was to move through the different views of the data.


On this project I focused primarily on managing the team, coordinating with our clients and and delivering the new interface redesign. I was not as heavily involved in the development of the website content and design, but was able provide input to the team as needed on the content and final design for the support website. We developed a great support website which included educational content about PM2.5 and an interactive tool for users to learn about causes of poor indoor air quality and how they might be able to solve air quality problems in their own home environments.