Cristina Poindexter worked as a Product Marketing Manager in the early days of the Google Assistant. Since then, she’s transitioned into co-founding a startup of her own and is working alongside Ross Ingram to develop a voice journaling tool.
Can you shine light into your backstory and how your journey has led you to Maslo?
When I was 5, a teacher told my parents, “I can’t teach a child who tells me what she wants to learn.” I still beg to differ, and I think that one trait of mine — stubborn curiosity into the edges of subject matter — is the only thing that’s unified my journey here.
I’m trained in Sociology from Yale, which I applied to human-technology interactions rather than human-human interactions. I went to Google after college, because I had strong opinions of how new tech was impeding us socially, psychologically, and emotionally.
I started in marketing, learning how to weave psychosocial and behavioral sciences into business strategy and product design.
When I transitioned into the voice search product area, I helped reverse-engineer why humans feel weird talking to their phones, and what we could do to de-stigmatize it. That work transitioned into the early concepting of the Google Assistant, which I worked on through go-to-market on Google Home and the Pixel phone. As humans, we learn from social interactions, whether they’re with other humans or technologies. Learning how to construct or model those interactions – in ways that benefit us – is endlessly fascinating.
What does the design process look like at Maslo? How long does it take something to grow from an idea to a fully implemented feature?
As an early stage startup, it’s less of a process and more of an art. In the last six months, we’ve done 3 waves of user research to help us inform the next major beta release. We already have a strong vision of the product roadmap, but feedback helps us prioritize our development plan and sunset features that aren’t working fast. Every 2 weeks, we release an iteration, which incorporates new features that we’re testing out. It takes between two and four weeks for an idea to grow into a feature, live in-product.
Chatbots and conversational interfaces are a very new technology. How do you navigate such a complicated and unestablished space?
It’s less about navigating and more about creating, listening, creating, and listening again. One truth I come across, again and again, is that our interactions with technology mirror our interactions with humans. When in doubt, pretend your product is a person. If a person acted the way your product is acting, would it make your user angry?
At the end of the day, understanding human psychology is the most important factor in product design.
Which type of conversational interface are you working with? Chatbot/Voice/Hybrid?
None of the above. 🙂 We’re working on a personified character that responds to your voice with empathy through animation and sound. You can think of it more like a Pixar character or a dog than a chatbot.
What do you think users can take away from voice journaling?
When we put words to how we really feel, ask for what we want, or state what we believe in – out loud – it’s powerful. Our users tell us that voice journaling helps them get present without even realizing it. It trains them to voice themselves honestly, even more so than they do with close friends. Journaling out loud is like strength training for your authentic self.
Why do you think using a conversational interface will prove to be helpful?
Humans weren’t born to communicate over texts. We talk. We tell stories. And we don’t always react with words.
We chuckle, tilt our heads in skepticism, roll our eyes, or pause for a long time. It’s not just the words that communicate meaning. We need conversational interfaces that incorporate sounds and visuals to bring emotion back into communication, which triggers our innate ability to empathize.
What is something that has surprised you since beginning to work in this space?
I love the range of reactions different people have to the exact same technology. New technologies can bring out our most deeply held fears: fear of change, fear of losing control, and fear of the unknown. It’s surprising how effective a playful mindset can be in overcoming these anxieties.
Who else is involved with the project? Would you like to thank anyone in particular?
This all wouldn’t be possible without my co-founder, Ross Ingram, a visionary and creative technologist who is also one of the silliest people I know. Matt Schwartz, Santi Grau, and Daniel Christopher brought Maslo to life through engineering and design. I’m so grateful to be in the trenches with them all.
What objections do you usually hear from users who aren’t familiar with these interfaces?
With voice interfaces, 90% of success is showing up in the right place at the right time. When people aren’t familiar with voice interfaces, I encourage them to try them out at home, by themselves. When users are resistant towards voice, it’s usually because they’re afraid of making fools of themselves in public. Meeting them with empathy and encouraging them to try the products out in a private environment is step 1.
Is there anything else you’d like the world to know about the work you’re doing at Maslo?
I’d simply say… we care. We care about creating technology that’s helpful. Maslo will always be a work in progress, just as you and I are both works in progress. If any of you are interested about the work we’re doing, please reach out. We’re humans, and we love to hear from you.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, I’d like to invite you to take a look at some of the other installations in the Design the Future interview series.
Also published on Medium.