Cara is an intelligent voice assistant for CVS, designed to simplify the customer experience and provide personalized care through conversational AI.
Through meaningful service touchpoints and an updated visual identity, Cara provides end-to-end personalized care before, during, and after in-store experiences.
I led research, conceptideation, identity design, UX design and prototyping, and conversationaldesign.
How might intelligent user interfaces change the way designers build systems and influence how users interact with products and services?
The use of AI continues to grow as it offers efficient solutions to problems facing people and businesses, as well as quick ways of accessing relevant information. AI-powered Voice User Interfaces (VUI), or Conversational User interfaces (CUI) have shifted the way users interact with computers or machines. With access to users’ locations and online activities, they have become an important means for users to interact with other services, applications, and products.
Which product do I need for my treatment?
Cara provides individualized advice and suggestions based on personal preferences, past purchasing history, and self-reported conditions, as well as up to date inventory and location information.
Where can I find the products I need?
Wifi enabled positioning for live in-store navigation allows for effortless product locating and wayfinding.
Which of these competitor products would be best for me?
With Cara, scan products to get quick comparisons and detailed descriptions of the information that matters most to you.
What's the most effective way to use this product? When and how much is best for me?
Cara considers your personal preferences and habits to proactively offer contextual advice for off-the-shelf treatments and medications. By cutting down on medical jargon and translating complex information into human language, Cara reduces cognitive load to provide reliable, supportive care.
Follow-up and Reminders
How do I keep track of treatments and maintain care?
Cara continues to check-in on relevant treatments and sets usage reminders and nudges when appropriate, ensuring continued, holistic care.
Research and Framing
Why we chose CVS Pharmacy, our insights, and how that defined our design principles and solutions.
Context - Why CVS?
Pharmacies are a one-stop shop for personal care and well-being. From minor aches and pains and essential medications, to everyday toiletries and snacks, they provide services and products in support of accessible human-centered care.
We were interested in pharmacies as a healthcare-adjacent essential service, situated at the intersection of healthcare & consumer experience. This opportunity space aligns with broader trends of around decentralization of healthcare and personalwellness, empowering patient-customers through shifting models of care.
We chose CVS Pharmacy specifically due to its dominance as the largest pharmacy chain in the US, reflecting potential to reach and support as many people as possible.
Understanding the CVS experience
We conducted immersive, exploratory research at local CVS pharmacies to not only tease out pain points and friction, but to identify highlights of a characteristic CVS brand experience.
We interviewed customers, pharmacists, and staff, covertly observed interactions and customer journeys throughout the store, role-played (and engaged) as confused customers seeking products and assistance, and explored existing kiosks and interfaces. Key insights were then identified for pre-visit, in-store, and at home experiences.
Identifying salient intervention points across the extended experience
The current personal care experience can be clustered into pre-visit, in-store, and at home phases. Across these stages, there was widespread confusion around differentiating and evaluating over-the-counter treatments and off-the-shelf products. A lack of knowledge and planning often led to uncertainty, repeat visits, delays, and long queues. Though location loyalty and positive experiences were driven by positive interactions with staff, pharmacist demand often surpassed availability, with clerical tasks detracting from specialized work.
We idenitfied the over the counter shopping experience as the most significant opportunity space, with key leverage points that create ripple effects throughout the entire CVS experience.
By offloading menial, clerical tasks from staff and providing customers with a dedicated source of transparent feedback and reliable support, Cara frees providers and staff to focus on expertise-dependent responsibilities, easing points of frustration and inefficiency.
Resulting design opportunities spanning a continuous experience
Implications and guiding principles derived from emergent themes
With a better understanding of the CVS customer experience, we created representative storyboards targeting cases where an intelligent conversational assistant would be appropriate and necessary. This informed the mapping of a user journey which highlights key interaction points, customer emotions, motivations, and needs along the pre-store, in store, and at home phases.
Design opportunities for VUI integration are shown here across the CVS experience. As customers seek guidance, identify and obtain treatments, and clarify usage information, Cara proactively and intelligently initiates supportive interactions while maintaining an appropriate distance and privacy.
Voice assistant archetypal roles and values
Based on our design principles and immersive research, I identified 3 main archetypal roles that Cara provides- that of a caregiver, advisor, and admin. These roles and their related actions fulfill the characteristics recognized and appreciated by many loyal CVS customers. These facets, derived from user interactions, serve as the defining guide for Cara’s voice, tone, and visual identity.
Crafting the Identity
Tapping into existing visual language to inform an updated design system
CVS's existing mobile identity was a bit out of alignment with Cara’s personality, as well as the company values CVS aims to deliver. The existing interface was very stark and clinical, with harsh reds, cold grays, and starkblack. It felt contrary to their values, which emphasize a people-first, empathy-driven approach- this drove our decisions when adjusting the visual design style.
Updated Visual System
Our adjusted palette consists of a warmer red, cream, navy, and light sky blue. These colors recall and respect the blues and reds in CVS's existing web presence. The new palette conveys a greater sense of care and approachability with its warmer tones, reflecting CVS brand values of integrity, empathy, and community. Rather than relying solely on a primary red color in the mobile app, we introduced a secondary blue to scaffold the information hierarchy.
Icons and illustrations highlight our friendly and approachable values, with flat but soft, simple forms.
When designing our VUI identity, we knew from the start that implementing a heart motif into the design would be important in order to connect it back to CVS’s original brand identity.
From there, we wanted to explore more animistic forms, as depicted in the 2nd and 3rd options below, but these ran into proportion issues when scaled down to a more realistic size for mobile devices. We decided to revert back to a geometric, scalable form more reminiscent of the original CVS logo. We added gradients to break up the form, soften, and add depth.
Final Visual Identity
The final visual identity for our VUI integrates our updated coral red, while the central circle at the top aims to bring back our earlier intention by implying a human-like form.
Between motion states, we wanted to further highlight Cara’s personality by designing the transition animations to be a bit more life-like and personable. When defining motion states, we considered the accurate reflection of customer's mental models to provide appropriate feedback during crucial states.
We aimed to make the animations a bit more humanistic to balance Cara's geometric form, and we sought for each state to be active and personable, without coming across as too jovial or playful to maintain a sense of reliability and expertise.
When choosing Cara's voice, we considered several different options. To align with Cara's personality and CVS values, we aimed for an uplifting and clearly audible, but not overly playful or dynamic tone. Cara’s voice should still convey a level of professionalism, competence, and expertise.
Integrating voice and graphical user interfaces to design a personable, proactive experience
To situate Cara within a continuous system, we decided to redevelop the CVS mobile experience, which was previously divided into several disparate apps. In our redesign, we not only embedded our VUI, but revised the interface to address areas of improvement and create a cohesive experience.
The interface was updated to our warmer color palette, with a personalized greeting, adaptive reminders, and simplified navigation bar. The information hierarchy was restructured, surfacing time-sensitive and important content through visual weight and placement.
Final interfaces for the redesigned app walk through pre-store experiences, helping customers with personal care and wellness; assisting product location, comparison, and wayfinding during in-store experiences; and personalizedreminders and guidance at home.
Apple Watch/Wearable Overview
We decided to utilize wearables, like the Apple Watch, as our secondary device in order to further extend the CVS experience ecosystem. Smart watches supplement the mobile experience by providing treatment reminders and usage recommendations in any situation, enabling users to enjoy more convenient care and stay on top of their holistic wellbeing at all times.
Proactive vs. Intrusive
When considering scenarios, we aimed to probe past immediate user requests to anticipate deeper needs and associated VUI prompts that would provide a more satisfying experience without encroaching too far.
VUI, meet GUI
Though a central focus was placed on designing for voice led experiences, we found it important to design flexibility and support into the system to supplement voice interactions. Appropriate feedback and error states should be transparent, allow users to troubleshoot, and forgive mistakes.
Balancing animism and intelligence
When designing the conversations and scripts, I found it particularly challenging to balance the degree of agency, access, and emotion displayed by the voice assistant. Striking a comfortable balance, maintaining a conversational tone without swinging into full anthropomorphism and overly friendly dialogue made we reflect on the degree of responsibility involved in designing intelligent interfaces– how might a sense of care be conveyed, without feeling deceptive or disingenuous?
Sense of security
In this particular context, we had to assume that our design concept would exist in an controlled context without data security concerns. To ensure the full potential of intelligent systems, provide personalize care, and successfully maximize the CVS experience, users must to some degree provide and consent to the usage of their personal health information and purchasing habits. It is necessary to consider limitations of storing and using customer data, particularly in an age of prevalent data leaks and breaches.
Who's listening in?
Voice assistant adoption and use is still fairly uncommon in public settings. Though conversing with Siri, Alexa, or Google is now common practice in homes and private cars, there's slight discomfort and hesitancy to engage with a VUI in public, particularly if information may be of a sensitive nature. Taking this into account, we aimed to provide more chat interface interactions for public spaces, designing for voice modality alternatives and limited assistant-initiated speech for in-store interactions.
Expansion to related verticals
Though we framed our project within the context of over-the-counter/off-the-shelf customer experiences, these features, systems, and capabilities can scaffold to support other services, such as vaccinations and prescriptions. By bridging the gap between customer and store data, Cara and similar assistants have potential to enhance engagement with service providers by surfacing internal infrastructure and information, providing greater agency and efficiency to customers.