Putting consumers at center of design process

Yang Di
Rick Hoobler started at iRobot in 2017 and has built a design team that is thriving and doing more to guide the company toward user-centered design.
Yang Di
Putting consumers at center of design process
Courtesy of Rick Hoobler / Ti Gong

Rick Hoobler

Who is he? 

Rick Hoobler is director of design at iRobot. He studied philosophy as well as fine arts before going on to get a masters in design at Carnegie Mellon University. From there he spent a few years as an interaction designer at Fitch (a product development design agency), then 16 years at Motorola working on a wide range of products such as headsets, phones, tablets, smart speakers, desktop software, and lastly launching two smart watch lines, MotoACTV and Moto360. Hoobler started at iRobot in 2017 and has built a design team that is thriving and doing more to guide the company toward user-centered design and design as a strategic advantage. 

Tell us some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of. 

I used to create events for teenagers that were full of lights, sound, music and fun. I didn’t understand at the time that I was doing ethnography (studying youth culture and psychology) and creating UX. Since those early days I’ve worked on all kinds of software and hardware, mobile phones, smart watches and now robots.

We revealed our new design language with the launch of iRobot Braava jet m6 robot mop, Roomba s9 robot vacuum, and Terra t7 robot mower in 2019. It’s a combination of a more humanistic design direction while also reflecting our round Roomba heritage in the use of a centralized nucleus shape.

We used lighting around the nucleus to speak to the intelligence of the robot and also how it speaks to its owner regarding what it’s doing and what it needs. We’re using more natural colors and materials which are more harmonious and appropriate for a home environment. Overall our products now blend in better with home interiors, are less tech-forward and more human-centric.

Putting consumers at center of design process
Courtesy of iRobot / Ti Gong

iRobt Braava jet m6

Are you currently involved with any project? 

I’m working on iRobot’s future portfolio of products and services across floor cleaning and lawn mowing.

The design team is uncovering the pain points consumers have in both floor and lawn care by spending significant time with them in their homes and lawns. We then identify the opportunities for solving those problems in both hardware and software and are working on solutions which will delight people — taking these chores off their hands and giving them back more time in their days. We’re excited to see what we come up with.

Describe your design style. 

I’m a highly intuitive designer who puts consumers at the center of my process. I like hearing their stories, figuring out their pain points and commonalities and opportunities, then designing something delightful that helps them live better. 

Where are you most creative? 

 I uncover the best solutions early in the morning I think because my head is clear of all the noise of the previous day and I’ve been dreaming about the problem. I do my best design late at night when it’s quiet and I can focus and get lost in my work.

What does your home mean to you? 

My home is a place of recovery, reflection, time with my wife and our dogs, and being surrounded by artwork, furniture, color and lighting that inspires me.

What do you collect? 

Cultural artifacts from places where I’ve traveled and artwork.

What will be the next big design trend? 

Increasingly responsive devices and environments that anticipate your desires, the home being one of those.

Special Reports