Translating Human Stories into Laptop Technology: An Interview with Intel’s Wendy March


Behind every laptop is a story. Wendy March, a principal engineer at Intel, loves to tell those stories. For Intel’s Project Athena innovation program, she and her architecture team have been translating stories about how people use their laptops for the past two years. Her work culminates into hardware and software working together seamlessly to provide productive and premium experiences on laptops. The latest result is the Intel® Evo™ platform, powered by the 11th Gen Intel® Core™ processor.

Project Athena has a clear mission: develop and design laptops that will keep up with this new generation, the independent worker. "I work on making the leap from that idea to software architecture," March said.

March and her team do this by conducting interviews with real people and asking how they use their laptops in their everyday lives. One year ago, they launched a large research project to talk to people who don't only work remotely or work from home; they need to be ready to work anywhere or everywhere. "[They are] highly mobile, and they were shifting roles. We were interested in how they were moving to a cloud environment. We got to connect with people all over the world, which is part of the joy of research and design."

Using these interviews, the team developed design personas, a research tool that helped them tell a story of a 'Day in the Life' of a laptop user. One of those stories involves “Evelyn,” a freelance journalist who uses her laptop on the go, interviewing people remotely, writing her pieces, and communicating with her editors. Wendy's team dug deep into frustrations “Evelyn” had throughout the day on her laptop and how to solve them.

"Having a few of those design personas [to start from] helps make things more specific and easier to prioritize. When we talk about noise suppression, what does that mean, how do you design? [When we talk about] battery life or switching between apps in different situations, how do you design for that?"

Using social science and design in technology is not unique to Intel, of course. Tech companies use this kind of human behavior research to design apps and other products. Where Intel is unique is in the output. "At Intel, we're in a different position," March said. "We enable hardware to work across all products. It's an unusual position to be in." Intel also leverages long-term partnerships with other technology companies to engineer components together and conduct real-world testing.

But nothing really could prepare them for a global pandemic requiring millions of people to work from home. "This year, we had planned to talk to corporate professionals and ask how they use cloud applications and how they're adapting to the cloud. What happened this year is we had to work with people who are working from home, and now we are at home. We could reach out more broadly; we aren't limited by physical location."

March and her team realized that people were adapting to rapid change with no time to transition. Some of their interview subjects had worked from home before, but none were working from home full-time until now. Suddenly, they all had to adapt.

"Now they're doing everything from their laptops," March said. And the problems that arose became the inspiration for the laptop designs based on the Intel® Evo™ platform.

The Intel® Evo™ platform is an equal combination of art and science. The laptops have a sleek, premium look, and they also feature all-day battery life, wake from sleep in less than a second, and first-rate responsiveness, whether plugged in or on battery1. The brand will make it easier for customers to choose the best possible laptop – powered by the 11th Gen Intel® Core™ processor – and designs verified by Intel to deliver experiences essential for focus and staying in the flow. The rigorous specifications were met through real-world testing because Intel wanted to make sure these laptops designs could meet people's rigorous demands for their technology.

"We are very interested in how people were using new tools and the gaps that revealed. Things that seem straightforward or should be with communication, cloud usage or storage. They became dependent on them." Audio communication became critical as people used video chats and streaming for work and school. "Tools are all changing rapidly around them. We identified new opportunities around collaboration and creation tools – there's a huge opportunity there," Wendy said.

March, her team, and others, including Intel social scientist and engineer Melissa Gregg, saw the frustration in people when they would be responsible for hosting a brainstorming meeting in the middle of their dining room. They had to plan for their day as they never had before. "For example, 'Oh, I can't take the meeting in here, it's way too loud.' Or, 'I can't go here because there isn't an outlet.' We make those decisions every day."

Using these insights, Intel created laptop designs based on the Intel® Evo™ platform to be ready to go when its users are. People won't have to worry about going to a co-working space and not being able to connect or hopping on an urgent client call and the audio dropping in and out. "You don't have to look after it; it can look after you. You can focus and get the things done you need to get done."

For March, laptop designs based on the Intel® Evo™ platform go beyond worry-free battery life, instant wake or responsiveness – the key experiences that Project Athena delivers. "You can feel confident, that's always been important to me. People should wear that laptop with pride. It reflects who they are. It needs to make them proud and help them look like they know what they're doing. [This is] a laptop that people will feel proud of using.


Intel® Evo™ platform-based laptops are designed to help people get the things done that matter most, made possible by the Project Athena innovation program. Project Athena is designed to deliver the most advanced laptop experiences by combining social-led insights, experiential innovation, leading technologies, real-world testing and partner co-engineering.

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