How To Design The Perfect Voice User Interface

How To Design The Perfect Voice User Interface

Are you aware of the voice user interface and its impact on businesses in Singapore? If you’ve been keen on noticing things, one thing you must have noticed is voice devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot turning voice interactions into a reality. This used to only happen in science fiction – but now, it’s here with us as part of a reality that we can always harness to our full benefit.

It’s even predicted that voice interactions will in the next few years be revolutionising the way the world interacts with computers. Could the prediction hold? We pray that we all live long enough to find out.

With tech giants such as IBM, Google, Cisco, and Slack to name a few investing millions in voice technology, it’s safe to say that nothing is stopping this technology from taking off and spreading like a conflagration.

So What Exactly is a Voice interface?

As the name alludes, Voice User Interface (VUC) is a form of technology that lets you interact with your computer device through voice commands or voice. Think virtual assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, and you’ll have an easy time understanding how the whole concept falls into place.

This is one aspect of technology that’s growing fast, and which will be completely changing how we interact with computers in future. That pretty much explains why tech giants are busy investing in Voice Controlled devices – with companies such as Google Home, Google Voice, and Alexa competing to take dominance of the space.

Everything has to be focused on creating the perfect user experience for all kinds of devices; regardless of the industry, they’re in.

Meaning, those experiences have to be predetermined and written down. Let’s take, for instance; you’re designing a voice interaction interface to be used in a pizza delivery app. The interface you create will be receiving a broad range of voice inputs that it will be used to create different types of interactions based on the inputs it’s receiving. You’ll all agree that this is one of the technologies that are easier said than done – extremely difficult to pull off. Complications abound – more so when you consider how complex, variable, and diverse human voices can be.

Even humans find it hard to process it while interacting with each other. So you can only imagine the kind of hardship that developers have to go through to figure out a way around this.

Come to think about it – people have different ways of framing their thoughts. Then there’s the cultural influence and the use of slang, NOT forgetting the way people infer meanings. Much has to be considered first before anyone can think about running with this kind of technology, and it gets even worse when every step you make introduces a series of new challenges.

The feature has to deal with the nuanced interpretations of certain words, coupled with how easy or hard it is for certain words to be comprehended. Not forgetting, hundreds of different ways a particular question or statement can be framed.

Suffice it to say that there’s so much to learn about this field before you can even think about giving it a whirl – and there’s nothing easy about it. It’s for this simple reason that we saw it fit to create this simple guide to help those who want to take their chances with the voice interaction feature and run with it.

In this guide, we’ll be exploring some of the fundamentals to consider when both writing and designing the perfect voice interface.

voice user interface
Keep it Plain Simple – No jargon

Time is of the essence here. You want to make sure you’re respecting consumers’ time. So you have to figure out how to get to the point in the shortest time possible by focusing on providing more specific and relevant info only. Here’s the deal: consumers don’t have the time to hear you talk about your brand and all the promotional activities you have going on. They have a goal, and it’s very specific– and they’re only interested in your help in executing it right.

So you might want to cut down on all the fluff and get straight to the point. Give them what they want, without meandering on the kind of approach you take. In this case, you’re the only party concerned about your brand. For consumers, the only thing that matters is the solution to their problem. So cut on all the complicated phrasing and acronyms and focus on what’s important.

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Make sure you’re very clear in the manner in which you’re communicating. Your responses must also be concise, taking necessary steps to belabor a little on the available options and how consumers can get to the goals that they’ve set for themselves.

Your primary goal is to try all you can to be as clear as it’s humanly possible. Whether written or spoken, try to be more casual, more concise and very direct. This should be your guiding principle throughout the designing process.

Focus on Making a Connection

You have to understand the consumer from their point of being. Feel their emotions and share their predicaments and hues to figure out how to connect with them on an emotional level.

The same thing as visual design – a good voice design is, for the most part, dependent on an empathetic understanding of the underlying consumer.
Think of voice interfaces as human-to-human interaction. In which case, a successful human interaction tends to thrive more when it’s built around the existing knowledge of a person, coupled with their individual tastes, needs, and desires.

Meaning, you have no option but to find out what your clients want in the first place. Understand where they’re coming from so you can figure out how to win their loyalty and affection. The whole point is to focus on making sure that no one understands your customers more than you so that you can attend to them from their very point of need.

Find a Personality – with both your voice and tone

No one likes interacting with a boring person. The same goes for a boring interface. To this point, you can bet your consumers have had numerous encounters with boring interfaces. And they approach them with a fair dose of skepticism and distrust.

Try to focus on all the possible ways this could go wrong. So while you’re focused on making the interface simple, empathetic, and jargon-free, try to figure out how you can attach a personality to it, as well.

Ever peppered a piece of writing to endear it to a brand – well, it’s the same story with a written voice interface. Accompanying the interfaces should be written snippets of your personality that will be making your consumers warm up to you. It’s even better when you’re able to achieve this without sacrificing clarity – and one way to do this is by focusing on words and phrases that are more charismatic, and those that try to sell your personality or charming side.

Write Example Dialogues

To this point, you have already created a mental picture of how your target users think and behave. You have a clear idea of the type of functionalities they might be interested in.

You know this based on some of the interactions you’ve had or how you perceive them in your mind. So make an effort to write down how a dialogue between them and the voice application you’re about to create would flow. You’re simply writing a script based on all the possible ways you suspect a conversation with any one of them would flow.

Build a Dialogue Tree

Every course of events comes with a series of variations. You have to consider all the possible interpretations of a simple statement and narrow them down to their key interpretation. If it’s a pizza order, think about all the possible actions and what they translate to. Look at all the possible steps that a user can take to get to make a pizza order, and factor them into your design.

It’s, however, important to avoid making a flowchart as this is bound to create unnecessary confusion.

Invent a Character

Try to get into the mind of an author and create a character that your users will be interacting with. If anything, there should be a human-like interaction between the app and users, and one way to enable this is by picking a human-like character.

In other words, the user should be able to create a mental image of this person. They should feel like they’re interacting with a person in the flesh and NOT some bot.

Here’s the deal: Invent a character that you can easily break down. Get them a name, add some skills to the character, and if possible, jot down a brief biography about them. And most importantly, assign them a voice.

System Status

Imagine trying to load a webpage that goes completely blank with no feedback to tell you what’s going on. This experience can be incredibly frustrating to a user.

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It could be that the system crashed or it’s just slow and therefore taking its sweet time to respond. So in a way, user feedback is also part of an excellent user experience. If the system is busy searching through a large database to return with a response, then it’s important that it at least makes an effort to update the user on what it’s up to.

Users want to know if the voice search is on and fully working. They want to be reassured that it’s working, or if it’s switched on, performing a given action, or listening.

At the same time, users don’t like to be disrupted when they’re in the middle of something important. It’s at this point that a light indicator signaling something or a soft sound effect can come in handy.
A voice interface with no feedback can be likened to talking to a non-responsive person over the phone. Or it could be that the phone disconnects and you’re on the other end reiterating the word “hello” and wondering if the person is still on.

The good thing with phone conversation is that there are subtle audible clues that you can use to find out if the other person is still on or if they exited the conversation and left you hanging.

In the same way, voice services should be able to come up with less intrusive ways of letting us know when they’re on or when they’re out of service. A good example is the Amazon Alexa devices that have been designed with subtle signals for reassuring their owners that they’re still on and listening. They do this by displaying some flashing lights, followed by a non-disruptive sound effect.

Flat Navigation

Site navigation is of great importance when designing the UX of any website. You have to start by finding out what are the common actions users perform. It’s after you figure that out, that you’ll be able to also figure out what option to include on the homepage.

How many clicks does a user have to make while performing a simple task? However, with voice search, a user can bypass the intermediary stages they have to go through and head straight to the information they need. In other words, the voice search feature is supposed to take the user to the final stage of finding the item they’re looking for so they can go ahead and place an order.

The Talking Should be Natural

The talking your users make should be more natural as opposed to a situation where you’re forcing them to memorise unnecessary commands.
So you want to make sure that you’re taking advantage of a more natural style of communication, and applying it straight to the interactions you’re having. So, try to do all you can to avoid creating something that will be taking your users through a steep learning curve.

The whole point of the voice interface is to make interactions more intuitive. Anyone picking up the device or going through the app should be able to figure out how to talk to it intuitively. This can be both a challenging and intuitive task for designers and programmers. First, they have to pick the natural cues in the conversations people have. At the same time, be able to program computers and applications to understand them and us, and to seamlessly provide the answer we need to perform a particular task.

The database with the kind of utterances that computers can understand is fast growing. And it’s just a matter of time before their deciphering capabilities get even better to best humans.

The Takeaway

Voice interactions will keep on evolving and getting much better to the extent that some of the pointers we’ve mentioned on the list would become banal. Also, more considerations will be brought to light than what we’ve mentioned on the list.

So suffice it to say that voice interaction is a huge paradigm shift in the world of tech, and taking into account the rate at which machine learning is growing, it’s just a matter of time before machine becomes better than humans at deciphering the speeches we make.

If you’re keen to find out more about how to design a voice user interface, make a point to reach out to MediaOne Marketing today with your query and we will be glad to help.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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