Finding it a Challenge to Design for Voice? Try Starting at the End. 

Wavefront regularly teams up with best in class consultants and solutions integrators to drive maximum value for our clients. Tribalscale is one of the organizations we partner with when it comes to product design and development.   

Johnny Chauvet, Design & UX Lead at Tribalscaleshares his insights on the challenges and solutions faced when designing for voice platforms.  

Johnny is a pioneer in the development of voice user interfaces (VUI) and has been designing voice applications at TribalScale for well over a year. Thanks to products like the Amazon Echo, this emerging VUI technology will be making its way into more industries every year.  

It’s been just over a year since I worked on my first Voice User Interface (VUI) project. In May of 2016 TribalScale was hired by the Professional Golf Association to design and build their Amazon Echo Skill, which allowed golf fans to ask ‘Alexa’ questions about current tournaments, players, and standings (check out the case study here). 

Today, the Echo and other voice platforms are still fairly new to market. As a result, finding documentation and examples on how to design for them is fairly limited. A year ago, it was pretty much nonexistent. Amazon did a great job of documenting best practices and providing simple examples to work from, but I didn’t have much to leverage that matched the complexity of what we were getting into with PGA. 

Designing for a new platform  

I remember on day 2 or 3 of the project, after our kick-off and a bit of due-diligence, opening Sketch ready to dive into creating a flow that outlined the UX. This was the first time I’ve ever had to design something that didn’t have a screen or visual interface. I sat there and stared at my blank art-board, trying to figure out how to actually start. My initial instinct was to start with the different ways of how the user would activate the Skill, but it was challenging to envision a path forward from there that would naturally lead to the desired outcomes. I decided to take another approach – what if I started with the outcomes? Just like a math equation, you plot the knowns to solve for the unknowns. 

This worked well for a couple reasons. Starting at the end allows you to consider the prerequisites of known outcomes. Figuring out the question that the user should ask is difficult when the answer to that question isn’t right in front of you. When you plot Alexa’s response first, it’s easier to ask yourself ‘what would a user need to say in order to reach this state?”. This is especially helpful when dealing with partial intents, where you need to think about what follow-up questions to ask the user in order to generate the desired response. 

The other reason why starting at the end is beneficial is because it enables designers to consider the user’s needs first. By starting with the outcomes, you are effectively building empathy for your users and crafting an experience that revolves around the responses that satisfies their intentions. This also makes it easier for us designers to perform user-testing for VUI and iterate on our flows based on real user learnings. 

By plotting the responses first, you can survey your target audience to see how they would word a question to arrive at the known response. Designing for voice requires careful consideration when it comes to language. There may be dozens of ways to word a specific question that could result in the same outcome. Applying user-centered design thinking, and working with prospective users as you’re crafting your experience is the sure-fire way to ensure you are using the right language.

For more on best practices when tackling VUI, check out these links below: 

Amazon Alexa – Voice Design Guide 

Actions on Google: Conversation Design Tips 


Looking to enhance your business with next generation tech like a Voice User InterfaceWavefront can help! 

Contact us today to speak with an expert for the right solution for your business.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *