Designing Voice User Interfaces

Intro

Voice interactions are becoming more common in today’s world. Different people interact with voice-enabled devices (voice user interfaces) differently, so it is critical for the device to understand the user’s needs and respond correctly. How are we, as owners of the product experience, tackling this challenge? How can we create trust between the user and artificial intelligence?

This is where design-driven voice user interfaces come into the picture. While there is a huge spectrum of VUI, they all share a set of common UX fundamentals that drive usability.

In this article, I, Saleem Mohammed, will explore the same fundamentals I shared with the audience at UX INDIA 2019 so that you can analyze your everyday interactions; and, as a designer or developer, can build better experiences.

The talk was divided into two parts where I shared the business use cases found through research and my experiences on designing for voice-enabled devices.

Key takeaways

  1. Learn design principles and process for design better voice interfaces,
  2. Learn to prototype for voice interfaces, and
  3. Learn to apply VUI best practices in different business use cases.

Business Use Cases

Will voice be key to 500+ million people in India to get online?

The 500+ million people in India who are yet to get online are those who are probably not comfortable with English, touch as input, and/or have never used a desktop/laptop and have low levels of literacy, etc.

Use-case #1: Language Support for Indian Languages

Language Support for Indian Languages

In a country with 17 official languages and several hundred recognized dialects, articulation is not an easy task, but that’s the skill to be mastered if one wants to reach the next 500+ million consumers.

People in rural India will be more comfortable using voice to discover content.

Today, there is no way one can use platforms to search and learn about things (if you’re not using English).

Use-case #2: Agriculture sector in India

Agriculture sector in India

The agriculture sector suffers from poor resource utilization, significantly lower than that of China and the USA. Technology adoption and efficient resource usage in India is much lesser, thus resulting in lower yields.

The notion of a voice interface stands out because of the cheap and hassle-free mode of usage it aspires to provide for agricultural information retrieval to the people of India. A voice interface will enable farmers to obtain the information when they need it, for example, the price of commodities, weather conditions, crop diagnosis, etc.

Use-case #3: Healthcare in India

Healthcare in India

The current maturity of voice technologies makes it suitable for limited voice-enabled applications such as quick medical scribes and transcription speech-based guided interactions, but not well-suited to conveying lengthy pieces of information.

Moving forward, bringing voice technology to vetted clinical use cases such as elderly care, chronic condition management, physician’s assistant will provide growth opportunities.

Design Process

Research

Before building any representations of the system, it is especially important for voice UIs to have the 4 goals answered:

  1. Purpose of the system,
  2. How users can invoke the system,
  3. What users will be able to do, and
  4. What information the system needs from the users.

Design

The interaction flow needs to identify the behind-the-scenes logic. It should clearly dictate to a developer how it will understand user intent and pick up any details of the interaction. As the designer makes all of the decisions here, they must rely heavily on user-centered research to have an accurate understanding of how to design, for instance, errors that are customized and relevant since they will be triggered in direct moments of need for the user.

Test

Usability testing can be done directly on the flowchart, or one could also use tools like Google dialogue flow to catch a glimpse of how an interaction would flow. Regardless of the method, the intention is to discover the points dictated above — which can all be accomplished with a low-fidelity prototype such as a flowchart.

Takeaways for front-end developers

As voice technology continues to advance, developing device-agnostic interfaces that can be integrated seamlessly into multiple devices will be challenging for front-end developers.

Conclusion: The Future of Voice Interfaces

While voice-based interfaces are in the beginning stages of their development, they will continue to be developed and integrated with modern technology at a breathtaking rate of speed. I believe that voice and visual need to be completely integrated into one interface so that everyone can make use of the technology, irrespective of their social and cultural environment.

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