We are in the witnessing the rise of smart speakers and voice searching technology. Many have already adopted this technology with 10% of UK Households owning a smart speaker. With this predicted to rise to 50% by 2022 [1], its no wonder why so many businesses are rushing to be a part of this new wave of technology.

Whether you dislike them or have one in every room of your house, personal assistants are on the rise and voice search is expected to become an everyday interface in homes and businesses.

If you are thinking of creating a voice app for your brand or service, these tips might help you along the way.

1. Keep it short

When it comes to information processing, we are better at retaining visual information than those relayed to us by audio. When designing voice apps we need to convey the correct amount of information as to not overwhelm the user. Splitting the information up with pauses or breaks can help the user process the data more effectively. A method of achieving this would be to have the assistant ask:

“Would you like me to continue?” or “Would you like to know more?”

This brief pause in dialogue goes a long way toward assuring that the user has enough time to process the information being relayed to them. It also gives them an opportunity to leave the current dialogue or menu. This leads on to the next point…

2. Don’t let the user get trapped

Common pitfalls of many voice apps are to allow the user to get trapped in a menu.

Recently the DotLabel team asked our new Amazon Spot to give us a recipe. It presented us with a recipe name and asked if we wanted to continue.

When we said “No” it continued to give us recipe names and ignored our requests of “Stop” or “Go back” only eventually responding to “cancel”.

Giving the user an easy way of leaving the process will give them a positive experience, rather than a negative one from being trapped in a menu, which creates frustration. 

3. Don’t let the user get lost

Another oversight in voice design, the user may not know what commands to ask in order to move forward in the process. If you’re a developer it might be tempting to start with your API and add voice commands for each one, however, this will only be usable by those who know the API. 

It is always helpful to give the user a nudge in the right direction with the use of helpful suggestions. A good way of doing this is including a command, which will trigger a response to help guide the user. Such as:

“Tell me what I can do.”

The alternative is to include this as part of the introduction to your app, for example:

“Hi, welcome to Question Of The Day. Ask me about today’s questions or ask for a random question.”

With this guidance, a user will be able to get to the next step and retrieve the information they need.

4. Personality

An important aspect of designing for voice is the personality that your app conveys. The tone of voice and use of vocabulary should be considered to reflect your brand and company ideals. This might already be defined in your brand guidelines.

Injecting personality into your app’s conversations may seem like a waste of time, or putting a barrier between the user and their end goals. However, without the consideration of personality, the conversation can seem rigid and formulaic.

Amazon created Alexa with certain personality traits including: smart, approachable and humble. Considering how your brand wants to talk to your customers might just be a tweak of wording or a whole rethinking of the whole conversation.

5. Utterances

Users might interact with voice apps in a variety of ways, including unexpected ones. It is important to plan and identify the ways in which your audience might engage with your app, these are known as Utterances.

Users could activate the app with Utterances such as:

“Alexa, start Question of the Day.”

“Alexa, give me a question” 

“Alexa, what is today’s question?”

These are all unique ways of starting the process but they all need to be considered to avoid confused or frustrated customers. This also applies for acceptance or cancel commands. For example:

“Do you want another question?”

Could be met with:


“Okay then.”

“Sure, give me another one.” 

These all need to be able to progress the user to the next step. 

6. Testing

Even after you have designed a carefully considered voice app it's still imperative to test it with real users. Users might follow your predicted user flows, or chose to go about the same goal in a completely different way.  It may mean revisiting your original ideas and designs and tweaking to accommodate for unforeseen conversations flows. Voice apps need to be prepared to handle information in a variety of different ways to accommodate for all user types.

Testing can be done in various ways. These can be from actually writing the app and loading it onto a local device, or writing a basic script and test it with two people (pretending to be the voice assistant and the user).

7. Confirming Intent

When a customer is making an important decision you can use Intent Confirmations. This is when the device will ask if the user is sure they want to continue, it is normally used when making a purchase or confirming a spelling. This can go a long way in making the user feel comfortable and safe when performing tasks through your voice app.

Confirmation indents are also used when the smart speaker’s confidence threshold is low, i.e It’s not completely convinced on what the user said. Low confidence can be the result of many factors including background noise or accents. In these instances, smart speakers might ask the user to repeat their command or read their request back to them and ask to confirm. 

Confirming intent should be used sparingly as it is an overhead on the user and can become very annoying if overused. However, it can be a useful tool when used to help users validate their voice commands.

Making personal assistants and voice applications feel fluid and natural will require a massive amount of work from UX professionals and design teams.

With the continued growth of the industry the new wave of Alexa skills and Google Home actions that are becoming available, we have an exciting and uncharted UX landscape to explore.

Watch this space for more articles on Voice. In the meantime if you would like to explore how your brand could use Voice to engage your audience, contact the DotLabel team 




[1] https://www.occstrategy.com/en/News%20and%20Media/2018/02/Talking%20shop%20infographic

Designing Voice User Interfaces: Principles of Conversational Experiences

By Cathy Pearl












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