When Mark Zuckerberg wanted his own personal voice controlled AI to run his home, like Jarvis in ironman, he decided to build one, and gave it the voice of Morgan Freeman. Well, only Zuckerberg can do that, but for us other mere mortal app developers too, now’s a great time to build voice controlled apps. With products like Alexa, Amazon Echo and Google Home making record sales this Black Friday, voice controlled devices are undoubtedly the flavor of the season. According to ComScore, by 2020, more than 50% of all searches will be voice based.
Having said that, doing a seriously good job of voice control requires a deep understanding of how voice control is different from the way man and machine have interacted with each other for a few decades now. Just adding a functionality where the app can hear words and follow commands won’t cut it. You need to understand natural language processing as well as a behavioral knowledge of how users would talk to their machines and what they’d expect as a result.
So here are a few factors you need to consider, so that you can design delightfully interactive and near human experiences for your users when designing a voice controlled app:
- Design For How We Speak, Not How We Type
Keywords have held a place of such eminence in the world of internet, that computer programmers often begin to think in keywordese. Search engines are known to respond best to queries like ‘heart surgeon Canal street’ or ‘Best pizza New York’.
When users talk to an app however, they are more likely to use the most conversational language, the kind they use to talk to their friends. So instead of asking ‘Sushi restaurant Fifth Avenue’, users will say – ‘Where’s the best Sushi in town?’ they will ask questions like – ‘how far is Empire State Building?’ or ‘where’s the nearest gas station?’ You need to design your app to answer questions like this. Expect some totally off the book queries and prepare your app to answer them as best as possible. Serena Peterson, Regional Director, SEO – West, iProspect sums it up pretty nicely when she says:
Only 58% of question queries have voice search answers. There’s a huge opportunity for brands right now. Voice queries are growing through the longtail; most voice search queries are 10 words or more. Find keyword gaps and opportunities by mapping keywords for baseline. Query-based content is key to optimizing for Google as voice search ramps up.”
- Give Your App A Distinct Personality
This one is an important and exciting aspect of designing voice controlled apps – giving your app a personality. Just like in UX design, where you use colors, imagery, typography and other visual aids to establish your branding and give your app a personality, in voice based apps, you can use the type of voice, the tone and language, the choice of words and the right accent to establish a unique personality. These aspects must then remain consistent throughout the app.
So you need to decide if you want your app to be a light hearted, easygoing, daylong companion; or a soft spoken, rather formal, strictly business kind of personal assistant. That will determine how you design the voice and messaging of your app.
The language and diction you use to respond to user input is also equally important. If you are designing a fun gaming app, like a quiz app for instance, you could use messaging like ‘That’s the right answer Jeff, Good job!’ or ‘Aw, you got that one wrong, try again’. If you are designing a rather serious tax calculator or insurance kind of app, you might want to stick to formal language like ‘Please enter your name, age and place of work here’ and ‘Thank you for your response, please wait’. These are just examples and you will need to decide what your app’s personality is, but be sure to give it one, and keep it consistent.
- Use Voice Control As An Enhancement, Not A Replacement
The voice technology is evolving fast and in time, we will be able to get a whole lot done just by voice. Users will be entirely comfortable giving voice commands without the need to look at the phone screen. That however, is going to take just a little more time. At the moment, most of us are wired for visual feedback. We need to see the spinning pinwheel to know that there’s work in progress, we need to see the route map in addition to the sweet voice giving us directions, and we need to look at our pizza before we order it. So voice control cannot as yet, entirely replace visual inputs or text search.
As apps began to gain popularity, quite a few businesses became app-only and withdrew their browser websites. Indian fashion giant Myntra was one of these. It was a bold move from Myntra to go app only, but it didn’t quite work out and Myntra eventually had to re-launch its website. Similarly, if an app today, decides to take the radical approach of going voice-only, it might not turn out to be such a wise idea. So be sure to continue supporting a visual app until the consumers are ready for an invisible bot carrying out commands.
Here’s what Jennifer Soloman-Baum, Regional Director – West: Search Advertising, Microsoft had to say about voice search at the Local Search Summit 2017 in San Diego –
“Even as voice grows, there’s a continued need for text search. It’s not going away. Consider that artificial intelligence = machine learning + human learning + data science; a digital assistant is just the tool that uses AI. What can you do right now to embrace voice search? Relevance and personalization are crucial. Think local – update all of your info. Write for humans, not machines; be conversational. We don’t speak in keywords.”
- Analyze Your Use Cases
Don’t just decide to throw in voice controls in your app because it’s the hip thing to do and everyone is doing it. You need to carefully research and analyze use cases to determine if and how your target audience will be using voice search. If you are designing a home automation app that can control lights, thermostat and other vitals of your home, you are in the voice-control home turf. Music streaming or food delivery apps too might do just great with voice controls, as users would love to just say – ‘Play me a good party track’ or ‘Order me a large pepperoni pizza’.
However, you won’t find users saying ‘Buy me a red dress from Amazon’. So e-commerce apps will still remain primarily visual. Understand how your users will use your app and what they expect from you before determining how and if you should add voice search to your app.
- Context Is King – Well, Almost
When it comes to voice recognition, accounting for the context is critical. As you well know, humans have strange ways of saying simple things. So knowing the context is imperative to understanding what is being said. A phrase like ‘kill that song’ will only make sense to a music streaming app and apply to the song currently playing, and would mean ‘stop playing that song’. Similarly ‘grab one for the road’ will only make sense to a food delivery app presenting options. You will need to design your app to account for these contexts.
Similarly, you will need to design the app to differentiate between a voice command and environmental noise like sound from a TV or the traffic. Speech recognition isn’t quite as sensitive as the human ear yet and differentiating between sounds from multiple sources can be challenging. That is another aspect voice UX designers will need to work on.
Voice is going to be the future of search and that is why, adding intuitive, truly interactive voice controls to your existing apps or designing a whole new voice app is one of the most exciting prospects for digital creators right now. If you wish to stay abreast with the revolution, the above guidelines will help you make the most of this riveting technology that is taking the world by storm.
Almeda Brook is a freelance writer for MoveoApps,her skillfulness is writing about technology, business and digital marketing. Previously, she worked as a Content Marketing Strategist at a software startup. She graduated with honors with a dual degree in Business Administration and Creative Writing.