Design  |  July 13, 2017

You’re already a voice designer – you just don’t know it yet

Brian Colcord

Brian Colcord

VP, Design

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of significant shifts in the world of interaction design. Print led to online, then to mobile and on to IoT – and every new shift brought about a new set of required skills and new opportunities.

As designers, we now find ourselves at the edge of a new emerging space: voice interfaces.

Like the shifts in interaction design before, voice presents new challenges and a need for a new set of skills and understanding. With voice interface adoption on the rise, the demand for those who can design for it is growing rapidly. So rapidly, that the demand has far outpaced the number of people who actually have experience in the space.

That’s the exciting part. There is a huge opportunity for designers to shift into this new role. With the right knowledge of voice experience design and the technology behind it, you’ll have the resources and tools necessary to make an impact.

Another shift in interaction

Designing for voice interfaces shouldn’t be intimidating to any designer. In fact, it should feel similar to other shifts in interaction design that have happened in the past. Many designers clearly remember the transition from desktop to mobile. At the time, it felt like a huge change, but now, it’s become second nature for most designers.  

To design for mobile, you not only had to learn new technologies and techniques, you also had to adapt to the new demands in the market. And in the early days of designing for mobile, there weren’t well defined patterns and approaches to many of the key problems. It was a period of change and uncertainty. But as the foundational shift to mobile became more imminent, it was clear that you had to adapt, or become obsolete.

The emergence of the voice interface is already here but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up to speed quickly. As a designer, you should fall back on your design basics: user research, journey mapping, information architecture, storyboarding and prototyping. Armed with your current design tool kit and taking a user-centric approach to voice interface design will help you uncover what the most effective experience for your users will be.

Understanding the technology

In order to succeed in this space, you have to understand the technology and its capabilities (i.e. what’s possible and what is not possible). For starters, you need to understand the different components of voice technology and what their capabilities are, including: Automatic Speech Recognition, Natural Language Processing, Natural Language Understanding, Deep Learning, Text to Speech and Machine Learning.

In addition, if you haven’t already, start using Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and other major voice assistants and study how they solve different user interaction problems. It’s a great way to identify what patterns are starting to evolve across these different voice interfaces.

A great first step is to take Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course on Coursera. Machine learning is a key component behind voice technology, and this course will help you understand how it functions.

An opportunity to shape the market

Voice, and AI more broadly, are still in the early stages, which means you have an opportunity to help shape the future of the space. While learning new skills is always a challenge, voice will soon be an everyday mode of interaction. So, now is the time to get smarter.

Much like the early days of designing for mobile, there is no consensus on how to design effectively for voice. For instance, the “hamburger” menu wasn’t introduced right away, but it quickly became a recognized navigation pattern. Over time, Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guidelines and Material Design for Android were created to give designers and developers best practices for those platforms. Today, these guidelines are the standard.

These design choices are yet to be made for voice. There are no accepted design guidelines, there are really no rules, and there are endless ways to solve some of the tricky usability problems facing users today.

Ready to become a voice designer?

If this sounds exciting to you, and you’re interested in shifting to this new space, now is the perfect time to get started. With the right skills and a reliance on your basic design principles and process, it’s not that hard to shift your career and add “voice designer” to your LinkedIn profile.


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