Two Amazon Echo devices lit up

The unlimited possibilities of voice UIs

The possibilities of voice user interfaces are virtually endless. We firmly believe that voice UIs change the way people interact with your product or service - and they will eventually transform the way you do business. But how do you know if a voice UI could bring value to your service? And how to start working with voice UIs?

Let’s tickle your imagination for a second. Imagine visiting a new grocery store with a clear goal: you need to get some peanuts. But two steps in, you halt and realize that the store layout is nothing like in your regular store. Are the peanuts by the vegetables? Or perhaps they’re located by the chips and salty snacks?

You consider the mission at hand, spot a store clerk, and ask them “Where are the peanuts in this store?”. The clerk answers you with a kind voice: “You’ll find peanuts at our health aisle. Please walk forward until you see the aisle number 5 on your right.”, and shows you the map of the store on its screen. Happy, you give the electronic clerk a 5-star review on its screen, and move on in your quest.

Though this is not yet a reality in Finland, we at Frantic have a firm belief that voice user interfaces (or VUIs) will change the world.

Voice UIs – more than just assistants

Voice UIs and their usage are slowly but steadily becoming more mainstream. Many iPhone and Android users can already use either Siri or Google Assistant on their mobiles, and smart speakers like Echo with Alexa assistant are entering more and more homes.

Perhaps the clearest benefit of these services is that they free our hands to do something else – when driving, you can ask your phone or car to change the song it’s playing without having to take your hands off the wheel (or eyes off the road). Or during a dinner party, you can quickly and easily verify whether Lion King the movie was released in 1994 or 1995 without having to type anything (the answer is 1994).

Voice UIs can be more than just assistants, though. Imagine taking care of the bills while sitting in your car in the traffic by simply accepting (or declining) the invoices that a voice UI recites to you. Purchasing flights and renting cars is already possible – what could be next?

How could a voice UI service help my organization or clients?

Client and user goals are at the heart of successful products and services, but when creating a voice UI service, often an even clearer understanding of what the user needs to accomplish is required.

Industrial applications of voice UIs are only starting to be formed, and there are no absolute rules on how to apply them in the business context. Some questions to help you are:

  • Does some part of the work or task require a lot of manual labor?
    • Could some or all of the interaction happen through voice?
  • Does some part of the work or task require the user to switch between devices?
    • Could one of the devices or tasks be navigated with voice?
  • Does some part of a user’s flow require them to e.g. enter digits or some other information?
    • Would the user feel comfortable saying the information aloud?

As you can see from the questions, they are relatively high-level but focus on the division of tasks and moments that can feel cumbersome to users. A clear understanding of what takes time, and/or what feels painful in a user’s flow is a point that could benefit from further investigation, regardless of the solution being a conversational feature or something else. In addition to this, take a look at Google’s short quiz on whether conversational interfaces are a right fit for your service or product here.

Before diving into concept work

Voice UIs are an exciting new possibility for many organizations, but before diving into concept work, spend a few more moments with the recognized possibilities. Voice UIs should be seen as a tool to solve challenges, and not to be used blindly. Consider at least these questions:

  • Could the challenge be solved without building anything new?
  • Could the clients and users who deal with the challenge have thoughts on how it could be made better?
  • How would a voice UI help with the challenge, and what kind of new challenges could utilizing a voice UI service create?

At Frantic, we often like to draw out a user journey map to both highlight problematic moments in the user’s journey and to visualize how a voice UI would fit into the service and user flow. A user journey map can also help you understand the requirements the user might have at various points in their journey – for example, at some moments they might not have the use of both their hands or their eyes (when e.g. driving a vehicle), but in some cases they might need more information than is usable to offer without a screen.

Focus on the problem

To summarize, while a fascinating new opportunity, voice UIs should be considered to be a tool among others. Using the newest tech is valuable only when it actually creates value, and the key in creating value to employees, users and businesses is understanding what exactly is needed – and creating a service to match that exact need.