I decided to join the Designing for Voice course to further explore a topic I was deeply interested in. I had recently completed MUXL’s course for Beginner UX & UCD and the Voice Design course looked like a great way to pick up new skills whilst gaining some extra UX experience.
Week One – Introduction to voice interfaces and Alexa
We were greeted by Stratis Valachis a Senior UX Designer for Aviva Digital Garage, he introduced us to the range of skills we’d be learning across this course, how that split up through the six weeks, and most importantly how all of this will provide us with a perfect portfolio piece. Gonçalo Andrade Lead UX Designer at Paymentsense, was also on hand to help us with any questions we had.
In week one we learnt all the fundamentals about Voice. What is a VUI, the range of models on the market, and why voice technology is so important. We learnt rulesets for helping us determine good use cases for voice and the benefits and limitations of voice. We also learnt about the main elements of Alexa, how it works and what ‘skills’ are.
Finally we were divided up into teams of 3 and given our project brief that we would be working on for the next six weeks. We had to design a hypothetical MVP skill for a brand (our team had British Airways). We were expected to Design artifacts for Amazon Certification and create a prototype and finally present our work to Amazon.
We were then given our homework (or as Stratis called it, funwork!) for the first week – We needed to create 1-2 provisional user personas based on Qual and Quant research, and familiarise ourselves with our brief’s brand. We easily split these tasks amongst our group and swapped contact details to keep in touch throughout the week.
Week Two – Voice conversation design best practices
Going in to week 2 we immediately got started with something we were all familiar with, journey mapping. It was great to learn how we could use this existing skill we had and apply it to voice design, helping us to figure out what our users needed to do with our skill and what type of features we should be designing. We identified key phases of interaction, created a baseline of interactions, listed out the needs of each phase, and captured key questions.
We then moved on to learning about the fundamental elements of human conversation and learnt about Grice’s Maxims a very useful set of rules we could follow to ensure the conversations we designed would be effective and enjoyable experiences.
We also learnt general best practices when designing for Alexa and little tricks like rapid reprompts to fix broken conversations.
Our funwork for week 2 was to start writing up our initial scripts based on our initial research work and backed up with the journey maps we made earlier in the lesson.
Week Three – Prototyping and testing voice interactions – Zara
Week 3 we were introduced to our second teacher – Zara Nowell, UX Designer & Researcher at Aviva Digital Garage. Zara really helped us pinpoint how to use research and insights to reinforce and iterate out designs to improve the experiences for our end users.
We explored ideas around capturing natural utterances, low-fidelity testing, and high fidelity testing. Learning techniques such as the Wizard of Oz Scenario and got to try our hands at creating workable prototypes using Storyline.
Our funwork this week was to finish building our prototypes and find users to test with. Zara was really helpful and provided us with extra tools such as a discussion guide to assist us in the user testing sessions.
Week Four – Advanced topics in voice interactions
By week 4 we were really starting to get out heads around voice design and what we were trying to achieve with our Alexa skills. So it was perfect timing for us to dig into some advanced topics in voice interactions. Stratis returned to help guide us along the way. We explored topics such as multimodal interfaces and the pros/cons of voice only interfaces and multi-modal interfaces.
This week gave us a really great grounding in what is possible with the technology and where the limitations were, along with helpful advice on how to work around those limitations.
We also began to review the requirements to get amazon certification to get our skills published in the future.
Our week 4 funwork covered flow charts, plotting out all the paths of our skill. The flow chart would feed into one of amazon’s requirements to get certified but also a great way to see the structure of our skill and help fine tune the experience.
Week Five – Coding for Alexa – Ed
Week five was one of the weeks I was most looking forward to – coding. We were introduced to our third teacher, Ed Latter Lead Developer at Aviva. This was one intense lesson jammed full of befuddlement, wonder, and actual realisation that we can do this. Ed was brilliant at walking us through from the super basics to actual workable code. It left us all with a huge appetite to go and find out more.
As we were now nearing the end of the course, and with the dreaded final presentation looming over us our funwork was focused on putting the final bits together on our presentations and Alexa skills.
Week Six – Case study presentations and design review
Week six and Stratis was back again, this time with a quiz to test just how much we were paying attention during the course. Surprisingly a lot of what we were taught had actually sunk in.
We also got a look at the analytics behind Alexa skills and how they can be used to get insight on what users were doing with skills and how to see problem areas or points where our designed conversations failed.
Finally we got time with all the teachers to get feedback on our skills and presentations which was really helpful with our preparations for the final presentation to Amazon.
Presentation to Amazon
We were hosted in the White collar factory on Old Street which was an amazing space to present in. All of our teachers from the course joined us alongside several team members from Amazon two of which were directly responsible for approving new skills on the Amazon Alexa skill store. It was amazing to get the opportunity to get direct feedback from amazon themselves and from our tutors on everything we had learnt and how we had applied it to our projects.
I’m so glad I did this course, all the tutors were massively helpful and were really great teachers. I’ve gained a new skill set which I’ve already found ways to apply to my current job, and one I hope I will continue to explore in the future.
The voice design course was built in collaboration with Amazon and will start again in June 2019, learn more about this 6 week course which costs only £850 by visiting https://myuxacademy.com/courses/designing-for-voice-alexa/