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Voice Design Series, Part 1: Start Getting Ready for Voice as a Channel

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It’s Trending 

Experts estimate that 20% of adults (over 47 million Americans) own a Google Home or Amazon Echo with a prediction of growth to 55% by 20201.  Like the internet was in the 1990s and mobile devices in the 2000s, voice is poised to be the next big technology movement.  And it’s not just revolutionary for everyday people.  Rather, voice user interface design will serve an important role in how organizations create meaningful customer experiences – as they’ll be expected to meet consumer needs in this evolving space.

Why it’s Taking Off, and Where the Value in Voice Lies

It’s not likely that voice user interface (VUI) will completely replace graphical user interfaces (GUI) but rather serve as an ever increasing  complement to creating omni-channel customer experiences.  Our society promotes multi-tasking, and consumers will continue to embrace technology that allows them to get more done within the context of their normal routines.  In many cases, VUI meets these needs better than GUI.  For example, using Alexa to set an alarm, ask about the weather, check your banking account balances or in healthcare – learn urgent care wait times (ask us about our recent development project) – can offer great value without interrupting one’s daily routine.  That said, GUI still wins in some use cases.  Actions such as comparison shopping need the graphic, or visual component to be most effective.  As designers begin to strategy for integrating VUI, it’s helpful to first understand the key differences between voice and graphical interfaces, and where voice will be most effective and offer the greatest return.

Why the Adoption2?

  • It’s a primitive and natural way of interaction. Parents marvel at the sound of their child’s first words.  Then they spend the rest of our lives using speech as a way to communicate needs and wants.  People associate voice technology with communication.  Ultimately, this will transform brands into more life-like, interactive presences with their own voice and identity.
  • There’s a more natural learning curve. Websites and mobile aplications vary widely and require users to understand a technology – from differences in operating systems to understanding navigational elements for websites.  While voice will have an adoption period and it’s own set of challenges (by not having clear navigational elements), it’s a more natural interaction.
  • It saves time, and convenience rules. The voice interface allows users to multi-task, while in a car, or at home.  Consider this:  Your cooking and realize you ran out of salt.  “Alexa, order salt.”.  That’s pretty convenient.
  • Accessibility for the visually-impaired or aging (as well as physically dexterity) by untethering from the phone. Those who have more inherent or growing difficulty with computer screens and keyboards can use voice technology to achieve similar online goals.

A few key differences between VUI and GUI?

  • Even more simplistic.  Because voice interfaces are invisible, they must demand the most simple cognitive action by the user.  That’s why tasks are often prime use cases for voice, whereas actions requiring more extensive research (comparison shopping, in-depth research) are more still more suited to traditional digital channels like websites..
  • Navigation.  Without the typical navigational elements people have grown accustomed to on websites, designers have the challenge of incorporating flow-like, sequential conversations with the user separate from the commands (back button, home icon, error logs and online help) that are conventional for traditional digital users. Due to these differences, voice designers will need to focus on prioritizing information and an anticipatory, contextually-driven flow of information/conversation.

Opportunities and Early Use Cases


Opportunity Use Case
Preoperative Care Massachusetts General Hospital:  Researching how text-to-speech technology can be useful in helping surgeons comply with surgical safety checklists in the operating room3.
Routine Self-Care Mayo Clinic, First Aid: Provides quick, hands-free self-care instructions or answers everyday situations from a trusted source. (treat baby’s fever, help for a burn, treat a cut, etc.)
Emergency Preparation & Response The American Heart AssociationAsk Alexa the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke and get step by step CPR instructions if needed.
Disease & Care Management One DropLets diabetes patients track their blood sugar information by telling it to Alexa.

Boston Children’s Hospital, KidsMDDeveloped an Alexa app known as KidsMD, which dispenses important information to parents, including how to avoid medication dosing errors, helps parents to feel at ease, beside facilitating better communication between parents and healthcare providers.


Potential future opportunities:

  • Health monitoring: By reading into vocal tone, AI platforms could perhaps detect depression, or potentially even underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease.
  • Hospital Efficiencies and Quality Control: Voice-enabled virtual assistants can help clinicians access notes or let surgeons see safety checklists.
  • Provider Assistance (e.g. Transcription): Doctors are spending up to two-thirds of their day on busywork, namely clicking fields in their electronic health record system3.  Alexa could help with that by transcribing notes and documenting patient interactions on the doctor’s behalf.

Financial Services

Opportunity Use Case
Basic Banking Needs Ally BankAsk about your balance, make a transfer, hear recent transactions or deposits and more.
Loan Repayment Capital One: Ask Capital One about your credit card, checking, savings, and auto loan accounts.
Credit Card Management AMEX:  Make a payment, get Amex Offers, check your balance, and more.
Investment Portfolio Management TD Ameritrade:  TD Ameritrade is the first company ever to create an Alexa Skill where you can place trades with just your voice. Get updates on balances, positions, and quotes for all U.S.-traded stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and major U.S. indices, which amounts to over 75,000 securities.


1.  Perez, Sarah. (2018). 47.3 million U.S. adults have access to a smart speaker, report says.
2.  Babich, Nick. (2018). How conversational interfaces will change our lives.
3.  Farr, Christina. (2017). Hospitals are looking for the killer Amazon app.


A Look Ahead:  What We’ll Cover in this Blog Series

Our goal for this blog series is to not only provide you with the basics of VUI design so that you understand why it’s taking off, but to get you ahead of the curve with your competitors so that you can begin to capture the inherent value in voice design.  Among the topics we’ll cover are:

  1. VUI 101 – Know the key terms around this new technology
  2. Designing Meaningful Voice Experiences – Covering heuristic, conversational and command-focused tips
  3. Strategic Integration – How to create an omni-channel experience that includes voice, and tactics to help sell the value internally to key organizational stakeholders and decision-makers
  4. A Focus on the Future – As consumers build comfort with the technology, where may this go, and how you can prepare your organization to capitalize on VUI



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