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Overcoming bias in Voice UI

How a workshop uncovered what we thought we already knew.

Chantal Jahchan
Jun 15, 2017 · 6 min read

Preparing to design for Voice UI

As designers, before we even begin to understand the Voice User Interface (VUI) playing field — think Siri, Alexa, Google Home — it’s important to get our biases about this relatively new technology into the open.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

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Discussing our limited exposure to Amazon Alexa.
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Insights from the workshop

We now know what we thought we knew about VUI. In other words, we narrowed the gap between what we thought we knew and what we actually knew (see below).

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1. We hesitate to use VUIs because of social stigmas and fears.

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Illustration by Andy Rementer for The New Yorker.

2. We’re put off by the speech and tone assigned to VUI personas.

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A list of things a user can ask Siri in iOS 9. Source:

3. We think we know the limitations of voice-first interfaces.

  • “VUI is only useful for binary questions and answers.”
  • “VUI requires users to remember a long list of things they can ask for.”
  • VUI is only useful in a handful of unique situations.”
  • “What can Siri/Alexa do that I can’t already do from my iPhone?”
  • “Bad VUI is far worse than bad GUI.”
  • “VUI doesn’t work well on its own and needs support from GUI.”
  • “VUI causes more user frustration than GUI does.”
  • “I am a visual person and prefer text/photos to audio/voice.”

4. We think we know the short list of the things VUI is good for.

  • Ease of tasks: “VUI makes tedious tasks simple to do.”
  • “VUI flattens navigation structures for more efficiency.”
  • Typing is slower than speaking.”
  • “VUI is useful during activities like driving or cooking where my hands and eyes are occupied.”
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Come on, Siri. It’s 2017. Source:

5. We think tech limitations stand in the way of VUI’s improvement.

  • “I expected VUI technology to be more advanced by now.”
  • “I wouldn’t want to interrupt my music to speak or listen to Alexa.”
  • VUI is useless without internet access: “Alexa can’t even turn off my lights when the internet fails.”
  • “VUI is buggy.”
  • Cloud storage: “What if I lose my data?”
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Jason confronts his data-sharing fears, one Post-it® at a time.

6. We don’t trust the intentions of VUI companies when it comes to the privacy and use of our personal data.

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Where to next?

Before we begin designing a new VUI product for first-time parents, our group will conduct primary research with actual new, first-time parents. Through in-depth interviews, we look to understand the experience of parenthood from those who’ve experienced it.

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