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The Value of Building Prototypes for Amazon Alexa and Google Home

Creating great user experiences for voice applications

Having an idea for a product is a funny thing. It’s easy to imagine in your head what the experience will be, and it’s exciting to think about people using it. But there is the ‘messy middle’ of the product process where you need to think through the specifics of each interaction and solve the edge cases that you never anticipated.

To create a great user experience there is no way to avoid answering those questions and doing the work. The only decision is whether they will be addressed during the initial design phase (when it’s cheap and easy to get feedback and make changes) or whether it will be done once your product is already built (where changes are expensive and slow).

Prototyping early, before anything is built, is a great way to make sure the idea in your head becomes a product people want to use. Building Skills for Amazon Alexa or Actions for Google Home is no different. Given how hard discovery can be in voice, you don’t want to risk users having a terrible experience with your app and abandoning it forever.

In the interest of ensuring you end up launching something worth the effort, here are 4 ways to use prototyping to build a successful Skill or Action.

1. Explore concepts to choose a path

Maybe you have a business or client who wants to build a voice application. Prototyping can help you find what piece of that business translates to an effective Voice First experience. Or maybe there is a specific goal you have in mind for your application. Exploring the different user journeys that could accomplish that goal is easy to do early on.

2. Experience the user flow and find edge cases

Once you have a general path or direction you want to follow, you need to establish the different steps along the journey that a user will need to follow. Maybe you need to collect information from a user, or perhaps you need to help them refine a request so you can give them a useful response.

Mapping out the flow of a user journey can held find edge cases early (Sayspring screenshot)

Users will also behave in ways you never anticipated. For example, perhaps your app will ask, “Do you want to request an UberX or UberBlack?” What will you do if a user responds, “Yes.” Simply repeating the question will likely evoke the same response, creating an endless, frustrating loop.

3. Choose the right speech

Much like deciding the copy on a website or mobile app, the wording, grammar, and speech you use in your app’s responses need to be given thought. You want to make sure the proper personality is conveyed. Is it formal, casual, or fun? Is the user properly prompted to know what to do next?

There is also a practical piece of making sure that words are pronounced correctly, numbers are read-out as intended, and whether pauses or sound clips are needed to enhance the experience. Properly mark up the speech with SSML (Speech Synthesis Markup Language) during design, so you can define your development requirements early.

SSML’s ‘say-as’ tag makes users hear “1–0–1” instead of “one hundred one” (Sayspring Screenshot)

4. Will You Spend the Time and Money to Create This?

Perhaps the most effective part of prototyping is that you get to experience the actual product you intend to create before you invest much time or money. Being able to actually interact with it makes it much easier to answer, “How much would I spend to build this? How long would I spend working on it?” Sometimes what seemed like a great idea is kind of disappointing in reality. While that can be a bummer, it’s much better to find that out before you invest too much into it.

Don’t Skip the Prototyping Step!

It is easy to get caught up in the process of building something without thinking it through beforehand. Make sure to spend some time on a prototype to ensure you’re not putting all that effort into something no one wants to use.

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