Is VUI the future of interaction?

In recent years, it became clear that the way the app’s interface is built is defined by users’ needs and preferences. Therefore, Voice User Interface (VUI) is the new protagonist of the user interaction with apps. VUI offers numerous possibilities as well as several challenges but it’s a technology that is going to win space in our mobile apps. However, whether the future is full of voice UI is still uncertain. In today’s blog post, we’re going to get to the answer to that question, while unwrapping and discovering VUI design and its possibilities.

VUI unwrapped: Voice User Interface design in details

Creating an efficient and consistent user experience when introducing VUI to your app relies on one simple truth. You need to create a meaningful conversation from the start to the end. To achieve this goal, you need to understand the users, their needs, and their journey with your app.

Understanding VUI hierarchy and structure

The hierarchy of the voice user interface is quite different from the conventional UI hierarchy. When the common app interface has clear visible pages and sections to help users find what they’re looking for, the VUI hierarchy is flat and keeps all available functions and info at the same level. In this case, users just pick the specific function or piece of information they need. Which makes everything simpler and shortens the user’s journey to their goal.

There are several ways in which VUI interaction with the user is built and that influence their interaction with an app in general:

  • Voice-only interaction. This is the type of voice interaction that doesn’t require the screen and relies only on audio and voice commands. This type of interaction offers users a profound sense of freedom and hands-free control. It is widely used in homes with systems like Google Home. The downside is that when you need to ask for a piece of specific information or for example track time, the voice-only interaction can become challenging and it’s better to use screens when voice interaction is great for commands.
  • Voice-first interaction. This is the type of interaction mostly powered by voice commands but is also equipped with a screen for user convenience. Adding the screen to the voice interaction considerably increases the functionality of an app and allows users to obtain the needed information easier.
  • Screen-first interaction. This is the type of interaction users are the most familiar with. Basically, it’s the smartphones, tablets and other devices users are interacting with via screens complimented with voice interaction. This type of interaction gives users a choice of the means to achieve their goals — whether it’s through screen or voice commands. Despite less hands-free interaction, it gives them better access to big volumes of information.

Understanding the structure of a voice command

When designing a Voice user interface, you need to think about the intentions a user has when they speak out their request. Therefore, you need to think of various scenarios that the interaction can lead to. This will lead to a natural conversation flow and will help users to understand what they want from your product.

Besides understanding users, it’s needed to understand the structure of voice commands and how users build their sentences. When we’re talking about the voice command structure, we’re talking about three key factors: the intent, utterance, and slot.

Creating User personas and mapping user Journey

There are two sides to understanding the users of your future VUI-powered app. The first one is analyzing their demographics, needs, and preferences. It mostly helps you build the app itself and decide its goal. But also, it serves as the key to creating a journey map and picking up conversation manner, style, and language.

The other side of creating VUI user personas is understanding the environment your app will be used in and under which circumstances. These include:

  • Background noises. The environment in which the user is interacting with an app can interfere with this interaction.
  • Privacy level. Whether the user is alone during the interaction or, on the contrary, in the densely crowded place.
  • The manner of speaking. To understand how your target users express themselves verbally. Meaning accents, nationality, and age of the user. This helps to create a speech recognition engine to understand users and generate a response.
  • Location of interaction. Where and under which circumstances users will interact with your app’s VUI.

Another crucial part of the VUI design is to understand users’ journeys. Without it, you won’t be able to create meaningful conversation sequences. Moreover, it will help you to define where the voice interaction is possible or even needed. You will be able to get users’ pain points at the various stages of interaction and make miscommunication chances minimal.

VUI and UX: creating relationships

When it comes to creating a user experience for the voice interface, we’ll be talking about anthropomorphic VUI design. Basically, it’s about giving human qualities to the voice interface. We all remember the movie Her with Joaquin Phoenix, where the protagonist falls in love with the voice assistant. The future when VUI will be so believable is still very distant but creating a seamless user experience with a voice interface is more realistic.

The goal is to create such a believable user experience that they don’t even notice they’re speaking to the machine. The conversation with the voice interface should be natural and should feel like communication with the real person. In this way, you create an engaging user experience and help to create a relationship with users that leads to trust for your product.

One of the factors that influence the level of users’ trust and willingness to connect with the VI is their personality. There are five general traits of human personality: extraversion, openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness. They may be not so universal but analyzing user personas regarding positions regarding those traits can help to understand the relationship users can build with your product’s voice interface.

How to make VUI future happen

Despite its obvious potential, the voice interface is not widespread yet. Some factors are holding it back but that can be solved with the VUI design. Here are some suggestions on how to make VUI’s future happen.

Preventing errors

The seamless user experience may be not so seamless if numerous errors are occurring all the time during the interaction. The first possible error is not recognizing user speech. It was common in the past years but now the speech recognition in voice interaction systems has improved considerably. Another issue that can occur is the voice interface. Not being able to recognize activation phrases. It can happen when there are a lot of background noises or, for example, your phone is playing music and you try to start voice interaction.

Communication by speech contains errors by default. Therefore, the VUI should be simple and have a clear structure, but at the same time, be tolerant of errors and understand the complexity of human speech. People can understand others despite all the errors we make in our speech, background noises, and poor grammar. And if you want to build a great VUI that can lead to meaningful communication, it must do the same.

Mitigating security issues

Modern smartphone users are well-aware of the security and data privacy issues they face every day. Nowadays, they are more cautious with their online activity and try to stick only to digital products they can trust. Therefore, VUI may seem like a new threat to those who care about security issues. Voice user interface indeed opens new channels for malicious activity. If it’s not aimed at hacking user’s devices, VUI can be used to collect their data or just “listen” to their conversations. to their conversations.

That doesn’t sound great, right? Therefore, you need to do everything to make users trust your product and its VUI. One of the options would be to state your security measures clearly, so users won’t feel anxious while using your product. Also, you should explain how you use their data, in case you collect it.

Making VUI smarter

Surely, the voice user interface evolved significantly over the past few users but still, there are a lot of things it is capable of that are yet to be discovered and developed. For now, users mostly use VUI when their hands are occupied, and they can’t use a conventional interface. This usually happens when they’re cooking, driving, or in the gym and rarely when they have full access to their devices.

Expanding VUI’s functionality may be an answer to how to make it more popular among users as right now it’s easier to use a regular screen interface than asking Siri to find something for you. Especially, when it comes to a great amount of information. Therefore, if we want to make VUI useful outside “hands-free” situations, we need to create more possibilities for users.

So, what’s the future of VUI?

Voice user interface is surely coming to smartphone applications and soon will be more common. Spotify already has added VUI to its app for user’s convenience. The question is what types of apps will be powered with VUI and whether users will get used to them. Moreover, the voice user interface design can significantly improve voice interaction, but the complete replacement of conventional screen-first interaction is unlikely. Users will still need the screen for seamless interaction.

Originally published at

Pixetic is a digital agency driven by a passion for design. Agency aims to create unique digital products to reflect clients’ brand values and identity.

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