January 10, 2019 USER EXPERIENCE

Alexa fmr UX Product Lead on Building Voice Products

PTC crew Article Author
Phillip Hunter
Nuance Communications Director of User Experience at the Cognitive Innovation Group

Phillip Hunter is a voice technology guru - covering the early days of voice-enabled call centers to modern products like Alexa. Using voice products on a daily basis is becoming part of our cultural norms, but are their features indispensable? Phillip talks about the impact of cultural norms in shaping the future (and ultimately the effectiveness) of voice products.

Voice Products: It’s All About Cultural Context

When talking about voice products, it’s important to consider the motivation for using them. In other words, we all own products that feature voice technology in some capacity. For example, virtually all smartphones have a voice assistant (Siri, Cortana, etc.). The question becomes – are you using these features daily or sporadically? Most importantly, do you think that you wouldn’t be able to live without making use of these voice-enabled features?

I bring this up because we’re living in a period in which almost everything we do on a daily basis can potentially involve voice products. That said, there’s a cultural difference between simply having access to a feature and thinking it’s indispensable. Today, voice technology is more accessible than ever before. As product managers, we all need to understand its power and potential for enhancing the user experience. However, it has to hit the mark in a way that aligns with user expectations and cultural norms.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to present a cultural exercise that involves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m sure you’re thinking – what does a PB&J have to do with voice products? The connection lies within how you understand a PB&J compared to another person (or in this case, a voice-enabled device). For example, one way to test this out is to role-play with a friend. One person chooses to be the product user – and the other takes the place of the voice-enabled device. Furthermore, this becomes much more entertaining with multiple “users” and “devices” involved in the process.

The exercise is very simple – the user asks the device “how do I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

By going through this exercise, a few things will likely occur. First, the explanation that your device gives you will probably be slightly different than your own PB&J process. In other words, the “art” of making a PB&J is something that’s culturally ingrained in us very early on in life. However, when people attempt to articulate something that’s been learned and understood for so long, it can be difficult to provide a simple explanation.

In summary, the challenge facing today’s voice products is not their ability to process words or commands that they receive. Conversely, it’s about organizing the response in a way that makes sense to users based on our cultural expectations. Ultimately, voice products will become indispensable as their content becomes more culturally aligned with how people expect to receive a response.


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About the Speaker
Phillip Hunter
Nuance Communications Director of User Experience at the Cognitive Innovation Group
Phillip Hunter is the VP of Product at Pulse Labs - creating user experience solutions for voice-driven products. Prior to joining Pulse Labs, Phillip led the user experience team for Alexa at Amazon. In addition, Phillip managed user experience team for Amazon Web Services. Before his career at Amazon, Phillip worked on design teams at Microsoft’s application services group - including Bing, Office and Skype.

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