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Design is at the core of new voice-tech boom: Adobe study

Aug 06. 2019
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The adoption of voice technology continues to surge with assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant becoming staples in our everyday lives. And Adobe recently found that a whopping 91 per cent of brands are already making significant investments in voice.

Some 71 per cent of those brands see voice as improving the user experience. But are consumers realising that promise?

Adobe on Tuesday launched a “voice summit”, sharing its findings from a survey of 1,000 voice technology users in the US about their experiences. The results revealed that there’s major opportunity for designers to lead the way as digital experiences are transformed with voice.

Voice usage is growing but to reach everyday adoption, voice needs designers.

Almost all users (94 per cent) consider voice technology easy to use and say it does more than save time – it improves their quality of life.

But more than half report finding the process of using voice technology non-intuitive – with 49 per cent saying they sometimes don’t know where to begin accomplishing a task.

And while users report satisfaction with the ability of voice assistants to work across devices and provide responses to commands, less than half use voice technology daily.

People already use voice for a wide range of straightforward tasks, including driving directions, phone calls, texts, checking the weather and playing music. But most say they wouldn’t use it for more complex tasks like personal banking (61 per cent) or booking travel (52 per cent).

As brands strive to expand voice interactions beyond transactional use cases to more conversational and complex engagements, designers will play perhaps the most critical role in making voice experiences as user-friendly and intuitive as the touchscreen is today.

To help designers create experiences that leverage this new medium, Adobe on August 6 introduced a new way to create voice experiences using our integration with Amazon Alexa.

Not necessarily human-like 

Many brands strive to design voice assistants that, like people, can hold conversations. But the jury is out – consumers are split nearly down the middle on whether voice technology should (51 per cent) or should not (49 per cent) have human-like attributes, such as sympathy and humour, as it continues to evolve.

The survey found that 70 per cent of users were satisfied with voice technology’s ability to carry on conversations, but unlike a person, voice assistants often struggle to understand what’s asked of them. Half of users said voice recognition is one of the greatest challenges of using the tech. On average, users say voice technology understands them and is accurate when given a command or asked a question only 69 per cent of the time.

And sometimes, interacting with a digital assistant is just plain uncomfortable. Nearly half of respondents (47 per cent) said they sometimes feel awkward talking to a machine.

UX (user experience) designers know that different contexts of use require unique approaches. And when deciding how human-like a voice assistant should be, designers need to take a discerning look at the needs of their users. For example, a voice-powered microwave probably doesn’t need to have human attributes, but a conversational GPS could be beneficial.

Instead of focusing on simulating humans, brands should prioritise creating voice assistants and experiences that are easy to use and intuitive. By paying attention to context of use – such as where and in what situations consumers are using a voice assistant – designers can create more intuitive and natural-feeling interactions that ultimately drive greater adoption and comfort with this emerging medium.

A future of voice and screen combos 

Voice interactions are largely transactional and straightforward today, but Adobe found that many users would like to tap voice for more complex activities like booking a medical appointment (37 per cent), requesting hotel amenities (31 per cent), and grocery delivery (30 per cent). Complexity of tasks is the top reason they would not use voice tech in these situations.

So how can designers simplify these interactions for users? The answer lies in combining voice with a screen.

Smartphones are already the most popular device used for voice technology (85 per cent) – way ahead of smart speakers (39 per cent) – indicating that voice and screens make a winning duo. And most users (80 per cent) agree that visual elements would enable them to use voice technology for a wider variety of tasks, with 83 per cent saying a screen reiterating the command given to confirm understanding would be particularly helpful.

Most importantly, to be effective, a voice interface needs to be intentionally designed.

Designers should equip themselves with first-hand knowledge of voice-enabled products to become experts on the UX of the apps and interactions they will be creating. Designers should use their favourite smart speaker or mobile assistant and get familiar with using voice as a primary interface to learn how their experiences can inform their design approach. They’ll quickly realise which interactions could be improved with a screen element.

Ultimately, voice has the potential to transform the way we approach our interactions with personal technology and brands. Nearly three in five users told Adobe they believe voice will better meet their needs in the next five years.

Users are trusting brands to take voice-driven experiences to the next level, and it falls to the creative community to take the reins as we approach the future of digital engagement.

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