Explainable VUI Design

2 Feb
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I was recently invited by FORD‘s Shyamala Prayaga to talk about “Explainable VUI Design” on her Digital Assistant Academy podcast “The Future is Spoken” and I was of course delighted to oblige! You can find our (audio and video) conversation on YouTube, Google podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, as well as on the DA Academy website.

There was a live LinkedIn event premiering the podcast on Tuesday 2nd February at 2pm UK / 9am ET. One of the participants, Ashish Handa, amazingly made – on the fly – incredibly detailed and comprehensive and yet very clear and insightful drawings of what we were discussing. You can find all 3 of them below. I am so impressed and honoured by his creativity and dedication! ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ™ A true Master! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

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Below are some highlights from our conversation taken from the Podcast Episode Notes:

[00:25 ] From Linguistics to NLP to VUI Design

  • Maria originally studied Linguistics and English Literature in Greece, so she naturally wanted to go and study and work in the UK.
  • She was looking for Sponsorship for her Masters, when she bumped into the field of Machine Translation and NLP.
  • During her PhD studies in 1993, she discovered the world of Artificial Neural Networks and got fascinated by their potential and decided to apply them to Automatic Text Summarisation.
  • It was through a Post-Doc in Spoken Dialogue Management for Speech IVRs that she got into the world of Voice and Speech Recognition back in 1996. From then on, she has been a VUI Designer!

 [07:20 ] SIRI comes into play!

  • Maria explains how the iPhone was like having a full computer in our pockets and how SIRI was the beginning of a new era, making Speech Recognition and Voice mainstream.
  • She feels very proud about the Voice field, which she considers like her “baby” growing up to be an adult!
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 [09:40 ] Explainable VUI Design

  • Maria coined the term “Explainable VUI” in 2019 amid the myriad of Voice applications and Voice Assistant skills / actions / capsules designed by programmers or marketing people.
  • “Explainable VUI” means to design a Human-Computer interface bearing in mind both the complexities and imperfections of human language and the limitations of the technology (ASR / speech recognition / NLP).
  • A lot of her work with various companies and organisations creating VUI Designs from scratch or reviewing existing ones is carefully crafting system prompts.
  • She stressed the importance of knowing how the background technology works.

 [20:23 ] Balancing UX with discoverability of new features.

 [22:16 ] How many menu options can a user take?

  • Voice helps the user to quickly bypass a big chunk of the menu tree, if they know what they want, especially power users. Menu options are for newbies or people who are not sure what to ask for.

 [24:05 ] Challenges of VUI vs GUI

  • Maria elaborates on the different types of challenges that Voice interfaces have compared to graphical interfaces.
  • Voice can empower and engage many more disenfranchised people, if designed right.
  • She also explains how designers can address inclusivity in their conversation design, without necessarily showcasing the shortcomings of the interface.

 [39:17 ] The importance of Data

  • Maria emphasises the need for a data-driven approach in Conversational Design.
  • Conversational designers certainly need to spend a lot of time thinking about the dialogues, but there are so many other factors to consider in designing a good dialogue system that enjoys high acceptability and adoption rates.
  • Designing dialogue flows for Voice or Chat is not the same as writing catchy mottos or gripping stories.

 [47:20 ] Designing for Listenability rather than Readability

  • Chatbots vs Voicebots and Voice Assistants
  • Maria elaborates on how to ensure designing for listeners rather than for readers.
  • She stresses the need to provide concise but also clear and unambiguous information.
  • Voice input presents a great deal more challenges than Chat input, which is far less ambiguous.

 [52:14] Must Listen

  • Maria’s pieces of advice for aspiring Conversational Designers and people new in this field on how to start, learn, get ahead, and flourish.

You can find the full transcript here.

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