NUX Camp is now a fixture on the Leeds Digital Festival schedule bringing ensuring UX, and the skills and techniques to do it well, are part of the North’s largest digital festival. Two of our lead UX practitioners, Amy Martindale and Natalie Crook, went along for the day and tell us here about the highlight and takeaways from the day.
With the growth of Alexa and Google Home, ‘voice’ is the topic everyone is talking about. Researchers and designers alike are trying to find ways to build new voice interfaces and making them work for users still new to the devices and opportunities they offer. Natalie shares what she learned from the two workshops about designing for voice, the first from Hilary Brownlie and second from Graham Odds.
Talking forms. Prototyping voice interfaces
Hilary Brownlie started her session talking about the importance of voice design, and how it can open technology to many people who are unable to access screens to use the internet whether it be due to confidence levels of disabilities.
She then guided attendees through two powerful techniques to use when starting to design a new voice interface. The first was brainstorming a proto-persona – an essential first step to understanding your user before starting to develop an interface design further. Hilary shared a simple 4 step template for building a proto-persona, which allows the whole team to be engaged and produces a simple but striking visual reminder for the project team.
The second technique was a simple Wizard of Oz prototype testing that allows you to identify any pain points with design flows without the cost of development. With a group of three or four, each person in the group played a different role: One person acted out the device ‘Loo’, another got into the mindset of the persona to act out a few scenarios, to work out the language and responses that could be expected. Other members of the group then worked as researchers, observing, listening, and mapping out the user journey, noting any pain points, errors or speech clashes.
Make your own VUI
Graham Odds kicked off his workshop with some good and some bad examples of current VUIs, linking back to Hilary’s morning workshop and emphasising the importance of prototyping before development.
Graham then introduced some key tools and knowledge for budding ‘Skill’ designers.
Echoism.io is an online community built Alexa skill testing tool that simulates the look and feel of an Amazon Echo. As it runs in the browser, it’s a great tool for trialling and testing skills without the need for buying a device. It can also be used alongside a new IFTTT applet to integrate it with other devices to complete tasks.
Before you get started designing or researching Skills, it’s key to understand the anatomy of Alexa and interactions which can appear quite complex to start. Alexa understands wake words, invocation names, intent and slots, but what if the user doesn’t use this sentence structure, how should the Skill handle the user’s command, rectify the issue and deliver a suitable response?
As a researcher (with a background in front-end dev) it was good to see what it takes to build a Skill for voice interface. We are still a long way from creating a natural user experience with voice interfaces and moving forward we must start making online content more conversational.
Graham left us with a list of helpful resources for building, designing and testing voice interfaces:
- Build a Bot – https://botsociety.io
- Alexa skill testing tool – https://echosim.io
- Designing voice user interfaces – Cathy Pearl
- Conversational Design – Erika Hall
- Alexa skill console – https://developer.amazon.com/alexa
- Device connector – https://ifttt.com/
- Alexa anatomy https://developer.amazon.com/docs/custom-skills/understanding-how-users-invoke-custom-skills.html
Storytelling and content
The other two workshops shared a theme of content, Amy shares here what she learned from these about storytelling for UX and content strategy.
Storytelling methods for UX Design
Anna Dahlström start her workshop with a great introduction to the importance of storytelling from Taking inspiration from the stories she heard and read growing up in Sweden, Anna painted a picture of how stories change how people process the information they are given, then moved on to how tried and tested storytelling techniques can be used as into a strong basis for UX design.
Taking Aristotle’s 3 act structure as an example, we learned how the narrative from setup, to confrontation, and finally to resolution, translates perfectly to a user journey of awareness, to consideration and finally to purchase. We then put this into practice, mapping out the story of someone encountering and purchasing a new Personal Assistant, designed to help people with their personal and work life, working across devices and integrating with all of the user’s services and apps, such as calendars, email, Amazon, Netflix, etc.
With a plethora of post-its, we mapped out the experience of our product, focussing on three of the seven principles of good storytelling: the plot, the characters, and the décor.
1) The plot
First we mapped out the main sequences, plot points, and scenes that made up the user experience. We used ‘dramaturgy’ – knowing how to apply and structure elements to tell a story – including events such as the user realising their need for the product, then later finding it online, then using it for the first time. This laid out the key points of the user journey for us to build on in the next part.
2) The characters
Next we thought about who the characters were in our story – all the actors who would play a role in the overall experience of the personal assistant, considering their roles and when they would come into the journey. Crucially, our characters weren’t limited to human beings, but also anyone and anything the user would interact with, including the personal assistant themselves, different devices, and any other interfaces the user would come across.
3) The décor
Finally we imagined the environment in which the user would engage with the personal assistant. We used the metaphor of a set – on the sofa, walking down the street, at work – to understand the different elements which would make up each of these environments.
After we finished, Anna summarised the best bits from each group’s ideas and we all shared the key things that we had learned from the exercises. There were a few core things that kept coming up – we all agreed that the exercise made us realise:
- How using storytelling in design helps us to think more conceptually.
- How many characters there are involved in a story. And these aren’t just people – characters can by anyone or anything the protagonist interacts with along the way.
- How much needs to happen in the back-end to make something happen.
- Because experiences online are no longer as linear as going from A to B, the need to map and story-tell is greater than ever.
- There is power in visualising the experience – without this, our own experiences and preconceptions impact how we approach designing a product and can stray away from delivering what the user really wants and needs.
Anna’s book, ‘Storytelling in Design’ is due out this July.
Content Design 101
Sarah Richards started her workshop how she introduces ‘Content Design’ to gov.uk. This approach has improved the quality of content throughout gov.uk, removing content which wasn’t needed and making sure the remaining content was to the point, what users needed, and easy to consume. Research is crucial to this strategy, as if a user need is not credible, it is not a user need.
To make sure users understand the content we deliver, and trust it, we need to speak to facts or emotion, depending on the audience.
For our exercises in this session, we took on the role of content strategists for a green energy company who were planning on fracking in a rural town. A rival energy company, with a less favourable reputation were also planning on fracking and were coming under fire from residents for this decision. We needed to maintain our good reputation and put residents’ minds at ease.
We first considered different user stories to form a basis for our content strategy, making them granular and detailed for better content. We followed the following layout to put together our user stories:
- As a
- I want to
- So that [I can achieve my goal of…]
For example, one of our user stories was:
- As an estate agent
- I want to understand the effects of fracking on house prices
- So that I know how it will affect my business.
In another exercise, we worke in pairs, with one person taking the role of someone questioning the content strategy and the other taking the role of someone championing user needs, making sure not to use the phrase ‘I think’, and replacing this with something like ‘research shows’ or ‘our data shows our users want’. The aim of this was to find out how making this small change in language makes our arguments stronger and removes biased opinion from our content decisions.
- You can run an entire organisation on one bank of user needs.
- Arguments can be avoided when both parties look at the research evidence rather than taking an opinionated position.