VUI & The Rise Of Voice

Voice user interfaces (VUI) are on the rise. We’ve come a long way in VUI since the 1950s systems and their tiny vocabularies, but we haven’t quite reached Star Trek levels yet.


In 2016, Google reported that 20% of its search queries are performed via voice. As smartwatches and screenless devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home become more commonplace, companies need to consider if their business would benefit from a VUI.

The benefits of VUIs

With an abundance of existing interaction methods, texting, swiping, snapping, posting, and commenting, what advantages does voice have over the rest?

Speed

An obvious benefit is speed; speaking is faster than even the most proficient thumb warrior.

Ease-of-Use

For users who aren’t familiar with technology, VUI doesn’t have a steep learning curve, and anyone who has learnt to speak can respond to this new type of interface.

Empathy

Empathy is another great advantage of voice. Tone and intonation can convey a great deal, particularly for users who are vulnerable or emotionally distressed.

Accessibility

VUIs can also allow the visually impaired to access more services and provide an improved user experience to standard screen readers.

When voice is less useful

However, voice isn’t always the best option for users. If your product is to be used in mostly public spaces, such as navigating a metro system at rush hour, VUI might not be the right choice. Similarly, there is the potential for privacy violation if a VUI automatically reads out your latest Tinder message.

So, is a VUI right for your business?

First, you need to determine whether your users will benefit from a VUI by conducting user research. Adding a VUI, just because it’s new and trendy, isn’t a smart decision.

If your users can benefit from a VUI, you need to think carefully about their key tasks (transfer money, book flight) environment and whether a visual representation would be appropriate for your user type. Remember, your design from the outset should always have your users’ needs in mind.

Still unsure whether a VUI is right for your users? Have you tried asking them?

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Mary Butler

Lead UX Designer

The author

As Webfactory’s UX specialist Mary focuses on research, both qualitative and quantitative, user experience design and information architecture. She has worked across a range of sectors and industries to develop closer understanding of user needs and requirements.

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