It’s no longer a question of whether voice interface will become part of the communication landscape. It’s a question of when and how. So Mirabeau, digital guru Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, and Sam Warnaars from aFrogleap joined up to create Open Voice: a series of interactive meetups in which we will explore the possibilities of voice.
Getting startedOver 100 CMOs, CDOs, decision-makers, creatives and (interaction) designers gathered on May 15, a warm and sunny Tuesday afternoon for the kick-off event. Co-hosted by Maarten and Alexa – Amazon’s Voice Interface – the event promised to shed some light on the latest developments in voice, and to introduce some of the first-movers who are bringing voice to the Netherlands.
Kick-off with a kickThe afternoon began with a keynote presentation from Maarten and Alexa. Maarten’s trademark energy came through as he described his personal experiences with Alexa in his home, and his passion for exploring new technologies. “Last year, I walked around wearing Google Glass all the time,” he says. “But my favorite feature was the voice interface. So I was one of the first to install Alexa in my home. She controls my lights, my music, tells me the weather, keeps track of our shopping lists, and more.”
Maarten went on to explain that Amazon has already sold 38 million voice devices in their first three years, and Google is gaining ground with 13 million sales in their first year alone. “The possibilities of AI assisted chat and voice as a service mean we’re looking at a reach of 500 million Android users,” he said. “And Google is adding more than 30 languages to its service this year, so we’re standing on the edge of development that will move faster than web, and faster than mobile.”
Facing the challengesUnlike the general public, the audience at the first OpenVoice was already fairly familiar with the technology, and many had at least begun to experiment with designing for it. But speakers and attendees alike agreed: there are still major obstacles to overcome.
“Alexa and Assistant don’t always understand the commands,” Maarten explained. “Voice doesn’t allow for virality, and makes discovery quite hard. The most important thing is to stay humble and work hard. We’re still a long way from really understanding this very unique channel. We’ve got to listen and learn.”
Welcome to the stage
To encourage that listening and learning, Open Voice invited four innovators who are leading the charge in voice technology. Each one shared his or her story about the highs and lows of exploring unchartered territory.
- How do you create a value-obsessed culture? Lara Ankersmit, Head of New Media at the NOS – one of the Netherlands’ premier broadcasters – discussed the transformation of a traditional media company into a digital organization. “By 2020, it’s expected that 30% of browsing will happen without a screen,” she said. “And since news and information are two of the ways it’s already being used, we’re exploring the ways that we can use voice as another active channel in our news broadcasting toolkit. We’re examining user needs and expectations and testing a variety of ways in which we can bring the extensive capabilities of the NOS to our audiences.” Lara described the intense work the NOS is doing to bring real value to audiences with enhanced services and up-to-the-minute information, where and when they need it. “We envision a system that allows audiences to actively participate in the news cycle – so that instead of just transmitting information in one direction, we allow a two-way conversion with our listeners.”
- Daniël Sytsma, Founder and Executive Creative Director of Studio Kraftwerk, brings design, innovation and branding together to create powerful experiences. So when Diageo, one of the world’s leading alcohol distributers, wanted to explore the opportunities of voice, they called on him. “Diageo noticed that cocktails are becoming more and more popular in bars, but people rarely make cocktails at home. So, to help them out, we developed The Bar, an Amazon skill (voice’s equivalent to a mobile app) that offers recipes, instructions and lessons in how to make the perfect cocktail. You can even order ingredients and bartending tools directly with Alexa.” Daniël talked a lot about creating the perfect brand voice for The Bar. “We used a lot of humor and personality in our voice,” he says. “After all, it’s supposed to be a fun experience. Now, we’re looking into scaling up the idea to work with Google Assistant, and expanding the skill to include occasion-based party planning and functionality that allows Alexa to suggest cocktails form the ingredients you have on hand. ”
- Jeroen de Bakker, CMO and CDO at Talpa Radio, is a brand strategist and entrepreneur who works on the cutting edge. “Many people thought that the advent of streaming would be the death of radio,” he began. “But we saw it as an opportunity. After all, radio is streaming avant la lettre – it was streaming long before streaming existed. We make content 24 hours a day. There are plenty of opportunities to use voice technology.” Jeroen and his team developed JUKE, a personal music guide that offers complete Dutch radio access, non-stop playlists, and access to 50 million songs. With both free and premium subscription services, JUKE serves a wide Dutch audience and a specific need. “Although our customers’ needs have never changed, their behavior has. With JUKE, we can be with them anywhere and everywhere they are. We’re turning listeners into users. But music streaming is a competitive space, so we new how important it was to develop a solution before our competitors did. Now, we’re refining and expanding it to ensure we continue to meet their needs and keep it personal.”
- Ben Sauer, independent (voice) design strategist and speaker, works with companies around the world to raise their design game. He’s already been talking about voice UI (VUI) for years, and had some words of wisdom and handy tips for the attendees. “More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle was actually the first voice visionary,” said Ben. “He said: ‘If each instrument were able to perform its work by command…master craftsmen would have no need for subordinates, or masters for slaves.’ We now live in a time when that’s not only a possibility, but a reality.” Ben offered honest and clear advice to those attempting to master the voice environment. “We really have no idea where this technology is headed, or what it can do. Our true calling should be to help make the system fail gracefully, so its users can help us make it better.” But the trouble is, users don’t really know what’s possible with voice, or what it can and can’t do. But humans certainly expect more from conversations than they do from text. So Ben advises that the heart of great VUI design is great writing. “The crucial element is to get the design 90% right before you ever start building,” he says. “So I used the well-known ‘Wizard of Oz’ test to accelerate the design process for voice. Basically, I wanted to see if I could go from a voice interface idea to a test in under an hour. And with my methodology, I can. And so can you. Then you can use tools like Amazon Blueprint and SayWizard to build quickly and effectively.”
Are you ready to walk the talk?
The kick-off event for Open Voice was a rousing success, with participants actively chatting over food and drinks at the day’s conclusion. Their questions about use cases, monetization of the technology, how to develop the brand identity voice, and how to out-compete the competition are fuel for future editions of Open Voice. Mirabeau, Maarten and Sam will continue to explore the possibilities and stretch the boundaries ahead.
Register for the 2nd Open Voice event
It’s not too late to join the conversation. You’re likely not as far in your development of voice as our ground-breaking speakers, but chances are, your questions and challenges are the same as theirs. The next OpenVoice event is scheduled for July 3. Stay tuned to www.openvoice.nl and register. The voice you hear at the next event may be your own.