Open voice co-founder Maarten Lens-FitzGerald opened the event, with his trusty Voice assistant Alexa at his side. He set the tone for the event and explained to participants what they could expect. “We’re not talking about brands and demos today. We’re going to dig deeper into the ‘why’.” Each of the speakers chosen for the event offered expert insight into creating the right brand ‘voice’, and the often-unforeseen consequences of making less-than-optimal choices.
Building voices through choices
After a thought-provoking warm-up discussion, Maarten van de Koevering took the stage. As Business Development Manager at ReadSpeaker, Maarten helps companies on their journey to build their brand voice. The text-to-speech (TTS) specialist advises us to look beyond the standard. “A company’s voice is part of its brand identity, so developing the perfect voice for your brand requires insight,” he advised.
Maarten explained that companies have choices to make on two levels. First, the selection of the right voice. “Many companies choose one of the standard default voices. But it’s not exactly ideal if your company’s Voice interface sounds exactly like your competition’s. It’s better to find a voice that is uniquely your own.” That includes creating a personality profile that embodies your brand, and then finding the voice that matches it.
Second, companies should think about the technical setup of their voice platform. While a default technical setup puts a company’s voice on one Voice device, Maarten offers an alternative that allows companies to create an omnichannel voice, usable on multiple Voice devices, websites, mobile phones, customer announcements, and more. Thus, creating a seamless Voice experience across all channels.
Striving for independence
We often talk about how Voice can help make our lives easier. But for more than 250,000 people in the Netherlands, and countless people across the world, Voice may be the key to more independent life. Ellen Kok, Reintegration Coach at Phoenix, offered her insight into why a more Voice-guided world could help the visually impaired live more freely. Legally blind since her childhood, Ellen struggles with many of the everyday activities that many of us take for granted. “We live in a visual world,” she said. “Everything has displays, signs or screens. But when my radio gets stuck in ‘menu’ mode, or my washing machine is on the wrong setting, I have to call my neighbor to help me. I dream of a world in which Voice guidance is normal, so I can do more of these things myself.”
Ellen also discusses the challenge of an aging population. “Many of the visually impaired are over the age of 50,” she explained. “And as people live longer, we’re going to have more and more visually impaired citizens. There are some solutions now, but they can get much better. It would be amazing to have a centralized agent in the home that connected all my appliances and systems together in a Voice interface. At the same time, I’d like every element to also be operable independently. That way, if the central agent breaks down, I can still navigate through my daily activities.”
The State of Voice
Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald then took the stage again for his traditional ‘State of Voice’ update. He demonstrated the rapid growth of Voice by showing that devices are now available at has local supermarket, for just €59.99.
But while the world is focusing on Amazon Alexa and Google Home, some dark horses are gaining speed. “Keep an eye on Samsung Bixby,” Maarten advised. “It’s the first Voice interface to release a second-generation platform, and the creators of Siri are now working there. And remember: Samsung is not only huge in mobile – it has an entire range of home appliances. Therefore, Samsung has the possibility to roll out her new Bixby voice platform to its home appliances surpassing the whole smart speaker play”
In 1998, we couldn’t imagine we would ever use a mobile phone (see video Hans Bromet). Now 20 years later, what do people think about using Voice Assistants like Google Home and Siri? We asked the people on the streets of Amsterdam:
Savvy consumers of today know that brands aren’t just collecting our data to improve their advertising. They’re using it to shape our perceptions. So, it’s no wonder that people are developing a strong mistrust of technology. And Voice is no exception. Tijmen Schep, Technology Critic and Privacy Designer, brought a crucial new dimension to the discussions around Voice: privacy and trust. “We’re seeing a growth in the global mistrust of technology,” Tijmen says. “As a result, we’re seeing a ‘social cooling’ overtake us. Much in the same way that our concerns about global warming
Tijmen conducted an experiment to see if it’s possible to change the privacy paradigm in Voice. “In standard systems, the user – and all his or her data – is entirely visible, and the system is hidden. I wanted to develop a system in which the user is invisible, and the system is entirely transparent.” In a world where people are led to believe that they shouldn’t know how the technology works, Tijmen intends to defuse the ‘trust time bomb’. Starting with a Voice device people can assemble themselves and disguise within an everyday object, Tijmen offered tips to increase privacy and restore trust. He established some key rules for creating a privacy-friendly smart home.
Lastly, Tijmen proposes that users should be in complete control of their image and identity – and allow each individual user to add or remove data as they see fit. “Parents may see a smart home as a way to monitor their kids. But kids should also have a say in how the technology is used in their own homes.” This will restore trust in the technology and diffuse the ticking time bomb of mistrust that can inhibit innovation.
The social impact of Voice
The final speaker of the day was Sophie Kleber, Executive Director of Huge, a digital agency in New York. Sophie explored the underlying social impact of our choices when it comes to Voice and warned against perpetuating old stereotypes with limited thinking. “The focus right now is on making Voice interfaces as human as possible,” Sophie said. “People identify Alexa as ‘a member of the family’, and children see her as a ‘friend and playmate’. But we have a responsibility to think more broadly about the impact of humanizing technology.”
Sophie explored some of the key questions that Voice designers are – and should be – asking themselves. Questions like: ‘Are you able to craft a universally liked Voice personality? And if so, should you?’. “We are all phenomenal suckers for flattery – insincere praise – so when our Voice assistant compliments us, we like it more. A universally liked Voice is also conscientious, empathetic and good-humored.” But should that be our aim?
Sophie says many companies are now offering options to change Voice from male to female, and even to remove naming from wake words. When we wake a Voice assistant with, “Computer, add milk to my shopping list,” we help reduce the illusion that we have a human-like relationship with the technology.
To keep the human/machine lines from blurring, Sophie offered Guiding Principles for Voice Designers:
- Craft a personality with values.
- Give the user explicit control.
- Respect human nature.
Deeper insight from Deep Voice
The exploration into Deep Voice was a welcome and refreshing perspective for visitors. During breaks and snacks, participants chatted enthusiastically about all they had heard. Digital Designers Ashwin and Sanne were eager to take their learnings back to work. “Our clients are talking more and more about Voice, and it’s important that we explore all the aspects of the question,” they said.
Natasha, a Marketer at Philips, also appreciated the approach of the talk. “UX design is the center of everything,” she said. “So the human approach is critical. We have to keep these personal issues of trust, privacy, accessibility and social constructs in mind if we are to design responsibly.”
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About Open Voice
Mirabeau, Maarten Lens-FitzGerald (Conva) and Sam Warnaars (aFrogleap - a Merkle company) are founders of Open Voice: a series of interactive meetups in which we will explore the possibilities of the new channel of voice.
Together we enable others to share best practices and learnings, show how voice and conversations fit into the customer journey and connect the people in the emerging voice industry.
Read the recaps of the first, second and third edition of Open Voice.
Do you want to learn more about Open Voice? Get in touch with Hayo Rubingh.