Voice First Design: A Movement Toward Voice-Based Interaction

voice first design

With the rise of voice-controlled devices and interfaces around the world, catering to users with a design that focuses primarily on voice interactions has become essential. This is what remained to be the impetus behind voice-centric design. Now, from the voice-centric design, we are moving towards a voice-first design, which is more about giving priority to voice interactions over on-screen interactions in the design.

As voice interactions and voice searches are increasingly becoming commonplace, leading companies around the world are increasingly embracing the voice-first design principle. To understand the revolutionary role played by voice-first design in the process mobile app design passes through, we need to explain how it works and what are the fundamental principles and effective practices for this design principle to work consistently.

Voice-based vs Screen-Based Interactions in Design

voice first UI design

As of now, most of the devices that we use every day and for a variety of contexts basically depend upon screen-based interactions. But already many such devices are allowing voice interactions to get many things done. From simple voice search on the browser to use of voice assistants such as Siri or Google Assistant, voice interactions are increasingly becoming the mainstream for digital interactions for many users. So, even the top app developers working primarily for screen-first devices such as mobile are increasingly allowing voice interactions in their scheme of things.

It is increasingly becoming apparent that the convergence of the screen-first and voice-first interactions holds the promise for the future of user interfaces and user experience design as a whole. The emergence of voice-only device interfaces further fueled the popularity of the voice-first design principle. From Amazon Echo to Google Home to a host of other devices running on voice commands can be cited as examples of how voice control is becoming the mainstream of digital interactions.

Focus on Building a Personality Instead of just a Persona

Voice is more personal, full of individual attributes, and grains of a personality. The grain of the voice always leaves a distinct remnant of a personality. This is why the first principle that voice-first design initiatives should focus upon is incorporating a distinct personality instead of just building a persona, which is typical for any design effort.

When you focus on giving the speaker of the app a distinct personality with a signature voice modulation, way of greeting, and saying things, a distinctly personal way of informing users and explaining things, the users have the feeling to have interaction with a person, rather than just a machine. When users start to recognize the speaking tone with a specific personality attribute, this establishes a relation that turns into repeated engagement.

Understanding the Maze of Devices

The type of the device and the software platform is in use can influence the voice interactions and their output to a great extent. For every device and OS platform, you should have a clear design plan for incorporating a voice-based design that helps users in controlling and commanding across different contexts. Let’s mention the various devices and APIs required for incorporating the voice-first design.

Keep the Difference Between Talk and Type in Mind

When introducing the voice-first design, another important thing that you need to remember that we don’t talk the way we type. When typing, we mostly use formal expressions, and when talking, we mainly use informal and impromptu expressions. So, if a machine doesn’t understand the natural speech and cannot understand natural language and voice modulation for deciphering the context, mood, and a number of other factors, the response is very unlikely to be natural.

Making machines understand and decipher human speech remained to be one of the biggest challenges as of now. As modern technologies such as natural language processing and natural language generation have worked well to breach this technology gap to a great extent, it is up to the UI designers to utilize these technologies for the advantages of voice interactions.

Ensure Logical and Natural User Flows

For any visual interface design maintaining optimum user, flow is extremely important. The user flow logically guides users to fulfill their objectives while allowing the app to drive their business goals. The user flow shows the critical logic of the underlying system apart from showing the key goals and milestones in the user journey.

For example, in a music streaming app, the ideal user flow should flow from the step of signing up, browsing songs, playlists, artists, genres, and albums, playing a particular playlist, downloading music, making a playlist and sharing the same on other platforms.

Accommodate Non-Linear Interactions

Voice interactions are more whimsical than text-based interactions as they are more impromptu in nature. When talking to an interface, most of the time, users talk as things come to their minds with less scope of thinking in between. Naturally, impromptu use of commands and responses often follows a non-linear path of interactions.

For example, the voice user interface of a food ordering app instead of sticking to the linear steps like selecting a location, browsing delivery options, and restaurants and options should also allow users to make non-linear commands like “I want Byriani and Kebabs”. The voice interface in response to this can interact to draw more information from the users by asking about the location, delivery option and can provide other filter options.


Finally, we must remember that remaining aware of the context of user interaction is the most important aspect of voice-first design. The voice-based design should focus upon responding to the user commands and queries with highly context-aware responses.

by Paul Osborne on 3rd March, 2020

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