How Flat Navigation Can Help Improve User Experiences on Voice Interfaces
If designed well, with voice search a user can skip the intermediary steps and get straight to the information they need. In addition to the nature of the interaction itself, an important difference to understand when designing a UX vs. a VUX is the navigation. On a mobile app, the experience is hierarchical, but with voice experiences, there is an opportunity to create what is known as a ‘flat navigation.’
Take a look at the steps that go into ordering a new phone charger via the Amazon app:
You open the app
Search for “phone charger”
Do some scrolling
Tap on a product
Scroll some more and then click “buy”
That’s at least 5 screen taps required to drill down into the part of the mobile app you want in that very moment.
In contrast, with voice, you can simply ask, “I’d like to buy a new phone charger.” It’s like opening the app and immediately being taken to the product purchase screen.
The advantages for the customer of this ‘flat navigation’ structure are speed, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience.
For the business, it’s being present, ready, and waiting to capture the moment a customer thinks about something they would like to do, and then asks for it. Of course vocalizing the thought is a new habit consumers are still learning, but for households that already own voice assistants, it’s being adopted fast, and employed frequently.
VUX design for accessing services
Other commands that work great with a flat navigation are:
“Get me a ride to work”
“Set an alarm for 10am tomorrow”
“Tune into BBC Radio 4”
“How long will it take me to get from home to Paddington Station by public transport”
Notice that for the service-based commands, most already have the user’s context. For example, the assistant knows the location of the user’s ‘home’ and ‘work’ as I’ve already mapped this route many times via Google Maps on my phone. For the taxi scenario, there is no need for me to add card information or addresses; Uber has known this information for a long time, and I’ve just enabled voice ordering.
For a service business designing a presence on voice, this is an extremely important point to think about: what contextual information can you leverage to improve your voice experience? And what words might the customer use to vocalize these pieces of data?
As soon as the customer has to answer more than 2–3 follow up questions like “Where should the taxi take you to?” and “What is the address of your home?” the magical experience of a ‘flat navigation’ is broken and you may lose your customer to your mobile app, or a different, better-designed voice experience.
VUX design for enabling better search
Voice search can also showcase the smoothness of a ’flat navigation,’ especially when the answer to the question is unique and specific. Some examples:
“What’s the time in Lima, Peru right now?”
“What films are on at my local cinema tomorrow evening?”
“How do you say hello in French?”
“How many people live in New York City?”
It’s still difficult to make these queries contextual, even for the tech giants.
This presents a great opportunity for a business. If you have detailed, well-structured data there will be value in making it voice accessible — because voice assistants will happily sub their selected answer for yours if they think it will provide a better customer experience. Alexa in particular will often follow up an answer with: “Did that answer your question?” The more confirmations it gets, the more your brand’s voice will be pushed to the top of voice search.
VUX design for building trust
Your customers may have already developed trust in your brand on mobile or web, but that bank of trust will only go so far when entering your branded experience on voice. In addition, the lack of visual cues when interacting with a voice assistant can often make a user feel unsure and apprehensive. Therefore it is paramount to think about ways to build trust when designing your voice experience.
These design features are fairly subjective to the experience, but there are a few good examples out there to take inspiration from.
Amazon uses the lights on the Echo devices: There’s the familiar slow, circling blue light to show it’s listening, which changes to a fast, blinkering light when it is “thinking.”
The Hound App types out the query as you speak it, to show you it’s understood correctly.
A trivia game can build trust by repeating the incorrect answer. Instead of the voice assistant saying “That’s incorrect,” which may leave the user wondering whether it heard them correctly, the reply could be “Paris is incorrect.”
The first time I asked Google to “Call Mom” instead of responding ”There is no one called Mom in your contacts,” it asked me “Did you mean Mom UK?” This intuitive confirmation step not only built my trust, but let the assistant know that by Mom I meant the number Mom UK, which it remembered for next time.
The voice-enabled meditation app Headspace explicitly states up front what you can and can’t do within the app. This is a clever move given mobile users are accustomed to a wide range of functionality, and helps build the user’s trust when using voice.
A recipe voice app can build trust by asking a user if they have dietary requirements, then show the user they remember the information by only serving up relevant recipes.
There are so many different ways to build trust with a customer through your voice experience. The best way of finding ones that will work for your business is by using as many as you can at home, and then adapting these to your brand.
As voice-enabled products and services continue to evolve, it’s imperative for brands to have a voice-first strategy — with flat navigation only being one step of that journey. Read our in-depth VUI Best Practice Guide for more expert advice on creating truly engaging and helpful voice user interactions.
Jess Williams is the CEO of Opearlo, a team of voice designers and developers that build voice apps for Google Home and Amazon Alexa. You can follow her on Twitter: @Jess_P_Williams