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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Designers characterize naturalness in voice user interfaces : their goals, practices, and challenges Kim, Yelim


With substantial industrial interests, conversational voice user interfaces (VUIs) are becoming ubiquitous through devices that feature voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa. Naturalness is often considered to be central to conversational VUI designs as it is associated with numerous benefits such as reducing cognitive load and increasing accessibility. The literature offers several definitions for naturalness, and existing conversational VUI design guidelines provide different suggestions for delivering a natural experience to users. However, these suggestions are hardly comprehensive and often fragmented. A precise characterization of naturalness is necessary for identifying VUI designers’ needs and supporting their design practices. To this end, we interviewed 20 VUI designers, asking what naturalness means to them, how they incorporate the concept in their design practice, and what challenges they face in doing so. Through inductive and deductive thematic analysis, we identify 12 characteristics describing naturalness in VUIs and classify these characteristics into three groups, which are ‘Fundamental’, ‘Transactional’ and ‘Social’ depending on the purpose each characteristic serves. Then we describe how designers pursue these characteristics under different categories in their practices depending on the contexts of their VUIs (e.g., target users, application purpose). We identify 10 challenges that designers are currently encountering in designing natural VUIs. Our designers reported experiencing the most challenges when creating naturally sounding dialogues, and they required better tools and guidelines. We conclude with implications for developing better tools and guidelines for designing natural VUIs.

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