Design Principles

The emergence of voice user interfaces (VUIs), such as Amazon Alexa, isn’t an incremental improvement to existing technology; it marks a major advancement human-computer interaction. As such, designing skills differs from designing apps for traditional graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Rather than designing skills as replacements for GUIs, you need to change your whole design approach. Your skill designs must create truly conversational, voice-first interactions, while providing a harmonious GUI and touch-based interactions that are complementary to the main way users interact.

The Alexa Design Guide is comprehensive and broken down into multiple sections to help you design a satisfying and effective Alexa experience. To help get you started, you'll learn about four design principles to keep in mind when you design an Alexa skill.

Create ambient and proactive experiences

Alexa is ever-present and is always available for your users. Whether they are at home or on the go, Alexa is always available and provides the right information, at the right time, and in the most suitable format for your users. Alexa anticipates your user needs, and when appropriate, proactively helps your users to achieve their goals more effectively. Making Alexa more proactive helps your users have conversations that naturally flow.

At home

While at home, customers appreciate Alexa for its strengths as a multimodal platform. Alexa honors modality. If a user speaks to an Alexa device, then it responds with voice. If a user touches a smart screen, then the smart screen remains quiet. Being aware of modality allows for the power of far-field interaction when the user's hands are occupied, while adapting to a lean-in experience when the user is within reach of the device.

With the addition of Alexa Presentation Language (APL) widgets for smart-screen devices, users can now experience an easy-to-read, self-updating view of content and functionality. This view enables users to perform quick actions without leaving the current screen context. Users can interact with widgets by using the modality of their choice: touch or voice.

On the go

Alexa enables customers to intelligently explore and navigate the world no matter which mode of mobility they’re in. Whether by foot, bike, car, train, bus, or plane, Alexa adapts to the device and environment. This allows for user experiences that you can personalize and make proactive.

One way you can design on-the-go experiences more easily is to use event based triggers. With event based triggers, you make Alexa aware of an approximate customer’s location and current activity, such as walking, jogging, running, or driving. These triggers enable Alexa to initiate proactive suggestions based on the customer's activity or whereabouts. You can create experiences such as a user getting a proactive suggestion when their order is ready at the grocery store or a user starting a run and getting a suggestion for a workout playlist.

APL Widgets

Learn about best practices and how to design and implement APL widgets.

Event based triggers and proactive suggestions

Learn about when to use location services and event based triggers without being overbearing.

Be natural

Spoken language is the most natural way of achieving goals through conversations with Alexa. Alexa uses conversational language to help your users interact with any device. When you create Alexa experiences, make sure that your users can use natural language without having to learn new, specific phrases.

When you have a conversation with an individual, there’s a natural back and forth. You’ll say something, your conversational partner will understand what you’re saying, process it, and respond in a way that is concise and understood by both parties. Your Alexa skills should also be natural by adapting to a user’s utterances appropriately and responding in a relatable way.

Take a look at the following example of an unnatural conversation. In the example, a user is asking Alexa for a movie recommendation.

User dialog icon

Alexa, what movie should I watch today?

Sorry, I don't understand.

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

Alexa, open Movie Tickets.

Welcome to Movie Tickets. In this skill you can get movie tickets or recommendations for movies to watch at home.  I can show you horror movies, romantic movies, action movies, dramas, sci-fi movies, comedies, documentaries, animation films, or thrillers.

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

Wow. That’s a lot. Okay, ummm. I’d like Tom Hanks's comedies.

I have over 500 comedy movie recommendations. I can narrow that down by a leading actor or actress, like Viola Davis or Robin Williams.

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

Tom Hanks

Great, I can recommend The Burbs, Big, The Money Pit, Sleepless in Seattle, Tuner & Hooch, and Joe Versus the Volcano.

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

What’s Sleepless in Seattle about?

Sorry, I don't understand.

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

What's the movie Sleepless in Seattle about?

Playing Sleepless in Seattle.

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

Alexa, Stop.


Now look at an example of a natural conversation.

 

 

User dialog icon

Alexa, what movie should I watch today?

I know you’re a big fan of romantic comedies. How about Bridget Jones’s Diary?

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

No, that's okay.

No problem. What are you in the mood for?

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

I'd like Tom Hanks's comedies.

I think you’d really like Sleepless in Seattle. Want to watch that?

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

What's it about?

Tom Hanks plays a widower named Sam who moves to Seattle with his son. His son calls into a radio show to help find a new wife for his dad. Meg Ryan plays a reporter that listens to Sam on the line and falls for him. Sound good?

Alexa dialog icon
thin horizontal line
User dialog icon

Yeah!  I'll watch that!



There are a few key concepts you should keep in mind to have a natural conversation, such as the latter Movie Tickets experience.

Write the way you speak

It’s tempting to write an Alexa skill in the same way you’d write out a text message. However, we don’t write the same way we speak. The spoken word is brief. People often use contractions to speed things up. People express their emotions through pauses and different cadence. In addition, they don’t try to repeat themselves. The best way to test if your dialog works is to act it out, one person as Alexa and the other as your user. After you’ve written the dialog in a natural way, you can use Alexa Presentation Language for Audio to customize your speech pattern and responses.


Unnatural conversation

I have a lot of movie recommendations. I can show you horror movies, romantic movies, action movies, dramas, sci-fi movies, comedies, documentaries, animation films, or thrillers

Alexa dialog icon

Natural conversation

 

What are you in the mood for?

Alexa dialog icon

Invoke your skill with the customer’s goal in mind

Typically, a user has a goal in mind of what they’re looking for when they communicate with Alexa. They don’t necessarily know the name of a skill that will complete their request. You can sign up for the Name Free Interaction Toolkit preview to have users discover your skill more easily. Alexa uses keywords, skill descriptions, and categories to surface the most relevant skill for a task.


Unnatural conversation

User dialog icon

Alexa, open Movie Recommender.


Natural conversation

User dialog icon

Alexa, what movie should I watch today?

Adapt to the user

Users talk in a variety of ways, but there are pattrns to these varieties. For instance, users say a variety of phrases to mean the same thing, they use pronouns, they over and under-answer questions, and they correct themselves. Adapting to all these varieties can seem daunting. Alexa Conversations can simplify that. Alexa Conversations is an artificial intelligence (AI) driven engine that you train with just a few sample dialogs to create simulated dialogs that represent a wide range of speech behaviors.


Unnatural conversation

What genre do you want?

Alexa dialog icon
User dialog icon

I'd like Tom Hanks's comedies.

thin horizontal line

What actor or actress?

Alexa dialog icon
User dialog icon

Tom Hanks


Natural conversation

What genre do you want?

Alexa dialog icon
User dialog icon

I'd like Tom Hanks's comedies.

thin horizontal line

I think you'd really like Sleepless in Seattle.

Alexa dialog icon

Try out Alexa AI-driven tools, such as Alexa Conversations, to enhance the use of spoken language and create a better conversation flow between your user and Alexa.

For details, see the following:

Dialog Design with Alexa Conversations

Learn about Alexa Conversations’ understanding of user interactions and the best practices for how to design sample dialogs.

Dialog Evaluation Tool

Learn how to use Alexa’s AI real time to automatically generate the right response in your dialog.

Make it personalized, communal and relevant

To build a great Alexa conversation, you need to understand your users and design for their needs. You make Alexa more relevant and approachable for your users when you make the communications personalized as needed, but you also support communal communications when more than one person is interacting with Alexa. When you know the person Alexa is speaking to, you can help steer conversations in the right direction. Similarly, when you have the context of past conversations, you can help Alexa make the conversation flow better and be more relevant.

Personalizing the experience for customers rewards them for their use of the skill, creating familiarity while providing personalized information for them alone. You can increase or decrease the degree of context depending on the individual skill that you are creating. To some degree, you need to collect information from the customer to move the discussion forward. It is within those moments that you need to determine what information you need to collect and store or what information you can discard after the individual session ends.

Be contextual

Alexa understands context. Users switch topics and go from task to task. Design your experiences so that Alexa can transition from one task to another and from one device to another gracefully.

Skill connections enable an Alexa skill to use another skill to perform a specific task. A skill connection lets you offload common tasks to outside providers. Skill connections improve the Alexa user experience by enabling users to move freely between skills without having to repeat information. For example, a user who interacts with a recipe skill can say "print this" to print a recipe. The recipe skill can then use a skill connection to forward the request to a printing skill.

For details, see the following:

Seamlessly go from one skill to another with skill connections

Learn when it’s best for your skill to fulfill a user need and when it’s better to hand things off.

The Alexa Skills Kit provides Alexa-hosted skill templates that put these principles to practice. For details, see our documentation to learn how to create a custom skill from a quick start template.