Because conversational design for voice skills is a relatively new field, there can be a shortage of resources for developers looking to build quality interactions that drive customer engagement. The Alexa Design Guide helps fill that gap.
“There are over 130,000 Alexa skills available, so we know a lot about what makes a skill successful,” says Alison Atwell, senior voice user interface designer for Alexa Skills Kit. “In the Alexa Design Guide, we share best practices to increase the likelihood that people will remember a skill, enjoy it, and use it over and over again.”
Reimagining the Alexa design guide
With over a decade of practice in user experience design, Atwell was drawn to voice technology because of its broad application. “To me, no interface is the better interface,” says Atwell.
Atwell first encountered voice design 10 years ago when she helped design a chatbot for an airline. She analyzed flight attendant scripts and took the airline’s flight attendant training course to shape how the chatbot responded so that customers had a consistent experience. “I had a blast designing the chatbot from scratch,” says Atwell. “It has stuck with me ever since.”
Atwell started working as a voice design consultant in 2018, supporting third-party developers who were creating Alexa skills. Over the past 5 years, she used her experience reviewing hundreds of skills across industries and use cases to contribute to the Alexa Design Guide.
Starting in early 2022, Atwell took the lead in deciding the future direction of the Alexa Design Guide. She and her team reimagined the guide and published an overhauled version in December 2022. Their goal was to unify content into a single resource, update information with the latest recommendations, and add brand-new content based on feedback from real-life developers and Alexa users.
Helping developers create quality Alexa skills
The new presentation of the Alexa Design Guide is simpler to use than prior versions. Every article has a summary that highlights key takeaways at the top. Checklists offer concise and actionable steps to help developers improve the skills they are actively working on.
“One of our tenets is accessibility,” says Atwell. “We wanted to create content that is simple to consume, simple to understand, and has relatable and relevant examples.”
To encourage developers to think about the unique experience of voice technology, the Alexa Design Guide includes over 100 audio examples with expandable transcripts.
“One key piece of advice is to always listen to your script out loud before you start coding,” says Atwell. “You have to hear it in Alexa’s voice because the user is eventually going to hear it in Alexa’s voice.” Atwell and her team based the examples on existing skills to illustrate in a compelling way both what to replicate and what to avoid in conversation design. To save time and follow best practices, Atwell encourages developers to model their skills directly after the positive examples rather than starting from scratch.
The guide also includes expanded content about what makes a high-quality skill, which can help experienced developers achieve a return on investment faster. “If you want to monetize a skill, it’s important to think about what you’re offering that enhances the experience so much that a user would want to pay for it,” says Atwell. By improving the quality of a skill, developers can often increase monetization, retention, and conversions right away. Atwell recommends that developers who want to monetize their skills should dig into reviews and analytics. Using features like the A/B testing tool, developers can measure and compare recent feedback from users and experiment with variables to determine what users like the most. If developers identify an area for improvement, they can look to the Alexa Design Guide for advice on how to move the needle and increase customer satisfaction.
Going forward, the team plans to release quarterly updates to the Alexa Design Guide so that it stays relevant and is responsive to what developers need. On every page of the guide, there is a link that developers can use to leave feedback. The team plans to use this information to determine the future direction of the guide and the kind of content to prioritize.
Putting principles from the Alexa Design Guide into action
Though the look and feel of the Alexa Design Guide has changed, the purpose has stayed the same. Developers should continue to use it alongside technical documentation, supplementing the step-by-step content with big picture strategy.
“The Alexa Design Guide is like a sherpa,” says Atwell. “If you need anything or encounter a question, the content is there and accessible while you’re on the development journey.” To make it easier to find the right content when developers need it, the team plans to add more cross references between the technical guides and the design guide so that developers can apply the design principles that are most relevant to them while building their skill.
Developers can also use the Alexa Design Guide as a resource to spark ideas. “People can use it as a starting place because there are a lot of ideas about successful skills if people haven’t decided what they want to create.”
To get started building, check out the Alexa Skills Kit for more resources. “The number one tip is to have fun,” says Atwell. “The best skills I’ve created are the ones where I’ve had the most fun.”
For more tips and best practices, browse through the Alexa Design Guide.