QCon 2018 – Smart Speakers Designing for the Human

Title: Designing for the Human
Speaker: Charles Berg (from Google Home)

See the table of contents for more blog posts from the conference.

Over half the audience has smart speakers at home (Echo, Alexa, etc)

Most common uses of smart speakers

  • Communication (calls, texts)
  • IOT (turn on lights, fans)
  • Clock (alarms/timers)
  • Music


  • Encourages checking out of the environment. Even a notification gets you back into your phone
  • We focus on features and apps, but not the reason why users is doing something. App first human second mindset is a problem.

Smart speakers

  • Unlike smart phones, they are fixed in space. Direct voice to it.
  • Place it near where plan to use it.
  • That usage leads to context.


  • Ask questions
  • Do research before had design
  • Storyboards

Calling use case

  • Call dentist – should be seemless
  • Call Walgreens – which one?
  • Hands free calling for friends is frequent


  • Understand context.
  • In a medium to large company, there is a lot of research already going on.
  • Find archived research. Don’t need to do from scratch.
  • Interview – start internal to team, then friends/family
  • Quickly need to expand interview to be more broad.
  • Pitch teammates on ideas based on research
  • Identify lead designer. Then identify themes (summary of research), brainstorm and create user journey map.
  • Physical user testing. Made two rooms with a mattress instead of just talking about it.

Smart speakers and dialog

  • There is a smart speaker style guide.
  • Develop variations
  • Test with actual people; see variation

My take

This was fun. It was a good mix of smart speakers and user focused design. I would have liked for more of the examples to be about speakers (vs an example about pretend stock quotes). Reading the abstract, I wasn’t sure how much to expect of each type of information. I don’t know if it was reasonable to expect, but I was expecting more on the smart speakers. And then right after I typed this, there was more on the speakers. Good. So maybe it wasn’t the amount of information, but the distribution of it. And the QA definitely went back to speakers.


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