It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. We learn to talk as babies. We learn the art of conversation through listening and repeating. The science and art behind what makes a good conversation is not something we consider on a day to day basis. However, this is the key to building a great voice experience.
Salmat is a marketing services business. Our team of experts has more than two decades of experience in VUI (Voice User Interface) development, from our work creating natural language Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solutions for many of our clients.
On a daily basis, we could be listening to thousands of customer voice “utterances” to understand how real Australians behave and speak to voice automation; or making the technology deal with our local idiosyncrasies (We say "double two", Americans do not!); or determining just the right way to ask a question to get the best response. We have now applied learnings from this work to the voice device space with the creation of our memory game, Australia Says.
Australia Says is Salmat’s first app for the Google Assistant. Users are asked to repeat a string of Aussie slang words in a specific order and the person who remembers the most, gets all the glory. It was one of the first local games released on the Google Assistant and can be played on both a Google Home device or via the Google Assistant on eligible Android and iOS phones.
But, how would the skills we’d learnt from decades in the natural language IVR space translate to building voice assistant apps? And could we create one in time to be amongst the first to launch on the Google Assistant platform in Australia?
Creating a persona
Before we even began the technical build, we did what we always do at the start of a new project and chose a persona for the app. Understanding and defining this persona – a true-blue, Aussie male – meant we could build out the lexicon of words and phrases to be used throughout the app.
We then scripted the conversations we wanted to build between the Google Assistant and the user. We think of this process like writing a script for a play. What does the Google Assistant say, what do we expect the user to say in response?
In the case of Australia Says, a large focus was placed on the messaging used when the player makes a mistake, which signals the end of a turn at the game. Sledging is an Aussie pastime so ensuring we had a broad spectrum of slightly tongue-in-cheek and entertaining phrases to use when someone got something wrong was determined to be important to the success of the game. One very entertaining brainstorming session involved explaining “see you round like a rissole” to a German member of staff.
We gathered a considerable list of true-blue Aussie words and phrases. However, the tone was kept fun and genial (in line with our persona) to ensure that it feels like everyone is laughing together.
Building a conversation
The scripting of a conversation for a voice app is often broken into two parts. On the one side, there is the “happy path” whereby the user does exactly what you want them to do. The likelihood of this occurring is estimated to be as low as 20%. Therefore, an integral component of the scripting process, and typically 80% of the dialogue design effort, is to consider the “Error paths”.
Our game itself didn't require complex error paths, but we did have the opportunity to clearly differentiate “happy” versus “unhappy” outcomes, and of course make it a bit of fun:
Google Assistant: Repeat after me: crikey spewin bonza
Player: Crikey spewin bonza
Google Assistant: Hoonin'! Now repeat: crikey spewin bonza spewin
Player: Crikey spewin bonza spewin
Google Assistant: Bloody ripper! Now repeat: crikey spewin bonza spewin ...
Player: Crikey spewin bonza oh I can't remember the rest.
Google Assistant: “You made a dog’s breakfast of that. You missed a 'spewin' in there somewhere. Better luck next time!"
Google Assistant: “ ... Now repeat: crikey spewin bonza crikey bonza crikey"
Player: <No response> A common behaviour when confused or unsure
Google Assistant: “Lights are on but no-one's home. Leave ya money on the fridge. See ya next time.”
Another VUI design principle is to follow Grice’s Maxims for cooperative conversation when building out your app scripts. The basic theory being that humans inherently assume an undercurrent of cooperation in their conversations. He defines his four principles as follows: