CityParks

CityParks was a personal project I created to learn more about the Alexa Skills Kit and Voice User Interface Design. People tend to prefer living in their own bubble, often repeating a cyclical pattern day to day. CityParks is a way for users living in the Central Philadelphia area to get a change of scenery and explore the green areas the city has to offer.

City Parks Hero Image

Project Year

2018

My Role

VUI Designer and Developer

Problem

Determining how to design CityParks was quite the challenge. My preference would be to allow for flexible input to be used to find parks. For example, users should be able to both ask for parks by neighborhood and parks by amenities. I decided for this iteration to only use a 'parks by neighborhood' search. This allowed me to focus on the conversational interface and design a quality experience before moving to a more extensive design.

Understand

I started this design process by reading and researching the Alexa conversation learning materials available online. The Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide was particularly useful, as was the Codecademy Introduction to Alexa course. From there, testing other Alexa Skills and searching out useful tips on forums helped me round out my knowledge of what was possible and would make the most meaningful interactions for users. Using this research, I came up with a few goals:

  1. 1. Design a Skill that could easily be expanded in subject matter, functionality, and location.
  2. 2. Emphasize useful conversation and informative but brief interactions.
  3. 3. Explore available functionality purely within the technology to gain knowledge on every aspect of the experience.

After deciding on a few potential conversations, I was able to pull together a user journey flow for how certain intents could bring users throughout the experience. It was important to understand these conversations because they provided the base with which I could expand many utterances to achieve a common goal. This also helped in identifying slots for these utterances, because there are so many parks in the Philadelphia area.

User Flow

Explore

Expanding on this user flow, I put together more concrete conversations. Analyzing different start and ends points to the design was important because users could choose to go through the Skill in any number of ways. Therefore, allowing for the most flexibility was necessary. In this process, I also found a few holes in my original design guide. I hadn’t considered intents that wanted to know the available neighborhoods and I needed to provide the potential for Alexa to repeat certain answers because some of the utterances were so lengthy.

I had also considered abandoning my goals of keeping everything within the Voice Design and using an API to send users visual directions to the park. Exploring this addition, I found it to be more useful to simply provide the address for now. However, I am continuing to explore this as I believe it would provide the most useful experience.

Conversation Examples

Produce

In the final Skill, I focused primarily on the ability to make the Skill scalable. Much of the information is easily discoverable while using Alexa and the basic functionality is in place. Because of this, I have the ability to shift my focus on providing increased meaning and reach for the experience. I also found that providing users with multiple responses and including important information throughout the conversation helped many people follow the interaction model. Providing context was incredibly beneficial in increasing user confidence in the Skill.

Results

The final skill is an interesting concept that I believe has the ability to expand to become even more useful. For instance, providing users will available museums, landmarks, and historic areas of a city can supplement the current park data. Adding useful facts or information connected to these activities can also be used similarly to asking for park amenities. All of this functionality would not only make this Skill useful in the home, but also on mobile Alexa-enabled devices.

Reflection

Some successes from this project include:

  1. 1. Creating a conversation flow that is robust enough to handle multiple types of input.
  2. 2. Providing an interaction model that is easily navigable for most users.
  3. 3. Developing easily expandable design and functionality.

A few areas for improvement:

  1. 1. More categories, locations, and information are necessary to make this skill more valuable.
  2. 2. Multiple ways to search, such as by amenity, would be a great addition.
  3. 3. Connecting the audio to a mobile app would provide a better flow for directions.
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