Designing lovable products and experiences that use voice-based interfaces is no longer optional. As Forrester Research Analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee wrote in a recent report, businesses must start defining how they want to create voice-based customer experiences as people become more accustomed to using their voices to interact with phones and other devices to accomplish everyday tasks. Forrester predicts that half of U.S. households will have smart speakers by 2022, accounting for 68 percent of smart home devices.

But how do businesses design the right voice-based experience, especially as the technology is still emerging?

This is a question that many of our clients ask. At Moonshot, we believe the answer is to combine the test-and-learn ethos of design thinking with the product development approach of lean innovation. Doing so gives businesses a way to manage risk and cost as they test voice-based experiences – and then the velocity they need to develop products at scale once they design a lovable experience.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is an ideal process for solving complex, open-ended problems that don’t have a “right” answer – which is why design thinking works so well with a still emerging technology such as voice. Through design thinking, businesses identify the right problem to solve by gaining empathy for the user, create and consider many options, refine selected directions, create prototypes, and validate the prototypes through user testing.

For instance, a team seeking to understand how to deliver a lovable voiced-based experience might ask questions such as:

  • What kind of consumer problem am I trying to solve – and how do I think a voice interface might solve that problem?
  • What does our customer’s journey look like? Where in the journey does that customer encounter our brand, and how might a voice-based interface improve upon the way customers interact with us currently?

To answer those questions, product teams employing design thinking explore possible solutions by applying tools such as four-day design sprints. Google Ventures has popularized the use of the design sprint to explore, experiment, and validate new concepts (such as voice-based experiences) with users. With design sprints, product teams create and test prototypes within a four-day time frame, where the first two days are workshop-heavy:

  • Day 1: define the challenge and produce a mass of solutions
  • Day 2: curate and vote on the best solutions; define the prototype with a storyboard
  • Day 3: design and build the prototype; recruit and schedule user tests
  • Day 4: test the prototype with five real users; use feedback from testing to create clear next steps

The prototype could range from a customer rewards program that employs voice to handle tasks such as managing points redemption or a voice-based interface to buy products on a website – it all depends on the customer problem you’re trying to solve and how your team believes voice will solve that problem.

You’ll also delve into crucial design considerations such as how your brand literally sounds in a voice-based interface. For instance, should you use a female or male voice? What kind of tone should you employ? These are important issues to design for, and at Moonshot we delve into them often. As Chatterjee wrote, “Your metaphorical brand voice is the best guide for your literal brand voice. To do this right, you should get a clear read on your brand’s personality and what your core essence is (or ought to be). Once locked in, the voice is a sonic manifestation of your essence.”

The accelerated nature of a design sprint in context of design thinking gives teams a disciplined way to make go/no go decisions on nascent product ideas without requiring costly and time-consuming testing.

Design thinking produces ideas for solving problems rooted in customer empathy. Such insight helps a business create a prototype for a minimum lovable product (MLP) – the version of the product or experience that creates maximum customer love with the least amount of effort and expense.

The prototype then needs to be developed into a real product, which is where lean innovation comes into play.

Lean Innovation

Design thinking, when done right, ensures that a business points its product delivery process at the right problem based on a customer validated prototype. But design thinking alone does not result in lovable products and experiences that achieve scale. To design and launch products that fulfill their potential, businesses need to complement design thinking with lean innovation.

With lean innovation, cross-functional teams collaborate on holistic product design in an iterative, agile fashion. Teams collaborate to:

  • Create an actual MLP based on the prototype created during design thinking
  • Create a real product for commercial application

Leveraging the working models of the agile development mindset, lean innovation teams collaborate across product, design, and engineering to move into the blueprint, build and test rhythm of scrum delivery. Then, as the product takes shape and is positioned for market, the lean innovation process ensures the MLP is set up for success by surrounding it with the right people, processes, and governance. Lean innovation helps businesses scale the idea to a digital product and, as appropriate, platform and ecosystem.

Lean innovation is not the same as agile development, in which teams collaborate on design and development in an iterative fashion. Lean innovation includes agile principles while also including a broader focus on people, processes and governance as well as go-to-market strategies and communications.

So in summary, businesses can make voice-based interfaces a reality by combining design thinking and lean innovation as follows:

  • Design thinking for ideation and observation: design thinking to explore and validate the unmet needs of humans within a specific context, resulting in the MLP prototype.
  • Lean innovation for delivering and scaling: lean innovation to move from ideas to digital products in a continuous process that requires product managers, designers and engineers to collaborate from inception to completion.

At Moonshot, we have incorporated design thinking and lean innovation into a methodology we call FUEL. FUEL is a repeatable process that ensures a disciplined and consistent approach to product innovation. Design thinking and lean innovation, when combined under FUEL, helps businesses address seemingly impossible problems such as identifying unmet needs and acting on them.

The outcome of applying FUEL: businesses deliver lovable products to market more frequently and with higher quality, while managing cost and risk – in other words, continuous velocity that achieves breakthrough customer-centric innovation.

Moonshot developed FUEL based on our work with large companies that are committed to customer-centric innovation. Typically, we act as an acceleration partner to help companies explore and experiment through empathy-based workshops. Contact Moonshot. We connect people to lovable experiences today and tomorrow.

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product