Setting the tone for a new world of voice


The Challenge

The BBC is no stranger to innovation. “You will be watching the birth of a new art” the BBC’s Deputy Director General explained in 1936 as the BBC embarked on a new platform – known as television – ahead of the global curve, disrupting radio forever. They’d done this, despite the fact that only 20,000 households had the relevant devices to access these services.

Eighty-two years on, and the BBC are innovating a similar “new art” – voice. 

Just like the emergence of television, this uncertain new technology might well signal a major shift in the media landscape but it’s important to master new technologies so that the principles of public service broadcasting endure.

As the UK’s, and the world’s, largest public service broadcaster, what does it mean to have a conversation with the BBC? This is the challenge Rufus Leonard set out to answer. How should they sound, what should they say and how would we design experiences that really delivered the brand experience of the BBC?


Our visionary thinking

We understood this was a layered problem. We needed to define the tone of voice and then how it would work for VUIs. To do this we knew we had to invent a way of testing VUIs in the home.

Perfecting the varying user dialogues may be perceived as just a nuance, it is actually the critical element that shapes each user’s view and perception. Most importantly was our need to experiment and test with real users. 

However, unlike building for web where there are sketching, design, and prototyping tools which allow you to test the solution in real environments before you build it - there are not-yet enough mature testing tools available for VUI. 

This is why we created a game-changing VUI prototyping tool for the BBC on the Alexa. 

Flow chart

Our detailed doing

Many businesses have tried to tackle this challenge. The most common ways are The Wizard of Oz method or tricking the natural language processor (NLP) into not having specialised commands for the initial prototyping phase. But both are still time intensive and expensive, as they require you to build and re-develop the actual solution with real users over and over. 

Instead, our game-changing innovation was a digital prototyping tool on the Alexa platform that let an operator mimic a real voice experience in a customer’s home. We used this to iteratively develop thorough guidance for how the Masterbrand should work in voice environments. Allowing developers to perfect the dialogue before having to build a line of code on the actual skill. Enabling a truly user-centred, research-led design process to be followed without the costly development of many versions of the skill.