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  • Writer's pictureCydney Phan

Initial Reactions to Alexa's VUI

I've never really wanted to interact with an Amazon smart device before simply because I've never seen a place for smart voice assistance in my day-to-day. So getting the opportunity to set up an Echo device to my Amazon Prime account (which I use quite frequently), was definitely a journey; and I can't say that it's made me any less reluctant to buy into the Amazon Echo.

Given a first generation Amazon Echo device, my partner and I set forth in interacting with the device as experimental users setting up and using the device for the first time.

The Setup

Whoever designed the setup process of the Echo really needs to re-evaluate their user journey flow and get better UX writing. The initial steps where confusing and the language being used wasn't clear enough to provide understanding as to what is needed from the user. Setup requires users to connect to the dot's personal wifi signal in the native phone's setting page, and then connect to a secondary wifi through the Alexa app; however, the app had trouble with connectivity issues with certain wifi networks without a clear explanation as to why a personal hotspot connection worked better than other networks. That whole process along took me 10 min of sheer frustration to figure out what exactly the device wanted me to do since the two-step wifi connection seemed unnecessary without further context. Another 10 min was spent trying to simply figure out how to turn the Echo on to initiate the setup process (you hold down the button with the circle on it until a blue light appears, the iconography used in lieu of the power icon is definitely questionable). 


Once into the app, as there were so many functioning elements to Alexa, I couldn't help but feel a little confused as to what each page was supposed to do. The lack of on-boarding really gives users free reign of navigation and as a first time user without any knowledge of what Alexa can and can't do, this was a detriment to me and how long it took for my partner and I to even interact with the most simple device interaction: saying "hey, Alexa...". It turned out that our device was set to respond to "computer" instead of "Alexa", but it took us so immensely long to dig through the settings page to find that configuration– I'm not confident I would know where to look if I needed to change it again.

The overall UI of the current Alexa app feels difficult. The homepage is comprised of large boxes that takes up the entire screen, irregardless if the space is effectively being used or not (the large blank space on the "Shopping List" for the home page scrolled down). All that space could be better utilized and populated with important and relevant information, instead the home page expect users to continuously scroll through the various boxes to find the most pertinent information.  

The issues of iconography continues to persist as the user navigates to the communication page. At the top right hand corner, there is an icon that's mostly reserved for a profile page, however, with Alexa, the user is instead navigated to a contacts page. Granted within the contacts page, the user can access the user profile information, but the number of clicks and processing power that is required of the user to even find that specific page is quite ridiculous.

On the bright side, my partner and I do agree that the function control within the Devices Page is quite nice and would be extremely useful for a multi-device family.

Concluding Thoughts

I do have to give props to Amazon Alexa for its large range of interaction capabilities; with the implantation of "skills", it's quite enjoyable to experience the different types of engagements a user could have with Alexa. I can see how Alexa would be useful from entertaining bored children with games like: "20 Questions" and "Jeopardy" to even remedy a loner homebody (like me) with small interpersonal connections like: "Calm Your Dog" and "Pikachu Talk".

There's a lot to unpack within the Amazon Alexa app, and the navigation is nowhere near perfect; but smart voice assistance is a part of the future whether I find it useful in my life or not. It's the challenge of being able to design a more streamlined user experience so that people are able to buy into Alexa easier and faster than what it currently is.

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