« Hiring Salespeople comments | Main | We're growing »

April 27, 2006

Who owns good design?

Marshall Harrison, one of the guys behind gotspeech.net commented on my Good Speech - Bad Speech post last night.  In my post I described a particularly ugly prompt I'd seen in a speech recognition application and called on people to write better applications that keep the customer's needs in mind at all times.

Marshall has a similar soapbox as mine and one day we're going to drag them down to the Pearl Street Mall and preach together about the need to create applications that are easier to use and that, (dare I say it) People Will Love.  Marshall points out (correctly) that bad application design is often not the developer's fault.  The reason I'm doing a whole post on a comment is that a light bulb just went on for me.  The design of speech recognition telephony applications is often widely separated from the development of the application. 

By the time the developer is assigned to a project, the user interface design has often been fought over for months by people who don't have user interface design experience.  They know what they want (usually) but then they make the mistake of drawing out the design on the whiteboard, a napkin or in Visio.  Visio is the worst, because it makes the design look official and unchangeable.  People who wouldn't think of trying to tell you how to design a complex database application or desktop user interface, feel very comfortable specifying the voice user interface for you for some reason.

So what do we do?

  • I think that regardless of what role you play in speech application development, you have to realize that you are signing your name and staking your reputation on how well the application ultimately works.  If you see bad design, speak up and propose a a better alternative.
  • Try to get invited to the party earlier in the process.  What starts out as "we need to figure out what we want before we get the developers involved" doesn't work here so well.  The sooner we get involved the better the application will be.  Yes, it means you may have to attend some business meetings, but trust me, learning about business can be good for a techie's career.
  • Find some good examples that can be backed up with concrete numbers to help make your case for good design.  Business people respond to hard numbers about saving money and improving customer satisfaction.  We built an application a few years ago for a customer who had a goal of automating 10% of the calls.  The application ended up automating 51% of the calls and customer satisfaction and CSR satisfaction actually improved.  Do you think the people funding the project listened a little closer to our silly design recommendations once they realized the impact they were having?  You bet they did!

To sum it up, we're all responsible for good design, and if we can do a better job of it this industry will grow even faster. 

April 27, 2006 in Speech Recognition | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Who owns good design?:


Well said Terry.

Blade Kotelly has a book called "The Art and Business of Speech Recognition" that should be a must read for all speech developers.

Posted by: Marshall Harrison | Apr 27, 2006 12:55:12 PM

It is interesting to read these thoughts on user interface design. I'm a Business Analyst / VUI designer in Australia and I find it intriguing that "the user interface design has often been fought over for months by people who don't have user interface design experience".

If this is the case, perhaps the education needs to take place with the companies / project management teams / resource allocators, whoever they are, that they need people in the design team with the correct design experience. Though if this isn't happening, it's obviously easier said than done.

Whatever the title, whether it is a BA or developer, it should involve the people who know about user-centred design, cognition, linguists, best practice etc (but we all know that). If these designers aren't available, I agree, if you have the user interface design knowledge where others in your team may not - GET INVOLVED EARLY! It is a lot easier (and cheaper) to make changes in the early design testing phase that later on down the track.

Posted by: Leah Barnden | Apr 27, 2006 10:21:39 PM

I am a speech recognition application developer at UmeVoice, primarily developing desktop speech recognition applications. While I do not have much experience developing telephony speech applications (which appears to have become synonymous with speech recognition in many circles), I can relate to Terry's post. It seems that there are too many easy ways for any programmer to create a "speech recognition" application using one of the many available tools, completely overlooking the importance of good VUI design, resulting in an unusable application. We employ linguists as well as HCI people who play as important a role as the programmers in the application development process.

Posted by: Vikas | Apr 28, 2006 12:38:33 AM

I love this post about design. I am heads down right now, but when I come up for air, preaching the importance of good design is going to be my number 1 priority. There are too many poorly designed speech apps out there that are giving speech recognition a bad reputation and all because of bad design. If people spent more time figuring out what makes sense from a user flow prespective and then taking the time that is necessary to implement that, and then going back and revising it when you figure out that this and that won't work.

Bottom line. Get over yourself. As developers we need to be flexible. We do not always design things right the first time. Ok, fine. But, don't throw out the baby with the bath water. We just need to keep our noses to the grindstone and push onward.

Ok, so more time needs to be spent on design and even more time needs to be spent revising the design before deployment. Just factor that time in from the beginning and you should be cool.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit.


Posted by: Sara Morgan Rea | May 8, 2006 10:13:04 PM

Great info, thanks a lot!!! I wish I will have such a writing skills.

Posted by: PODO | May 23, 2007 4:29:14 PM