SXSW 2017 Workshop

Speak Up! Build an Alexa Skill for a Cause

While at thirteen23, I helped design a curriculum and facilitate a SXSW workshop on how to plan, design, and launch an Alexa skill. Tom Hudson, thirteen23's Technical Director, and Max Wade, Developer, were responsible for the development portion of the workshop.

Despite being a three hour workshop that started early, we booked the entire room and ran a waitlist leading up to SXSW. We even made some recommendation lists!

The curriculum I created for the design portion of the workshop included material on the core principles of conversational design, what changes when you don't have a visual interface, linguistic best-practices for AI, and how to test and evaluate your Skill. I also painstakingly tested and edited over one thousand sentences of text, the sample data we provided for participants during the workshop, and refined linguistic tips to cater to Alexa's own quirks and patterns.

The material was intended to be valuable both for attendees that had experience designing for screens, and those that had no design experience. As one of my main objectives was to demystify voice interfaces for a diverse group of workshop attendees, I regularly connected teachings to other paradigms that I knew attendees would be familiar with, like navigating telephone menus.

I also taught the basics of Alexa's Speech Synthesis Markup Language, which is the language used to teach Alexa how to pronounce or say something in a specific way. For example, a word it doesn't know, a regional accent, or a requested pronunciation for a number or symbol.

We got great feedback from the participants afterwards, and were excited by how many workshop attendees started publishing their own Alexa Skills after SXSW. This workshop was later facilitated with a group of copywriters, who were equally excited about the integration of their work into the design space.

We even got a shout out and a drop in from the CTO of Amazon himself, Werner Vogels.

The coolest #SXSW session "Speak Up! Build an Alexa Skill for a Cause" @thirteen23 teaches skills to non-programmers https://t.co/cv98CYJY4i

— Werner Vogels (@Werner) March 14, 2017

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You can see our full presentation here.

I also wrote an article with tips for designing around Alexa's unique quirks.