Event Recap: WIN NYC x RAIN, AI Unbiased and the Art of Designing Thoughtful Voice Technology

This summer, WIN NYC hosted “AI Unbiased” in partnership with RAIN, a consultancy that innovates at the intersection of marketing and tech. Part-panel, part-workshop, the event addressed how voice technology is creating a whole new layer of uncharted experience design considerations for innovators, technologists, and designers alike. Our attendees spent the evening learning about the state of voice technology from our thought leaders and debated the future of the space. One particularly discussed question of the evening: how might women lead design for the smart speaker era?


Meet our leading women in voice technology:

Three takeaways from the event:

A sobering truth: existing voice technology across smart speakers often reinforces gender stereotypes.

Have you ever noticed that most virtual assistants in your life have female voices and feminine names? Or that the NYC subway system casts female voices for polite requests and male voices for important announcements? Gender biases are designed into the world around us. As voice becomes more prevalent in our technologies, it is imperative to be mindful of this and ensure that all designs are free of bias (gender and beyond).


A big challenge: while we’re pros at the design process for screens, the design process for voice is still in development.

Gartner predicts that 75 percent of homes in the U.S. will have a smart speaker by 2020. Amidst this rapid adoption, leaders in voice technology still actively disagree on design processes to innovate in voice.

One clear leader driving the conversation and techniques in this space is NPR. Liz, one of our panelists, works heavily with the product team at NPR, talked about the process and timeline that her team has implemented for voice-driven experiences. NPR’s design process is ever-evolving when it comes to these new interfaces, she shared, and the industry is still figuring out the best way to collaborate across this new ecosystem.


A clear opportunity: only design for moments when voice technology is the best option.

With new technologies like voice, brands often fall victim to “shiny object syndrome” and begin to produce ideas without truly thinking about the value they add, Nithya pointed out. Her tip: think about experiences that deserve voice, and consider those that don’t. For example, when deciding what to cook for dinner, you might search for a recipe on your computer. When you’re at grocery store, you look at it on your phone. But when you’re cooking, your hands are dirty and the water is boiling over, voice makes the most sense of any of the previous options. Brands need to design for this moment, because it fundamentally improves the customer experience.

A great example of this distinction is the Pizza Hut versus Domino’s Alexa skills. On the surface, both skills help you order a pizza. However, after a customer orders a pizza with Domino’s, she can ask five minutes later, “Alexa, where’s my pizza?” and because Domino’s puts sensors in their ovens, Alexa can tell you exactly where it is. When the customer asks again, Alexa will respond with the name of the delivery person and text a picture of them so that the customer knows who to expect at the door. This makes Domino’s a superior customer experience and a better skill than its competitors.

To conclude…

Our time together at RAIN reminded us of how quickly voice technology and AI is embedding itself into our lives. We’re excited about our panelists and the WIN women leading the charge to ensure that the future of voice looks more egalitarian and inclusive than the past. Now we’d love to know: how do you think voice and AI should be integrated into our everyday lives? How do you design for inclusivity with a technology so nascent? Drop us a line at team@womenininnovation.co.


Written by Emma Anderson, Tina Haertel, and Katie Burwick. Huge thank you to the team at RAIN for hosting

Photos by May Shek

WIN: Women in Innovation Copyright (c) 2018 All rights reserved. This content may not be reproduced or repurposed without written permission from WIN: Women in Innovation (501(c)3). This content, including the exercise and blog post, is provided for your personal use only.