– Hi I’m Joe Welinske, and I’m the program manager for ConveyUX. And that’s been Seattle’s annual User Experience Conference now for seven years. It’s produced by Blink, and Blink is pleased to be bringing an eighth version. That’s coming to Downtown Seattle, March 3rd, 4th, and 5th. We have a lot of great presenters on tap for the event. And I get a chance to talk to many of them, and today I am talking with Mark Webster. How you going today Mark?

– Hey Joe, thanks for having me, I’m doing great.

– Yeah it’s great to have you as part of the program. I’m sitting in Blink’s Downtown Seattle office. Where are you talking to us from?

– So I’m talking to you from Adobe’s New York office, in very sunny Union Square.

– Well, you’ll be making your journey from New York here to Seattle, and why don’t we just start with you talking a little bit about your background, and the types of things that you do at Adobe.

– Sure, so my background is primarily in product design. I started my career at the National Basketball Association, doing digital products there. And sort of had done a couple of different companies in between, and then got into the startup world. So, I founded a startup called SideTour, that got acquired by Groupon, and spent a bunch of time at Groupon. And then when I left Groupon, it was right around 2015, when the first Amazon Echo had come out, and as a product person I was fascinated by the idea of this new form of interaction to work with. And so I’m also a developer. And so, started working with the Alexa Skills Kit, which is what Amazon calls the third party apps, “Skills”. And there’s I think now 100,000 Skills, I built one of the first 300. And the entire time I was working on it, it became pretty clear to me, that I was working with it as a developer, not as a designer. That designers had no way to access the medium of voice. Just to even tell the stories of what good user experiences could be for voice interfaces. So, I built a product called SaySpring, which we turned into a company. It was a design, is still here at Adobe, a voice design and prototyping platform. And we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to join Adobe last year. And then basically bring everything we had learned from SaySpring, and all the technology and launch into Adobe XD, which is our visual design and prototyping solution. And from there you know, giving designers access to voices and input, giving them access to speech playback as an output. We did an integration with Alexa devices over the Summer. So really just bringing this new medium to the creative community. Just to in my mind, sort of make voice live up to it’s potential.

– Well it’s an exciting evolution for you, and things you’re working on, and you mentioned voice, and that’s gonna be part of your talk, and we’ll get into that in a bit. But, I’m sure you’re always checking out new things going on in the world. Anything that’s caught your eye lately?

– Yeah there’s a few things. So one is, literally an hour before we jumped on this call, there was an announcement that Nationwide Insurance had done a deal with Amazon to put a million Echo Autos into the customer’s hands. Which we have been thinking about voice primarily as the living room, and now the idea of the car just opening up as a completely new space. There’s a lot of exciting gaming companies, who are working on voice only games, and just thinking about now the space that we all you know, spend in the car and then that environment, and what is gonna be possible there. You know terrestrial radio is still this huge, huge market, because a lot of people spend a lot of time in cars. So now all of the opportunity that comes from there, it’s super exciting! And so, we’ve been, ever since that announcement came out an hour ago, we’ve been just, as our team, just digging around in to what that means.

– Well yeah, not really sure what to, think about that one, as a consumer and driver. But, I’ll have to look into that. It’s definitely an interesting story. Anything else going on?

– Yeah the other thing we were digging into, so our team primarily focuses on voice, but we also kind of have this mandate around what we call, “creative frontiers”, so, what is the future of UX? And so, what is the user experience, design community going to need, as these tools evolve? And so, as all of the tools sort of in this space are focusing more, and more on collaboration, that means there’s a bunch of APIs that are open to everything, which means there’s a, the idea of who you collaborate with, in a design pool is totally changing. So, we were just having a conversation about basically having bots, come into your design file and looking at things. And we have a whole bunch of, proof of concepts that we’ve been throwing on Twitter. And I think just the way we think of that workflow process is totally gonna change really, really quickly. Faster than anyone imagines. And so, we have just, our team has been super excited to see all these tools opening up, and then thinking about like what’s possible in them.

– Well then let’s jump into talking about your session at the conference. So the title is, “Designing For The Evolution Of Voice”. So, tell us a little bit about what you’re gonna present when you get here.

– Yeah so, voice is huge already, right. We talked a little sort of, 2016 let’s say was the beginning of the voice revolution. And it’s this huge footprint in you know tens of millions of households in the U.S., already have smart speakers. It’s eight billion you know, assistants in different mobile devices. But I think from an experience point of view, we don’t really know what makes a good voice experience. We haven’t really thought through what multimodal experience is. Like when do you talk to something and see a screen? Or when does a you know, voice only experience push you to a screen? So, I think there’s a lot to figure out. At the same time people are using these, in their daily life. Adobe recently did a study of 1,000 voice users, and 97% of them said that, interacting with voice improves the quality of their life. Which feels like a really amazing high bar. But it, we do, we talk to these things every day, and you know while it seems, you know a bunch of the use cases seem relatively straight forward so far, like music and weather, and timers. Who knew all needed access to timers so much. As we as users are talking to things more often, we’re gonna expect that in other places. We’re gonna expect that same level of convenience. Right, so even if you look at Spotify, obviously using voice on a smart speaker to activate music is a huge use case, and about a year, year and a half ago, Spotify really leaned into voice as part of their mobile experience. So if you go into search, in the mobile app, you’ll see the microphone you know, and there’s no assistant, there’s no speech playback part of the experience, but voice as an input. So the idea that, all of us as experience designers are gonna need to be familiar with the medium, not just because it’s about designing for Alexa, but it’s because our users are used to using this medium, and are gonna want that convenience in other places. And so, we should really think about how voice, and speech, and audio output is another tool in our toolkit to use for all digital experience design.

– Well I think it’s gonna be really a exciting session to have in there, I look forward to having that presentation and seeing you at the event, and still just see you when you make the journey to Seattle in March.

– Sounds good, I can’t wait.