Case Study: Washington State Ferries

Catch the Boat with Alexa
Using voice to get passengers on board

The variety of uses for Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa has seen rapid growth in the last year. Here at Blink, our excitement over voice interaction inspired us to create a new Alexa skill which would enable users to request information from the Washington State Ferries system. We brought our experience in linguistics, development, and user experience to create a skill that empowers users to talk to their device in the way they’d expect to talk with another human being.

The Challenge

Sometimes even the most natural conversation takes some hard work.

When we set out to bring users ferry information via voice, we knew we wanted them to be able to get information on when the next two ferries leave, how much space is left on the boat and when the last boat of the day leaves. . .and we wanted it all to feel like a natural conversation.

Our goal was to make it truly conversational, so as much as possible mimic what it would be like to ask another human being for the information as opposed to recreate what you would do on a laptop or app.-Siri Mehus, Research Principal at Blink UX
To discover the most intuitive way to communicate with Alexa on this topic, we first developed an interaction model and looked at all the different phrases people want to use when they ask for ferry information. We thought we had an impressive list going into user testing, but our study participants soon revealed even more variations.

Alexa Flow Chart
Washington State Ferry Alexa Skill Flow Chart

The Result

Utilizing the conversational principles we observed helped us to create a more natural user experience. We then created a prototype and iterated further to refine that experience. The end result is an application that uses natural, conversational, human language to access information that ferry riders regularly need, and is just plain fun to use.

Dfc 2307 Mark Gsellman