Alexa, Open Story Oz

Overview —

Smart speakers are increasingly prevalent in family life nowadays. In 2020, there are approximately 157 million smart speakers with an average of 2.2 devices per U.S. household. Children are actively interacting with these devices. In this project, we leveraged the smart speaker to create a unique interactive storytelling experience for young children to engage and learn.

My Role —

I designed and iterated key conversation flows and collaborated with another designer to craft the storyline and utterances.  I was also responsible for the overall sound design and prototyped the skill using Voiceflow.

ROLE

Conversation Designer

TIMELINE

2019

The Problem —

When storytelling becomes unidirectional

Storytelling has been proven to play a crucial role in child development. It helps young children to learn empathy, supports early literacy development, and enhances creativity. However, the current digital storytelling experience focuses mainly on just recordings. This passive listening restricts children from actively engaging with stories. 

The Solution —

Story Oz: Encouraging relationship building with kindness through interactive storytelling

We created Story Oz to encourage relationship building with kindness through interactive storytelling for young children. With our Story Oz skill, children learn that interactions impact relationships by seeing how their input affects the overall story and the characters' relationships with each other. We also considered it as a practical way to foster family communication by understanding the child's thought process behind the decision-making. Story Oz has three key features:

01. Educate
Story Oz teaches children to consider and be aware of consequences by adjusting the ending based on the child's input. When children treat the characters kindly and politely, the story has a rewarding ending.

02. Entertain
The skill encourages creativity and provides entertainment during multiple playthroughs by offering various story paths that the child can discover.

03. Engage
The open-ended questions allow children to respond as if in a natural conversation, emulating the type of interaction they would have if an adult were leading them through a story and asking questions.

Design Process —

Constructing the storyline

From a list of all-time favourite children’s stories we collected, we decided to go with “the Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, an adventure story with fascinating plots that provides large flexibility for adding conversational interactions.

We started with whiteboard to segment the original story and digitalized the story script for further editing

Design Process —

Designing to encourage good behavior

If you are speaking rudely to someone, you are hurting their feelings. This is an important lesson that children learn from an early age. Inspired by the politeness features Amazon and Google developed (the "Magic Word" and "Pretty Please" features respectively) to encourage manners in children, I deeply felt the essential need for positive reinforcement for young children and prioritized incorporating it into our design.

Complying with the nature of the story wizard of Oz, one of the golden nuggets of Dorothy’s adventure journey is that she meets and develops friendships with companions along the journey. We consider this to be a great opportunity we can design to encourage kindness in relationship building.

Sample Dialogs - Positive Intent

NARRATOR
You wander down the yellow brick road with Toto, when suddenly a voice from the side of the path interrupts you. It’s Scarecrow! A real-life talking Scarecrow! 

The scarecrow is crying, what should we say to him? 

USER
Why are you crying? / Are you okay? / Do you need help?

SCARECROW (CHARACTER)
Oh thank heavens! It's been an awfully long time since I've spoken with anyone. These pesky birds won't leave me alone! Can you help me?



At the end of journey, user will encounter a challenge and s/he will need to ask a character for help. If the user has been nice to the story character:

SCARECROW
Oh I know! I may not be the most clever Scarecrow around, but I think I can fashion a raft from these sticks and branches -- that will get us across! 

NARRATOR
Because you were nice to the scarecrow and helped him out,
he gives you this wonderful idea to get through the river. You finally meet the wizard of oz and find your way home!

Sample Dialogs - Negative Intent

NARRATOR
You wander down the yellow brick road with Toto, when suddenly a voice from the side of the path interrupts you. It’s Scarecrow! A real-life talking Scarecrow! 

The scarecrow is crying, what should we say to him? 

USER
Go away! / Stop crying.

SCARECROW (CHARACTER)
Please, don't be afraid, I could really use a hand. It's been an awfully long time since I've spoken with anyone and these pesky birds won't leave me alone! Can you help me?



If the user has been mean to the story character:

SCARECROW
Oh I don't know, I may not be the most clever Scarecrow around but you haven't been very nice to me today -- perhaps I'll just find my own way across!  

NARRATOR
Because you were refused to help scarecrow, there is no one here to help you.
Oh no, you are cornered by flying monkeys! 

Design Process —

“Effective conversation occurs when beliefs are negotiated through interaction and evolve in a framework of goals”

Following our professor Paul Pangaro’s work on designing for the process of conversation and Gordon Pask’s conversation theory, we created a conversation model to understand how our Alexa skill interacts with users to evolve towards goals. 

Conversation Model
Gordon Pask, Dubberly Design Office, and Paul Pangaro

Final Design —

Improving engagement through interative storytelling

In order to make storytelling experience more engaging, we turned Dorothy's adventure into our user's own journey. The story path is determined by the "Karma Point" which will increase/decrease depending on user's action. Ready for the adventure of finding the wizard of oz? Check out the Voiceflow demo or just say "Alexa, open story oz"!

Future Step —

We received positive feedback from the final in-class presentation. The usage of music and interesting character sounds delighted our audience. However, there is definitely more to consider. Children are known to have a short attention span and the ability to keep them continuously engaged in the interaction is the key challenge. Adding multiple modalities to provide a more compelling interactive and immersive experience could be a promising direction for future exploration. Additionally, integrating emotion detection and open intents could also enrich the conversation. 

Looking back to this project after a year now with the current situation of pandemic, it made me rethink about the role voice assistants can play in family and what we can do when human to human interaction becomes so limited.

I am currently reworking this project to discover how to seamlessly expand the presented voice-driven storytelling experience to a multimodal experience to encourage joint media engagement between parents and children so they can spend more quality time together. Stay tuned!