June Newsletter (2020)
In this edition of the VF newsletter: new features, logic tutorials, conversation design series and more.
It's no secret that families and kids have readily welcomed voice assistants like Amazon Alexa into their homes. In fact, research from NPR suggests that 73 percent of smart speaker owners let their kids use the technology (Source: NPR Study).
To feed steady demand for quality interactive voice-first experiences for families, Creativity, Inc. has just added two more Alexa Skills to the Amazon Store this week for children to play, thanks in part to the Voiceflow platform.
Creativity is a design and development studio responsible for producing some of the most successful voice applications today. With over 21 years specializing in designing experiences for toys and interactive products for kids, it's no surprise that Creativity came to be one of the top voice development agencies in the US. This dedication to creating delightful experiences alongside their knack for exploring new tools and features spurs directly from Creativity's core value and mission: "Create Magic, Every Time."
Based in the Bay Area of California, Creativity has made it its mission to produce engaging, fun, and intuitive interactive experiences for some of the most beloved entertainment brands in the world. Over the years, they've helped companies like LeapFrog, Hasbro, Spin Master, Fisher-Price, and Wowwee garner over 130 "Toy of the Year" nominations for products like LeapPad, Hatchimals, and Fingerlings.
Creativity produces roughly 200 to 300 projects a year, from toys to mobile apps, voice applications, and beyond - developing more than 7,000 products in their 21-year history.
Leveraging core capabilities of audio, programming, and interaction design for kids and their families, Creativity's experience in designing interactive toys has helped them become one of the leading voice developers working today. The studio has launched over 25 branded voice experiences, including the Disney Hits Challenge for Disney Music, Uno Braille for Mattel Games, Coachella, Talk to Dustin From Stranger Things, The Wiggles, and more.
Creativity has also published several of their own apps, dreamed up by a talented internal team of gameplay designers, audio engineers, marketers, programmers, and more. Caitlin Gutekunst, Creativity's Senior Director of Marketing and Development, shares that more than 150,000 monthly active users engage with Creativity's branded apps alone.
Creativity's portfolio of high-quality voice experiences has caught the eye of both Google and Amazon, earning them a reputation as a recommended development agency by both the Amazon Alexa team and the Google Assistant team.
"Kids love the fact that voice technology allows their choices to power the action of an interactive story or game - and we love designing these fun entertainment experiences for kids and their families to play together." – Caitlin Gutekunst, Senior Director of Marketing & Development at Creativity, Inc
Creativity's proficiency in physical and digital products has enabled them to stay on the cutting edge of new Alexa technology. They are among the first developers developing Amazon Alexa Gadgets, such as KidKraft's 2-in-1 Alexa-Connected Kitchen Playset announced during New York Toy Fair in February earlier this year. The team readily adopts new technology for voice-first platforms and often becomes the first developer to debut apps with these new features inside.
As one of the most innovative development studios working today, Creativity prioritizes speed-to-market, innovation, and rapid iteration to stay at the forefront of new technologies and still deliver quality products on behalf of their clients. This position means they usually rely on developing their own internal tools and technology, as many external platforms can not evolve as fast as their team moves.
When COVID-19 forced families to isolate and shelter-in-place, Caitlin recognized an immediate need for new quality voice experiences to entertain and distract kids during the pandemic. Working remotely by this time, a small but mighty team of designers within Creativity began to concept new Amazon Alexa skills that could serve kids and while also showcasing Creativity's core differentiators and capabilities as a studio: strong character development and high-quality audio.
As a relatively small team of 30+ designers and engineers, Caitilin recognized the changes in her team and their workflow and had to adjust quickly. Despite the distance, Caitlin needed to prioritize Creativity's R&D and design resources and ensure they maintained their high bar for interactive entertainment design.
It soon became evident that outside tools might enable her team to greenlight a new internal project without removing resources from other important client work.
It was with this mission in mind that Caitlin found the Voiceflow platform, recognizing a tool that was synergistic to Creativity's own brand promise: efficiency, reliability, and a focus on quality.
Given the number of client projects Creativity works on daily, Caitlin was looking for a tool that could free up resources and help the design team prototype/design faster and without added involvement from their programming team – and without sacrificing the quality of the experience.
Utilizing Voiceflow's drag and drop visual interface and customizable directives blocks, Miles Albert, Creativity's conversational designer, was impressed with how the Voiceflow platform would allow him to prototype their vision for new voice applications quickly and easily.
"The Voiceflow experience allowed me to design and build a conversational experience all in one place - all without the need for engineers to step in," said Miles Albert, a Conversation Designer at Creativity, Inc. "I was able to quickly put together a technical flow design, add custom audio files and images, and publish - all from one central location. It saved us a lot of resources and time." - Miles
Typically, when adopting new tools or technologies into Creativity's workflow, Caitlin considered whether they could support and grow with her projects long into the future. Given Voiceflow's evolving feature set, commitment to voice development, and Rolodex of teams, Caitlin felt confident that Voiceflow could support her team. With Voiceflow, the Creativity team was able to build their POC faster and accommodate brand new Alexa features into their projects ahead of the release.
A few months ago, when Amazon Alexa's team revealed they were introducing new audio technology (APL-A) that would really showcase the quality of Creativity's audio production capabilities, Creativity and Voiceflow teamed up to ensure that Caitlin's team would have access to these new build features on the Voiceflow platform.
Moving quickly, Voiceflow was able to accommodate this new Amazon Alexa technology into their platform and enable Creativity to deliver some of the first Alexa Skills that showcase the higher quality and layered-audio now made possible.
Once adopting Voiceflow, Caitlin soon realized that the platform could be a valuable development tool moving forward, as well. It presented more ways to enable her design team to build new experiences independently from the engineering team, all without sacrificing the quality promised by Creativity's brand.
"Voiceflow saved us from committing engineering energy to incorporate new Alexa technologies to our workflow, which we could then prioritize onto new innovation and client projects." – Caitlin
As a result, and in answer to the pandemic, Caitlin was able to greenlight two new voice experiences instead of one in just a few weeks. Those two concepts became: Toy Doctor and Animal Rock.
Built on the Voiceflow platform, Creativity's newest skills embody their 20+ years of experience designing quality products for kids. The skills were designed to feature vivid character development, visuals for screened devices, an incredibly talented cast, original music, and engaging games and stories - made even more compelling by the new Amazon Alexa technology.
Conceived during the onset of the pandemic and shelter-in-place ordinance, Toy Doctor was built to help young children learn about common issues from boo-boos to tummy aches through the light-hearted encounters of a seven-year-old protagonist and her toys and pets.
Though it avoids mention of the pandemic, the skill was designed to help soothe kids' anxiety about the virus through role-play, anti-anxiety breathing exercises, and original songs, including Wash Your Hands.
Showcasing the type of high-quality audio content for which Creativity is famous, Toy Doctor delivers an educational, musical experience for kids thanks to Amazon Alexa's new higher quality audio capabilities.
Animal Rock is a fun and engaging musical game experience that enables kids young and old to experiment with how the selection of different musical styles and instruments can affect the resulting song.
Designed to allow children to make custom songs based on the characters they assemble from colorful animal bands, Creativity's Animal Rock skill would have required their team to mix and serve more than 700 potential musical compositions. Leveraging Alexa's new layered audio capabilities, Miles and the team saved hundreds of hours - and the skill's music was on full display.
"The ability to mix and layer audio files in real-time saved us from having to custom-build all of the different mixes for Animal Rock." - Miles
Caitlin and the Creativity team are excited about their conversational future - especially when witnessing how easily kids adopt voice-first technology. From Amazon Alexa Gadgets to the ability to take voice with you on-the-go across more platforms, Creativity is undoubtedly a pioneer designing the future of quality interactive experiences.
Caitlin hopes that Voiceflow will be one of the tools that helps her and the team move forward even more quickly.
"In this project alone, what would have usually taken months was completed in three to four weeks." – Caitlin
Using Voiceflow saved Caitlin's team time without sacrificing quality, allowing them to focus on what matters most - a delightful experience.
See for yourself how Caitlin and her team were able to build these 2 skills by watching the video case study, or try out the skills for yourself by saying: "Alexa, play Toy Doctor." or "Alexa, play Animal Rock"
In this edition of the VF newsletter: new features, logic tutorials, conversation design series and more.
Kane Simms, Co-founder of VUX World, discusses the evolving voice landscape, voice adoption, and the pandemic's impact on industry trends.