Mica's Moon school

How do you create an on-brand voice skill?

Moon school

When the opportunity arose to script, produce and build an Alexa voice skill for Save The Children we were excited, to put it mildly.

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Key stats

1

Hollywood A-list actor

5

star rating on Alexa skill store

10

minutes of interactive fun

01

The brief

After refreshing their brand in the UK, putting the voice of the child at the heart of their communications, Save the Children wanted to do something special with voice technology.

Our brief was to build an Alexa skill to reach children and their parents through imaginative storytelling. The skill needed to be entertaining and empowering for children whilst raising awareness amongst parents of the type of work the charity does.

The images below are (from top left to bottom): Illustrations by Diana Goodwin and Hannah Quigley, Dominic West (voice of Mica the bear), Story flow diagram and another illustration showing Mica in the jungle scene.

Mica in the jungle

02

Our approach

A tight deadline and limited budget and resources meant that we had to be smart about what we built and how we built it.

We couldn’t spend a long time planning, writing and building something that turned out to be a flop for audiences and so an agile, iterative approach was adopted. This meant we shared work-in-progress early and often, with everyone involved. We got lo-fi prototypes in front of real users within days of the project start so that we could feed that back into the development.

With a dispersed group of stakeholders, communication was key and so we got together with everyone involved to define a product canvas. We also knew early on that we didn’t want Alexa to voice the story, we needed a great voice who would appeal to parents and children and were lucky enough to get Dominic West (The Wire, The Affair) onboard.

03

The story

A story had previously been written for Save The Children about a bear called Mica who lived on the Moon and it was originally thought that we could have Alexa read this out, a relatively straightforward task.

It soon became apparent though that simply getting Alexa to read out a short story wouldn’t cut it. Save The Children’s brand refresh was all about using real stories of children they’d helped around the world.

From a design review, case studies of children from Save The Children and some late nights from our Head of Editorial, we found our story. Mica would build a school on the Moon and visit children around the world, with help from the Alexa audience.

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04

The build

We developed the static story on a shared Google doc initially, which then moved to post-its on a wall when we were happy enough to work out the branching narrative. We could easily move things around in this format and get feedback from a range of disciplines to ensure that we were covering accessibility, brand, editorial and technical feasibility.

After this, we built out the story prototype using Voiceflow, which meant we could quickly launch and test it in the real world with real children and without using up any precious development time. Doing it in this way meant that when our developers came to build for real, they had a clear structure and content to work to with minimal changes along the way.

Developing products for children is a delight, as the feedback you get is very honest (to the point of brutal) and often funny. Below shows two of our testers getting excited about the Moon landing dance.

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We learnt a lot from the BBC team who built the BBC Children’s voice experience and some new things along the way like test early and often, do any recording once the project is essentially finished, factor in time for internationalisation and Amazon acceptance and keep it simple! You can enable the skill on your Alexa device here (opens Alexa Skill store).