For software makers who want their applications to take full
advantage of speech control   

Utter Command makes every element of every program accessible by speech, usually faster than the keyboard and mouse.

Not all programs are created equal, however. Programs that follow good usability and user interface design principles are generally easier to use by speech. Some interface design flaws -- like focus -- are more obvious when you're using speech. Making software work well for speech makes it better for everyone. There are some basics below.

Redstart Systems also provides consulting services for software makers who want to make their programs easier to use and faster for speech and non-speech users. For more information contact us at info@ this website address.

Usability Basics:

1. Make program functions accessible by keystroke
2. Use standard keyboard shortcuts when possible
3. Make lists accessible by keystroke
4. Keep names of program functions on menus, shortcuts and dialog boxes consistent, succinct and pronounceable

1. Make program functions accessible by keystroke

This includes every function. Every menu item should be accessible by alternate keyboard shortcuts that appear as underlined letters for every menu in a program -- including menus accessed by a right mouse click. Every function that appears in any circumstance should be accessible. This also includes functions only available through toolbar buttons and other graphical elements, including user-defined elements.

One good example of an accessible user-defined graphical element is Eudora's folders. Even though the folder names can be variable they are accessible via keystroke because there is a top-level menu that lists them, and you can get to any item on the list by starting to spell it.

2. Use standard keyboard shortcuts when possible

Here are some examples: Open File - Ctrl+o
Save - Ctrl+s
Save As - Alt+f, a
Copy All - Ctrl+a
Print - Ctrl+p
Find - Ctrl+f
Replace - Ctrl+r
Rename - F2
Undo - Ctrl+z
Redo - Shift+Ctrl+z
Access to recently-opened documents - Alt+f, 1-9

3. Make lists accessible by keystroke

Typing or saying "ab", for instance, should highlight the first item on a list that begins with "ab".

4. Keep names of program functions on menus, shortcuts and dialog boxes consistent, succinct and pronounceable

One of the keys to a successful speech interface is making sure users know what to say. There's nothing much more frustrating than knowing what you want to do but not how to do it. One key to making sure users know what to say is making sure the words they constantly see on the screen are consistent, succinct and pronounceable.

Consistent, succinct wording

Much of the time you don't need anything but an object. Words like "Show", "View", and "Open" are usually unnecessary.

The words "View", "New" and "Individual", and "Improve My" are redundant in the following examples from the NaturallySpeaking 5.0 menu:

View Recognition History
Add New Command
Add Individual Word
Performance Assistant
Improve My Accuracy

Inconsistencies within programs

Menus, dialog box names, and shortcut buttons are your opportunity to organize the interface for the user. The more consistent, logical and organized the structure, the easier it will be for the user to remember these commands.

Users unconsciously learn every time they see these elements. Make it easy for them. Having multiple names for functions slows down the learning process dramatically. Even if one of the labels is longer, it is important that at least the first word of the same function is the same on all menus, shortcuts and dialog boxes.

Here are some examples of inconsistencies in today's programs:

Eudora: Sorting email through the menus is Edit/Sort/Sender, with an underlined e as the keyboard shortcut at this point, but the shortcut button is Who, with an underlined o as the keyboard shortcut

NaturallySpeaking 5.0: Tools/Add New Command in the menus is MyCommands Editor in the dialog box
Words/Train in the menus is Training in the dialog box
Words/View Recognition History in the menus is Recognition History in the dialog box
Words/New in the menus is Add Individual Word in the dialog box
Words/View-Edit in the menus is Vocabulary Editor in the dialog box
Help/Improve My Accuracy in the menus is Accuracy Assistant in the dialog box
Help/Performance Assistant in the menus is Dragon NaturallySpeaking Help in the dialog box


Keep in mind that acronyms pronounced as letters have one syllable per letter, and so can get relatively long to pronounce even though they're succinctly written. Words without a space between them are also not well-recognized by speech engines unless they are very common.

This top-level menu entry from a speech utility combines the worst of both worlds: