Behind the scenes of my newest book Voice Content and Usability, A Book Apart’s first voice titleAugust 24, 2021
My newest book Voice Content and Usability is now available! Want to know more about A Book Apart’s first-ever title on voice interface design? Buy the book, learn what’s inside, and subscribe for more insights like this.
It’s been a few months since my newest book Voice Content and Usability was officially released on June 22nd, and I’ve been thrilled to hear positive feedback from readers the world over, from government officials to graduate students who have found the book a compelling introduction to the emerging discipline of voice content design and strategy. One of the questions I’ve received a few times is how the book came to fruition in the first place and how the sausage was made.
In this article, I’ll share a few of the behind-the-scenes insights that emerged from Voice Content and Usability, a bit of a detour from my normal explorations of conversational interfaces writ large, content strategy, information architecture, conversation design, and usability testing when it comes to voice content. A Book Apart’s first-ever title on voice is now available for purchase worldwide, but if you’re not yet sure whether it’s for you, check out a preview of the book, my prior content on voice, or subscribe to my newsletter.
How Voice Content and Usability came to be
The first kernels of the ideas that become Voice Content and Usability surfaced in the months after we completed the Ask GeorgiaGov project, the first voice interface for residents of the state of Georgia, a case study I’ve covered here on my blog, on A List Apart, and in a VOICE Summit main-stage session. We realized quickly over the course of our implementation that what we were undertaking was unique in the industry, as there were virtually no content-driven voice interfaces wielding informational voice interactions yet available.
Hot on the heels of my debut Decoupled Drupal in Practice (Apress, 2018), I wasn’t quite ready to begin another book writing process, but over the coming years, I decided to explore the academic and industry literature surrounding voice interface design and conversation design to pursue a full-length book on the subject of voice content specifically. I found a gulf between the scholarly literature, which tended to be limited in real-world case studies, and the industry literature, which focused on individual ecosystems rather than a broader perspective for conversation designers.
By 2019, I had put together a proposal for Voice Content and Usability reflecting the current state of the discourse and the new insights we had gleaned from the Ask GeorgiaGov project, but it wasn’t until early 2020 that I began working with my publisher A Book Apart on a formal timeline. At the same time, the field of voice interface design was evolving rapidly, just before the universal upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic, which would also reveal just how pressing the demand for voice interfaces could become.
Writing a book (or two) during a pandemic
At the end of February 2020, I had just returned from what would be my last in-person tech event in Madrid, where the fear among attendees was palpable but not yet fully formed. Within several days of my departure, Madrid would enter a formal lockdown. Only a few weeks later, New York City followed suit as the novel coronavirus began decimating communities across my home city. I remained in New York throughout the initial lockdown, listening as ambulance sirens were the only sounds to punctuate the pandemic nights.
I want to be sure to hold space in this more personal post for those who have suffered immensely and immeasurably during the ongoing pandemic, whether due to economic instability or the unfathomable loss of loved ones. Like many other creatives and technologists throughout 2020, I found our citywide lockdowns to be an opportunity for a contemplative reset in many aspects of my life, though the backdrop of the pain and suffering of so many remained at top of mind.
Over the course of 2020 and 2021, I wrote two books: Voice Content and Usability, a book oriented toward design and user experience practitioners, and Gatsby: The Definitive Guide, a technical manual and reference for Gatsby developers, coming from O’Reilly later this year. The two works couldn’t be more different from one another, and I’m not certain I would have been able to devote the necessary time to both projects without the slowed-down routines the pandemic enabled. Though it has been an unthinkably dark time in many regards, I’m very fortunate to have had these opportunities and am forever grateful to my supporters everywhere.
My writing process tends to be highly methodical, sometimes to a fault, with tons of outlining and careful planning, because I find that settling the structure of a book or article offers more of a foundation for more extemporaneous, free-flowing writing later on. But what aided me the most while writing Voice Content and Usability was undoubtedly adhering to an effective and well-practiced routine and cultivating a workspace conducive to idle thinking. Read more about what gets me going over at my profile for A Book Apart.
Looking ahead to my next book on Gatsby
It may not be a literary classic as vaunted as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but my upcoming O’Reilly book Gatsby: The Definitive Guide, which you can get early access to today, represents somewhat of a milestone nonetheless. With the Gatsby framework’s meteoric growth over the past few years and the rapid rise of the Jamstack in web architecture circles, it’s high time for a comprehensive book and reference guide for Gatsby developers that covers the end-to-end process of working with the framework.
This fall, Gatsby: The Definitive Guide will be released officially in print and online, with a foreword by my dear colleague and friend Jason Lengstorf. With fourteen chapters that encompass getting started with Gatsby, programmatic page creation, plugins and starters, deploying and testing, and advanced topics such as MDX and schema customization, it’s a book you’ll want to have on your bookshelf whether you’re just dipping your toes in the Jamstack paradigm or are a seasoned static site specialist. Watch this space for more!
I’ve been asked on several podcasts how one can begin to write a book of this nature, let alone during a pandemic and a worldwide wave of anti-Asian racism. I’ve been lucky to count on the support of dear friends and colleagues, who encouraged my pursuit from the beginning. That said, the rising tide of anti-Asian sentiment, which crested in early 2021 with the senseless murders of Vicha Ratanapakdee and six Asian-American women in Atlanta, sadly reached me personally too. I was physically attacked and left with serious injuries mere blocks from my apartment in December 2020, and another attempted assault was made against me by drivers in a car in early May.
I’m grateful to my publisher A Book Apart and my loved ones for continuing to show their support even at the nadir of the pandemic and the racist attacks that spread just as quickly as the virus around the world. My hope is that you learn as much from my newest book as I did during the writing process? Stay tuned here for even more insights from Voice Content and Usability, available now from A Book Apart. Also, watch this space for more information about my soon-to-be-launched latest, Gatsby: The Definitive Guide—the first comprehensive book on Gatsby ever to hit bookshelves.