17 ways to say yes, exploring tone of voice in augmentative communication and designing new interactions with speech synthesis

  • Graham Pullin

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    For people without speech, voice output communication aids are an assistive technology––but can also be restrictive: whilst Text-To-Speech synthesis can say anything, it affords little choice of how this is spoken. An absence of nuanced tone of voice can inhibit social interaction.

    This research explores this profound but relatively overlooked issue in augmentative and alternative communication through the lens––with the sensibilities and skills––of interaction design.

    Tone of voice is such an elusive and intangible quality: difficult for even phoneticians to define, let alone AAC users and carers to discuss in the context of their everyday lives. Therefore the activities of design exploration and design practice have been employed to visualise tone of voice, in order to catalyse new conversations, through two original research projects:

    Six Speaking Chairs, curated with Andrew Cook, is a collection of interactive artefacts that illustrate alternative models of tone of voice developed by academics and practitioners as diverse as sociolinguists and playwrights;

    Speech Hedge, created with the assistance of Ryan McLeod, is a visualisation of how someone might interact with nuanced tone of voice using a conventional communication aid in combination with an interface on a smart phone.

    Audience responses to each project have illuminated the perspectives from which laypeople conceive of tone of voice, challenging the conventional emotional model that dominates speech technology in favour of something more complex and heterogeneous. In order to reconcile such complexity with simplicity of use, design principles have been distilled that could inspire future user interfaces but also inform further research.

    This research has been published and presented within different academic fields, including design research, interaction design and augmentative and alternative communication.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSeaton Baxter (Supervisor) & Michael Press (Supervisor)


    • Augmentative and Alternative Communication
    • Interaction design
    • Speech synthesis
    • Tone of voice
    • Prosody
    • Intonation
    • Phonetics
    • Design research
    • Assistive technology

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