All of the technology and vision don’t amount to much until they are formed into products that users embrace. That work falls to designers and product managers that are translating technology capabilities into popular applications and services. These 11 design and product pros are forming consumer expectations and striving to make those experiences better each year. Our honorees include well-known designers from big companies such as Cathy Pearl of Google, Mark Webster of Adobe, Paul Cutsginer of Amazon, and Tom Hebner from Nuance to voice game and productivity app designers Adva Levin of Pretzl Labs and Jess Williams from Opearlo. Below we have included bios for each honoree and why they made the 2019 list.
To learn more about the selection methodology and honorees in the other categories go here: Go to Overview
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Mark Webster was the CEO and co-founder of Sayspring which was acquired by Adobe in 2018. Founded in 2016, Sayspring offered online software that enabled anyone to quickly create interactive prototypes for voice applications on Amazon Alexa and Google Home. However, the solution always stopped short of allowing users to take their designs and immediately publish them as voice apps. This was a core insight of Webster and the broader Sayspring team that designers needed a tool that wasn’t encumbered by the needs of developers so they could focus solely on the user experience before bringing in the engineering teams. Webster is a designer by training and worked early in his career for the NBA’s entertainment division. He also spent time as a product director at Groupon. He is now a director of product focused on voice at Adobe where he is influencing the voice design approach of users of the most widely adopted set of software tools for creative professionals.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Paul Cutsinger serves as the head of Amazon Alexa Voice Design Education, where he works with developers to design and build the next generation of customer experiences based on voice interactions. Known more as a developer than a designer or product lead, Cutsinger has fallen into the role of influencing design approaches adopted by thousands of Alexa skill developers through his Twitch videos, conference presentations, and appearances at Meetups and hackathons. Before joining the Alexa team in 2016, Cutsinger was chief evangelist for the Amazon App Store. Prior to Amazon he ran engineering for several products at The Walt Disney Company as a vice president of technology and also spent 14 years with Microsoft in program management and technical roles.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Tom Hebner is the global head of innovation at Nuance Communications. He has been at the company since 1999 by way of acquisition in 2008, so has had a front-row seat to observe the evolution of voice technology in the modern era. He spent most of his early career in voice user experience design before moving into cloud and innovation groups and now oversees voice and AI development. Hebner’s role enables him to see both the newest innovations and the current applications of Nuance technology in use at thousands of companies and generating over $2 billion in annual revenue.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Jonathon is an entrepreneur, interactive digital storyteller, and CEO of Earplay. He began his career in interactive entertainment as a creative writer and Boston-based independent game designer. In early 2013 Jonathon co-founded Earplay to work on a platform for the creation and distribution of voice operated interactive story experiences. Earplay gained early recognition on Alexa for its development of interactive mysteries with radio drama styling. The company’s profile rose further from its collaborations with Universal Pictures and USA Networks for voice interactive Alexa skills for the Jurassic World movie release and Mr. Robot television series respectively. The Mr. Robot Daily Five/Nine Alexa skill recent snagged a Voice 19 award for best voice interactive game.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Will Hall is the Chief Creative Officer at RAIN, leading combined teams of strategists, engineers and designers. He serves on multiple advisory boards focused on voice and conversational technologies, and has been declared the “winner” of Pinterest. Over the past 14 years, he’s worked at agencies with key clients including Amazon, Adobe, Facebook, BlackRock, Sony, Alibaba, and Starbucks to name a few. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Design at NYU. He is best known for his conference and Meetup presentations about the fundamentals of voice design and the importance of “thinking in systems” when developing a voice strategy that is similar to how Chinese technology companies seek to dominate markets. Will’s influence is greatest when you consider RAIN’s client roster that includes Nike, Starbucks, Unilever, Tide, Universal, and Marriott among several dozen leading brands.
WHY SHE MADE THE LIST // Adva Levin is the founder and CEO of Pretzel Labs, a company that creates voice-first games that children can play through Amazon Echo and soon Google Home. The company came to prominence in 2018 as the Grand Prize winner of Amazon’s first Kids Skills Competition for its Alexa skill, Kid’s Court. Since that time, Levin has spoken at conferences and run workshops on voice game design for children. Previously, Adva worked in product and content roles at a number of startups and has also done literary translation and screenwriting.
WHY SHE MADE THE LIST // Jess Williams is an active member of the voice community and an Amazon Alexa Champion. Sheregularly speaks at conferences and was nominated for the 2019 Alexa Award Executive of the Year. Jess co-founded Opearlo with Oscar Merry in 2016. Opearlo started as a voice app development agency building Alexa skills for Unilever and other brands, but switched to building games and productivity skills for consumers in 2017. Opearlo was accepted to Y-Combinator in 2017 and has popular Alexa skills such as Find My Phone, Riddle of the Day, Guess My Name, and Good Night. Prior to founding Opearlo, Jess worked at Accenture delivering large-scale digital transformations to clients.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Tom Hewitson is CEO of labworks.io, a conversation design studio based in London, which has created some of the most popular games on Amazon Alexa including True or False, Trivia Hero, and Would You Rather. He has advised some of the world’s most iconic brands including Unilever, Sage, Danone, the Gates Foundation, Al Jazeera and the UK government about their voice and chatbot strategies. He’s listed as #9 in ‘100 Bot People to Watch’ by Chatbots Magazine and now is included in the more prestigious Voicebot Top 44 😉. Prior to founding Labworks, Tom was a journalist, content designer and content strategist as several companies including Facebook.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // Along with James Wilsterman, Max Child co-founded Volley, a company best known for developing games for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The Volley games Song Quiz and Yes Sire are among the top ranked games on Alexa and Song Quiz recently won a Voice 19 award. Max was formerly an iOS developer, journalist and worked for Boston Consulting Group. Volley traces its origins back to 2013 but in the beginning the team was developing games for mobile and innovating around games that could be played solely within mobile notifications.
WHY HE MADE THE LIST // At BBC R&D Henry Cooke leads the Talking with Machines project, a design research and prototyping project aiming to understand interaction design, software development and content formats for the new wave of voice-first (VUI) devices. Prior to joining BBC R&D in 2016, he had a long and varied career as a freelance creative technologist, working on projects ranging from digital storytelling to machine learning, theatre productions, social media bots, educational games, and in one memorable case building a giant talking throne for a Christmas event in a Royal Palace. BBC has a number of Alexa skills such as BBC World Service for news, BBC Good Food for recipes, and The Inspection Chamber voice interactive game.