Metaphors in Voice User Interfaces: A Slippery Fish

Smit Desai, Michael Twidale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explore a range of different metaphors used for Voice User Interfaces (VUIs) by designers, end-users, manufacturers, and researchers using a novel framework derived from semi-structured interviews and a literature review. We focus less on the well-established idea of metaphors as a way for interface designers to help novice users learn how to interact with novel technology, and more on other ways metaphors can be used. We find that metaphors people use are contextually fluid, can change with the mode of conversation, and can reveal differences in how people perceive VUIs compared to other devices. Not all metaphors are helpful, and some may be offensive. Analyzing this broader class of metaphors can help understand, perhaps even predict problems. Metaphor analysis can be a low-cost tool to inspire design creativity and facilitate complex discussions about sociotechnical issues, enabling us to spot potential opportunities and problems in the situated use of technologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number89
Number of pages37
JournalACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Additional Key Words and PhrasesMetaphor
  • Conversational Agents
  • Voice Assistants
  • Voice User Interfaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction


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