Conversational UI’s — What’s all the fuzz about?

First of all, digging into this topic and writing about conversational UI’s means spending quite some time chatting with bots all over the web. It’s hard not get fascinated by their charming tone-of-voice and personalities, and as designers it’s definitely worthwhile to engage with and learn about conversational UI’s.

Last year, Chatbots and voice interfaces were on the rise. Actually, more than 6,000 voice activated skills and 30,000 branded chatbots hit the market in 2016. So this year, we can expect that voice and especially chatbots will become much more mainstream.

This means that we as designers might need to change our practice, and we need to start designing conversations and interfaces with no interface, as Golden Krishna talks about. But what does that actually mean? How do we design products that no longer have a visible interface? How do we design conversation? How will the designer’s role change and what skillsets do we need to design for technologies such as Google Assistant or Alexa?

At Design Matters 2017, we will explore how to design for conversational UI’s. And most importantly, how we can create personalities and realistic and trustworthy AI’s.

Voice — interfaces with no interfaces

At this year’s most important gadget event, CES 2017 the message was clear: ”Voice is the next interface”. However, the fact that we want to talk to our devices is not a new thing. This is something we have been trying since 1952, where the first Voice UI “Audrey” was launched. Back then, Audrey was only able to recognize numbers pronounced by one person. But, time has changed and now that AI and voice recognition have improved radically, we can have more meaningful conversations with the devices.

Amazon’s Alexa

You have all heard about Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and the good old girl, iOS’ Siri. More and mores companies are experimenting with designing ‘invisible interfaces’, and many experts claim that this is the also laying the grounds for designing better personalities for robots. This development goes hand in hand with a move towards the ‘intelligent home’ which just might be closer than we think. This is where, we as designers have an important job to do. We need to design Voice UI experiences, that are just as enjoyable and user-friendly as they are on a screen.

The improved technology gives us new opportunities for designing new types of products and user experiences. But is also calls for new methods and ways of crafting an experience — or does it? The question is if these new technologies change our design practice, or if we just stop sketching wireframes and start sketching conversations instead?

In the article “How to Design Voice User Interfaces”, Ditte Mortensen address the challenge of the VUI’s lack of understanding for context. According to Ditte, users often have unrealistic expectations to voice ui’s. Therefore, it is important that we figure out a way to provide the users with the information there is missing, now the interface is gone. Besides that, the conversations should meet the experience of everyday conversations and should be context bound. Finally, the voice ui should help the users by providing information about, how they can use it’s skills to the full.

At Design Matters 17, the former Alexa designer, Cheryl Platz, will share her experiences with designing for voice and transforming an initial idea into a brand new product category: an affordable and fully voice-enabled assistant. The focus is to give you a clearer picture of how your own skills translate to new product work and how to set yourself up for success in the challenging and often secretive environment of new product design. Moreover, “how to design for voice UI’s” is exactly the topic Jayway will address in their workshop at Design Matters 17 called “Sorry, I can’t answer that”. Here we will explore how we with the immense power of the human brain, can help computers better understand the context of a conversation.

Additionally, we can also really recommend this article about chatty virtual assistants.

Chatbots — have a talk with the content

About a year and a half ago, we fell in love with the chatbot Quartz. It was the perfect combination of a serious purpose of delivering serious news, but with a smashing personality and the use of funny GIF’s and emoji’s. If you don’t know this one you should check it out!

Since then lots of Chatbots have crossed our way and impressively enough, they just keep getting better and better. Here is jus some of our favourites: The AI doctor babylon, the language learning Duolingo, the messenger bot Luka, the Visabot helping refugees, the ux bear and the older but entertaining Cleverbot.

If you don’t have the resources to build a chatbot, you can integrate chatbots in exciting platforms for example Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, Kik and much more. There is lots of great examples of these, and you can check them out at Facebook’s BotList. This is a really good way to get started, and here in Denmark, DR has huge success with their Facebook newsbot.

Space10's Conversational form

There are also alternative ways to think about chatbots, and that’s actually the trend we at Design Matters are diggin into. We are looking at the tendency of designers playing with and merging chatbots with other types of content. Typeform is a great example of this, since they have changed the conventions of a typical article, made it chat-like and launched it as a fully conversational article. Also, the Danish Innovation Lab Space 10 is turning web forms into conversations and has built the first conversational form. Both companies have promised to teach us a trick or two about how they did this, and how they keep playing with the conventions for interacting with users at Design Matter 17.

If you want to read more, we can recommend these articles: Conversational UI Principles — Complete Process of Designing a Website Chatbot, All Talk and No Buttons: The Conversational UI and Designing a Conversational Interface. All worth reading!

We’ll return to our many virtual friends online — and see you all at Design Matters 17.

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