A Small UI Change For Bots — A Giant Leap For Usability

It’s been almost 2 years since we laid the first line of code of Nikabot — a chat bot for Slack that fills out your timesheets. Since then almost 5000 teams have tried Nikabot and the number keeps growing.

With Nikabot you can enter what you worked on directly in Slack, when you are on Slack, so you don’t have to switch context. Nikabot then takes that information and creates reports and insights about your team.

Up until recently, daily conversation with Nikabot looked like this:

Although Nikabot’s conversations are quite simple, users had to format their replies according to the precise syntax. So when you replied to Nikabot’s daily ping, your answers had to be strictly formatted:

<Time> <Project> (<Notes>)

So the typical answer would look like this:

2h Tesla (meeting with the Gigafactory team), 3h SpaceX (overseeing the delivery of EchoStar XXIII), 3h OpenAI (research)

No space between the number of hours and the “h” character; hours, project name and optional notes separated by spaces. Multiple projects separated by commas. If Nikabot asked you a yes/no question, your answer should be either “yes” or “no.” If Nikabot was not asking you anything, you had to use a specific trigger word to start a conversation with her.

Although it was one line of text only, you had to remember the exact name of each project, and be all eyes and brain when talking to Nikabot. It did require some cognitive effort — something we’ve been trying to avoid at all costs.

Enter Message Menus

That’s why we were very excited when we heard that Slack was planning to release Message Menus. For us it meant that we could replace the text input with drop down menus that would allow users just to choose from available projects and type in the number of hours. Fantastic!

We got into beta development from the start and here is where we arrived:

From now on users are relieved from the daily struggle of remembering the correct way of logging hours, or the exact name of their projects. The interface in general looks lighter and more neat. It’s also much easier to get used to interacting with Nikabot.

Buttons and menus give users visual clues on how to format their reply

Rich UI elements such as drop down menus and buttons fill the blank space with a structure that communicates the expected format of the reply. Apart from that, no need to remember the exact way your projects are called — you can just start typing the name of the project in the field and choose it from the list.

Although it might seem like a small change, menus and buttons have helped us shift much of the cognitive load from the user to the bot. The tasks that were previously on the user — remembering the syntax (basically, the bot’s language), remembering the project name, remembering specific commands for specific cases — are now on Nikabot. Choosing the right option from the list and clicking the button that appears at the right time feels like a no-brainer compared to texting.

Users shouldn’t have to remember commands — instead, the right actions should be conveniently suggested and displayed when relevant. Buttons allowed us to do just that, so now users who are continuously working on the same project will see a button labeled “Same as previous day”. This is something that wasn’t possible with the text-based interface, as it would require us to create a new command and ask user to remember it and use it when relevant.

Bots and humans are only starting to learn about each other. We don’t know how communication patterns will evolve, but what we know for sure is that bots should always do the heavy lifting. Because that’s why we created them — to take over the work we don’t want or have time to do. Asking users to remember specific commands, hidden options or even the exact naming of their projects is contradictory to the very purpose of bots. We’re excited to see where this new change will take us.

Curious to try Nikabot with your team? Get your 30-day free trial at www.nikabot.com