Five things nobody tells you about designing chatbots.

Lessons in Service Design from SPARCK.

If you believe the hype (and I do), we’ve moved from a mobile-centric, to an AI centric world. ‘Conversational commerce’ and the ‘disappearing interface’ are this year’s buzzwords, and there are now hundreds of great resources and tools which promise to help you design the next great chatbot.

So, I thought I’d share the things no one is talking about. The stuff that’s going to help you to design a service that lasts, and adds value to your customer experience.

1. Approach with caution — the market is consolidating.

Technology is developing at an incredible pace- which is great for the industry, but the market is still maturing. We’re seeing major consolidation as the big guys attempt to add more and more offerings to their customers. In the last few months alone we’ve seen eight acquisitions and one major pivot*.

When you’re designing your service, you need to bear in mind that the tools that you use today might not be around for long. At SPARCK we’re trying to help our clients take advantage of this pace of change, so with our Tech Consultancy parents BJSS, we’re designing agnostic chat services.

When we design AI solutions, we ensure that we architect something that allows us and our clients to seamlessly integrate with any vendor, and with minimal effort. So, if something happens, we just switch to another vendor and our hard work is preserved!

The red boxes show changes we’ve seen since this diagram was created in 2017

2. Design chatbots that you’d be interested in getting to know

Characters have existed since storytelling began, and brands were officially born in the 1930’s, but chatbots and virtual assistants are in their infancy. Even when conversations flow well, it’s unusual to enjoy talking to one.

The industry are collectively developing best practice for bots and their personalities, led by talented UX-ers and the odd Creative or Copywriter. But I would argue, as the brand experience most akin to human interaction, we need to take more care. After all, we all find our excuses when stuck talking with someone boring –and chatbots are no different.

We could learn from computer games, and begin employing Writers. They can bring a substance and richness to bot personalities that will stand the test of time — And meet expectations placed on the brand too.

Hideo Kojima, video game designer, screenwriter, director, and producer

3. There are no CCMS’s (Conversation Content Management Systems)…yet!

I had to coin a new term, but the point stands! Right now, we’re in the same position as websites in the 90’s. It’s an exciting place to be, but it comes with its downsides i.e. your content options are very limited and there’s minimal integration.

If you’re designing a sophisticated chatbot, you’ll need to figure out how content will be managed. And at the moment, for most people that’s a massive spreadsheet and a flow diagram! They’re unwieldy, prone to error, and generally hard to manage.

A tiny glimpse at one of the many flow diagrams you’ll have to design.

As the technology matures and goes mainstream, I expect this to change. But for the moment we’re working on our own technology that will handle the nuance required for intelligent conversation, and deliver suitable and contextually relevant responses.

4. Narrative and journeys should be interwoven

Good CX tells us that we should consider our audience holistically, and chatbots are no different. Your current journeys, and the conversations you design should work symbiotically. Not that you should try to force a bot where it doesn’t belong — you’ll just annoy people!

We’ve found designing new journeys and conversations in tandem helps to plan for all the scenarios - even if you still design for a limited scope. We begin by mapping out a ‘Service Blueprint’, which tells us who’s involved, how we meet their needs, and what technology we have to use to make it work. This enables us to rapidly design wireframes and conversational paths that fit.

Our ‘Alpha’ Service Blueprint for a client.

5. It’s the best way to work with people you usually wouldn’t!

This field is so new, everyone is learning. You can’t afford not to collaborate, because every decision is so intrinsically linked. We couldn’t design conversations without Data Scientists to tell us what intelligence our systems are capable of. And our Solution Architects can’t design a futureproof system without understanding our vision and long term goals. It’s a great way for us Service Designers to get to know our technical counterparts — and vice versa.


SPARCK combines the best creative innovation of a strategy house with the experience and capability of a leading, privately owned, technology consultancy, BJSS, with over 900 technologists. We help companies shape and delivery new products and services — and create their future.

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