Chatbot design may freak you out, and it’s normalby@vittoriobanfi
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Chatbot design may freak you out, and it’s normal

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Vittorio Banfi
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Moving from visual design to conversational design is not easy


Design a conversation? WAT?

During my day to day at Botsociety, I have the privilege of talking with a lot of designers that are approaching the bot space. I often encounter worries and fears about the conversational shift. The majority of them are understandable but there is actually nothing to fear! So I thought that debunking some of the fears may be useful for other people.

Is there design at all?

Answer: Yes.

All of them have designed or built graphical user interfaces in the past, like websites or mobile apps. They are now approaching the new space of conversational experiences — say, they are designing a chatbot for the first time. Or a voice assistant for the first time. The technical shift — from graphical to conversational — is no small feat, but the libraries and tools are all out there, free and easy to use. What is actually far more complicated is the design shift. Imaging the best conversational experience possible it’s actually a mix of copyrighting, UX, marketing and more. Not designing the chatbot will for sure mean that the interaction is not compelling.

Even for Voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home, is there a design?

Answer: Yes.

A lot of design needs to go into an Alexa skill or a Google assistant application. You need to define the tone of voice; the interactions starting from the happy path; the fallbacks; and more. A voice interface designed properly is a breeze, it feels very different. Want to try one? I personally love Yes sire for Alexa. If you have a Google Home, tell it you want to take a flight to a random this Friday. You will be surprised!

Do I have to throw away all the things I learned about design?

Answer: Absolutely no.

The vast majority of the UX principles you learned from graphical interface will apply to conversational interfaces. When I look at a chatbot or Alexa design, I immediately see if the person who created it has been designing graphical interfaces or not. Principles, UX ideas and approach matter a lot, even in a world with no colors or padding.

Will the A.I. build itself so there will be no need for design?

Answer: Not for the next 15 years

This is another fear I hear a lot. The idea that the technology will become so advanced, that the chatbot will ‘just understand users’, thus making design unnecessary. Not going to happen: Things like tone of voice, design the experience around a business goal, empathy, creativity. There is really no way to automate such things. I’ll make a prediction here: We will see self driving cars in the streets way before an A.I. will be able to do conversational design effectively.

Will a writer take my job?

Answer: Maybe

Conversational design has a lot to do with words, as you can guess. The thing that we like to say at Botsociety is that there are no ‘Lorem Ipsum’ in our designs. You can’t have the marketing team figure out the copywriting afterwards. The words are the interface. That means that your writing skills need to improve if you have neglected them. Conversational design is at the intersection of writing and UX. Writers can learn UX principles, and designers will need to learn a bit of writing.

Do you have other questions or fears about conversational design? Please leave them in the comments, I’ll be happy to answer them!


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