Conversational User Interfaces (CUI) are the talk of the town right now – from small Facebook bots that order flowers, to Siri, Alexa or Google Home. For me as a UX designer focusing on strategy and storytelling, the creation of a CUI is perfectly situated on the junction of user needs, business goals and yes, the exciting story developing on the way to both.

I have to predict user concerns and provide them with ways to address these concerns directly and independently. The following questions, among others of course, are my main focus:

1. Is Conversational UI the right tool?

First of all, we must establish whether a dialogue is suitable at all to satisfy the user’s needs. Just because chat bots are all the rage right now, they are no magic bullet. Forms, for example, can be filled much more quickly in a classic way than in a tiring question-and-answer game. Dialogues, on the other hand, are useful when there are several possible answers to a question.

2. Does the CUI need a personality?

How anthropomorphic is the interface? Do we create an avatar with human appearance, name, and character traits? That will lead to the user developing expectations of comprehension and intelligence – the CUI should be able to meet those of course. In any case, whatever character traits we give our CUI, they must be in line with the brand it represents.

3. How open (as in uncontrolled) can the dialogue between the user and our CUI actually be?

The technical possibilities often limit the freedom of dialogue. Is the CUI as smart as Alexa – or do we need to lead the user along a given path? In this context, we also need to discuss the options regarding user interaction. Is speech input possible from a technical point of view – and also useful? Can we allow the user to input text (i. e. are we able to understand his input) or do we have to offer a limited selection of options?
Ultimately, it has been established that you don’t need complex algorithms for a functioning (and entertaining) CUI. Users are also enjoying small bots with limited functionality – as long as they never promised to be more than that.

4. What do we start with?

CUIs are perfect for gradual implementation. We will keep the old graphical user interface (for example, the classic product web page) and simply add small dialog elements. This hybrid approach can also be implemented quickly with a limited budget, and allows us to test both the basic readiness of the target group for this kind of interaction as well as variations of addressing the users and interacting with them.

A limited range of functionalities becomes particularly unproblematic when you link the CUI to actual customer support. Furthermore, the employees directly receive qualified feedback regarding the new service. And it’s easy to add functionalities and services to this MVP over time.
One thing though: It is very important to develop and stick to a clear branding from the outset, so that the functionalities and services appear as an entity. UX Design, Visual and Interaction Design are working closely together towards this goal.

Conversational User Interfaces are not just a trend. User behavior is changing for good – from media consumption towards interaction and communication. Nevertheless, chat bots are neither an end in itself nor a magic bullet: the medium must fit the target group and its needs.

Further helpful input on conversational UI can be found here:

Chatbots: Künstliche Intelligenz im Messenger?

Technical and social challenges of conversational design

Designing for conversation

All Talk and No Buttons: The Conversational UI