conversational ui

May 4, 2021

8 min

Conversational UI: The Ultimate Guide 2021

Are you planning to launch your own chatbot or even a voice assistant soon? Sounds great! Make sure, though, you’ve considered every conversational UI detail to ensure 100% smooth and seamless user-machine communication. Our Ultimate Guide for Conversational UI development will help you with that!

UX/UI designer

written by:

Elizabeth Starikova

UX/UI Designer,
Qulix Systems

Are you planning to launch your own chatbot or even a voice assistant soon? Sounds great! Make sure, though, you’ve considered every conversational UI detail to ensure 100% smooth and seamless user-machine communication. Our Ultimate Guide for Conversational UI development will help you with that!

Conversational user interface. Basic info and definition.

“Conversational UI refers to a conversational user interface. These are the things you can physically see or hear to make decisions and engage with a conversational chatbot.” (BotSociety)

Thus, when we talk about conversational UI, we mean any software that can literally talk to us by visual or audio means (aka graphic interface or voice). Although almost any website or app nowadays tries to communicate with its users, conversational UI products are different. Their conversation is explicit and tries to emulate human speech.

Here are some examples of conversational interfaces:

It’s also worth mentioning that nowadays a VR/AR trend is growing by leaps and bounds and, as a result, conversational UI is coming the same route. In the near future we’ll be able to see Siri or Alexa via VR-enabled devices and talk to them in a way we do with our human friends.

For now, though, voice assistants and chatbots are the most popular types of conversational UIs in 2021. Time to see how to develop them!

How to develop conversational interfaces

N.B. All the images used in this article are an approximate visualization of conversational UI and require updating/customization to be utilized in real life projects.

We'll start our Complete Conversational UI Guide by sharing with you How not to develop conversational interfaces. Have a look at the screens below for clarity.

bad conversational ui example

This is what a good chatbot shouldn't be.

Or else. Watch the voice assistants crushes in this video.

See? Natural language processing is way more difficult than it seems to us, humans.

Let's find out now what a truly great conversational interface looks like.

conversational interface

conversational interfaces. examples

conversational interfaces. examples

chatbot example

As for the voice assistants, check out this cool video.

Aren't they stunning? How to achieve that? Time for real actions finally!

Designing a great conversational UI

Hm... Where to start?

It’s a good practice to start with a voice product, if your project includes both a chatbot and a voice assistant. Cathy Pearl, Head of Conversation Design Outreach at Google, explicitly recommends that in her series of video tutorials on the topic. This is mostly because a voice product requires more efforts and time to develop. So it's only logical to deal with the hard task beforehand to finish with a piece of cake.

Below we share with you our insights on developing both chatbot UI and voice user interface (VUI) with some extra highlights in the footnotes.

Step 1. Structure of a conversational interface

Start with writing a basic UI/VUI structure. This is a route that your software product will use in guiding customers from a hello message to buying/ordering a service/etc.

Have a look at the scheme below for better comprehension.

Conversational uis structure

Basic structure is a skeleton of a dialogue. Your software doesn't get confused at any point if it uses a basic structure and some trigger words as a guidance. Even artificial intelligence/machine learning -enabled voice assistants and chatbots great at natural language processing need a clear plan to use and yet still occasionally get stuck in the situations that need out-of-the-box thinking.

*Solid foundation is an absolute must for VUIs. As they often struggle processing input info pronounced with different accents, creating a clear structure with a bunch of key words is a great idea.

Step 2. User archetype and scenarios/user stories for conversational user interfaces

Proceed with building a user archetype and writing basic user-machine interaction scenarios or user stories.

Even if you’re not developing some industry specific product (medicine, finance, etc. where a deep analysis and tons of research is a must), user modelling is critical. Try building a user archetype which will help a lot creating your use cases and scenarios.

User archetype allows better predicting user behavior, identifying user needs and building more efficient dialogues. You can even determine personality types of your users with it, if you wish. With everyone so crazy about personalization today (which is a good thing, obviously), take some time doing Step 2 properly.

Consider also doing some mini-research to avoid stereotyping or biased/opinionated UI. Researching is easier than you might think and does not require tons of time and money.

Additionally, create a few test scenarios. What if your user asks a stupid or irrelevant question? Such things happen, as users sometimes wish to see what a chatbot is capable of. Test scenarios will help you prevent a situation where a bot has nothing to say and allow chatbot/VA sound naturally.

*Writing a user story for a voice assistant can be a bit more challenging, as speech is often not that specific as text, so assistants may have difficulties decoding the user’s intent. Read this great blog post by Ferederik Goosens, UI Designer, to learn more on how to create user stories and prototypes for VUI.

**In case you need more details on how to write user stories, check out our blog post on the topic.

Step 3. Bot Persona

Before you set off writing dialogues, give a good think to a thing your users will be talking to. Conversational user interfaces can be visualized as a human-like object (like Alexa) or a thing (like Google Assistant). Regardless of their 'appearance', they should be friendly, helpful, forgiving and tolerant.

*Behind every speaking technology stands a voice actor. Thus, for a great VUI invest into a great voice representing your brand. 

Step 4. Copywriting

This is actually where real fun begins, although writing a good copy is a hard and demanding task. To a certain extent, copywriting will resemble a film making process, and writing a good conversation requires lots and lots of shots and creativity. Besides, a dialogue shouldn't be only fun. Above all it must be functional and based on the three principles of a good conversation - Cooperative principle, Taking turns and Context (according to Peter Hodgson, Staff Interaction Designer at Google).

1. Cooperative principle

To make a conversation work the conversation participants should cooperate. This means, we expect our partner to be truthful, informative, relevant and clear.

2. Taking turns

Both participants of the conversation should keep the conversation alive, it’s not a solo passage. In case one participant is talking too much or too little, the conversation goes wrong.

3. Context

For a good conversation to happen, there should be a context. You won’t start chatting with a stranger in the street, just because you are having ‘fits of sociality’.

Furthemore, we'd like to add three extra points that'll help you create really functional and smooth dialogues.

a) Set the right expectations from the start. A bot/assistant should introduce itself and explicitly say that it's not a human. Like this.

conversational interface greeting

If a user understands that they are talking to a machine, they'll try to be more specific. Humans are super adaptive creatures, so it's in our nature to find the way to understand a machine.

b) Replicate human everyday speech as much as possible. This will reduce user's stress from talking to a machine and increase conversions.

By saying 'replicate human's speech' we mean using short simple sentences, contractions (can't vs cannot, won't vs will not), introduce a bit of slang and humor, where possible. You'll be amazed to see how much a friendly bot trying to speak the same language as a human user can achieve in comparison to a bot acting like a computer.

Have a look at the two dialogues below to see what we mean.

chat bot example

As you see, this bot is ‘trying hard’ to make a conversation possible, although it is not 100% successful at it. It’s very likely that a human using the bot is going to give it a second chance.

chat bot example

On the other hand, this one is ‘not trying at all’. No second chances, buddy.

c) Test at your best. After writing your first dialogue, find a ‘victim’ and test it - read your dialogues aloud. Table read, they call it in the film-making industry. Try table read with your friend. Besides having a lot of fun, you’ll do a great job identifying cringey parts of your text. Actually, you’ll be amazed to find how ‘artificial’ your dialogue may sound. Writing a really good copy will require dozens of shots, so be patient and persistent.

*In cases where chatbots can show the menu or a list of options to the user, voice assistants can only speak out loud. This will make dialogue impossible sometimes and will conflict with Cooperative Principle and Taking Turns all at the same time. Make sure your VA gives only relevant information to the user, whereas detailed info is presented on the screen.

Conclusion

As pandemic is still standing in our way to normal human-to-human communication, people are getting more used to talking with chatbots and voice assistants. Stats show a positive shift in humans’ perception of bots, whereas businesses are using them as actively as ever. It’s a great time to build your own chatbot or a VA! We hope you'll find our Ultimate Guide on Conversational Interfaces helpful in achieving that.

Before you go, though, we’d like to give extra focus to some highlights from this article for a seamless bot development.

  • Invest into great conversation structure. Even if your bot/assistant gets lost, the structure and trigger words will help it find the way out.
  • Build a user archetype and write lots and lots of relevant user stories.
  • Elaborate on your bot persona and give it a great voice (for VUI). In case it messes up the whole dialogue, it'll sound perfect at least.
  • Writing a good copy takes time. Be patient and test it a lot on real people. Remember to write all the dialogues with 3 principles in mind (Cooperative Principle, Taking Turns, Context).

Seems like you're done reading and ready to start a great project!

In case you need some additional info on the topic, you can always reach out to us via messengers, email or using this contact form on our website.

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Call us at +44 151 528 8015
E-mail us to request@qulix.com