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Conversation design

Conversation design refers to the process of creating and structuring conversational interactions between a user and a conversational interface, such as a chatbot or voice assistant. In theory, it requires careful consideration in many levels: logic at language independent interaction level, understanding and scripting at language level (can be different for voice channel), and visual components such as buttons and cards on client side.

Traditionally, conversation design mainly involves designing the flow, structure, and content of the conversation at language level since that is where the main challenges are. However, with recent advances in using large language models for natural language understanding, it is time for us to take a more holistic view and with focus on achieving business objectives. This requires us to look at conversational design under this new three layer lens.

What is conversation?

A conversation is an interactive exchange of information between a conversational user interface (CUI) and a user, typically through text or voice. The CUI simulates human conversation, while the user is a customer, employee, or other individual who is interacting with the interface.

The purpose of a conversation in business can vary depending on the specific needs of the business. Some common purposes include: providing customer service, selling products or services, generating leads, providing support to employees, etc. The CUI will use natural language processing to understand what the user is saying and to respond in a way that is helpful and informative. The CUI can also access information from the business's database to provide the user with the most accurate and up-to-date information.

The goal of a chatbot conversation is to help the user complete the task at hand. The conversation should be meaningful and efficient, and the goal should be to solve problems quickly and accurately. The number of conversation turns is not as important as the quality of the interaction.

What is conversation interaction design?

Conversation design is a design discipline that leverages the principles of human conversation to create user interfaces that are easy to use and intuitive. It is a synthesis of several design disciplines, including voice user interface design, interaction design, visual design, motion design, audio design, and UX writing.

Conversation designers are like architects for conversational interfaces. They map out the user experience, considering both the business serves and the user's needs. They define the underlying logic of the conversation in a detailed design specification that represents the complete user experience. They work with stakeholders and developers to iterate on the designs and bring the experience to life.

Conversation design vs. GUI design

Conversation design and graphical user interface (GUI) design are two distinct disciplines with different goals and approaches. GUI design is focused on creating a visual interface that is easy to use and navigate, while conversation design is focused on creating a natural and engaging conversation between a user and a system.

It is tempting to think that conversation design is simply a matter of adding voice input and text-to-speech (TTS) output to a GUI. However, this is a misconception. Conversation design is about much more than just the way that users interact with a system. At its core, it is about the logic of the conversation and the business logic that underlies it. This means that conversation designers need to start from the bottom up when redesigning an interface to be conversational. The logic that works for a GUI is almost never going to work as-is for a conversational interface.

System and user personas

Before you can write a conversational use case, you need to have a clear picture of who the characters are. Personas are a design tool that can help you do this. A persona is a fictional character that represents a specific type of user. It is typically defined by their demographics, goals, needs, and pain points.

A good persona is specific enough to evoke a unique voice and personality, yet brief enough that it’s easy to keep top-of-mind when writing a dialog. It should be easy to answer the question, "What would this persona say or do in this situation?"

System persona

The system persona is the conversational partner that users interact with directly. It is important to define a clear system persona to ensure a consistent user experience. Otherwise, each designer may follow their own personal conversational style, which could make the overall experience feel disjointed.

The system persona should be created based on the following factors:

  • The target audience: Who are the users of the system? What are their needs and expectations?
  • The business goals: What are the goals of the system? How can the system persona help to achieve these goals?
  • The tone and style: What tone and style should the system persona use? Should it be formal or informal? Friendly or professional?

Once the system persona has been defined, it should be used as a guide for all conversation design. This will help to ensure that the user experience is consistent and cohesive.

User persona

User personas are fictional characters that represent different types of users. They are created by identifying the user's demographics, goals, motivations, and pain points. By creating user personas, you can get a better understanding of your users' needs and expectations. This will help you to design CUIs that are more user-friendly and engaging.

When creating user personas for your CUIs, it is important to consider the following:

  • Who are your users? What are their demographics, such as age, gender, occupation, and location?
  • What are their goals? What do they want to achieve by using your CUIs?
  • What are their motivations? Why do they want to achieve these goals?
  • What are their pain points? What challenges do they face in achieving their goals?

This will help you to avoid designing CUIs that only meet your own needs and goals. Instead, you can design conversations that are truly user-friendly and engaging.