What is Conversational UX?
In our fast changing world of technology where robots are no longer a thing of the future, bots are becoming increasingly common in our day to day interactions. GUI (graphic user interface) is being overtaken by CUI (conversational user interface).
Conversational UX is used for things like booking tickets, making reservations at restaurants, finding out general information and queries (something that was previously called faq in visual design). There are a lot more possibilities and the sky's the limit.
Understanding the Basics
UX (user experience) is basically the way we interact with any media device. With conversational UX, Instead of scrolling around and clicking buttons, we can interact with a chatbot to get the information we need. It will either be an audio conversation or a chat conversation. Take the popular examples of Siri, Google assistant and Alexa for reference.
Evolution of an Existing Past
Conversation design has quite a few historical inspirations. Google and Apple have both been working in the field for the latest in conversational UX. Head conversational designer at Google, Cathy Pearl, believes it evolves from the age old technology of IVRs. You would make a phone call and get preempted responses from the server. Cathy Pearl was once part of such IVR technology.
Tom Gruber of Siri, recalls a 1987 video called Knowledge Navigator, as his inspiration for Siri. He believes that we have unlimited possibilities in the future when it comes to conversational design. Sir is just a starting point. The technology defined in Knowledge Navigator is very doable. Technologies mentioned in the movie Her are also very doable in the near future.
New Era for UX Designers
It is the job of a UX designer to identify the needs of the target audience and create a user experience which is the most efficient in getting the point across.
With this fast changing technology of conversational UX, UX designers have a lot to learn and be up to date if they want to continue in this field. It is no longer about just identifying the consumers' needs. They have to create entire conversations- these should be as close to human responses as possible so the consumer feels at ease. The consumer knows he's interacting with a chatbot but will be more comfortable with the conversation.
The aim of the evolving technology is not that humans learn to talk like robots, but teaching bots to talk and interact more like humans. The major gamechanger now is audio design vs visual design. Take the example of creating a website. You start out with creating a visual structure for the website, add filler words and then replace those filler words with actual content. With an audio design/ CUI the actual conversation is the structure.
It is a completely new platform and hence the design rules are different. You create buttons and visual cards of information when designing a regular UX (example: the doctor's clinic is open from 9- 11 am). With conversational UX you have to create multiple answers for the same question depending on what the user might ask (example 1: when does the clinic open- 9-11 am. Example 2: will the doctor be available at 10.15 am- yes he will be there.) Once again we try to have a conversation as humanly as possible.
According to Cathy Pearl, people who are interested in conversations design are from linguistics, psychology, sociology, music and all such fields. Having a background in human psychology and linguistics is key to determining how different humans behave, interact and communicate in unique ways. The same conversation can be completely different for 50 different people. For example making reservations or setting an alarm.
Disadvantages for the UX Designer
Since the technology is fairly new, experts have not yet provided resources for designers to completely grasp the depth of conversational UX. The libraries of speech patterns, languages and settings provided so far can be understood by linguists and sociologists and other such researchers alone.
I will take a while to develop resources that make the technology easy to understand and execute for UX designers.
The tools provided so far are not enough and it is futile to jump into the game without any basic knowledge. You might be creating an interface which is neither useful to you or your target audience.
Google is one of the experts working in this field and it is trying to bridge the gap between the technical side and the design side of CUI.
Even with experience, you are bound to come across challenges. One such shortcoming is miscommunication between the consumer and the chatbot. The UX designer might have programmed certain responses to consumer questions but due to limited libraries for speech patterns, the chatbots can get stuck. Similarly chatbots might act up and give wrong suggestions and responses.
It is the job of the UX designer to fine tune these responses and work with any challenges as they happen. The UX designer needs to know the limitations of the technology so they know what ideas they can implement.
Where are We Headed
Experts are working hard at creating better AI technologies everyday. Companies working in the field are no longer being called AI (artificial intelligence) designers- they are known as IA (intelligence augmentation) designers. It is a whole new world with unlimited options.