September 23, 2022

Article
4 min

Conversation Design Puts AI One Step Closer to Humans

Conversation Interfaces Can Enable Customer Interaction with Automated Systems More Naturally.

Close up image of a woman at her desk speaking to a smart speaker.

Conversation design is the intersection of multiple design disciplines converging into a meta-design experience. Those disciplines include voice user interface design, interaction design, visual design, audio design and UX writing.

You can spend hours researching any specific aspect, let alone plowing through the depth of materials related to human language and communication. Yet at the end of the day, we’re simply attempting to communicate. That’s what a quality conversation does; it shares and imparts needed information in a timely manner. These tenets are condensed down into Grice’s Maxims. 

Grice’s Maxims of Conversation are the basic principles of human conversations – providing sufficient information in an honest, relevant, concise, and courteous way. Introduced by philosopher H. Paul Grice in 1975, he posited that "talk exchanges" were more than a "succession of disconnected remarks," and if they were the conversation would be irrational, non-coherent.

Grice’s philosophy carries over directly into designing interactions with systems:

  • Quantity – Say no less than the conversation requires. Say no more than the conversation requires. Interactions don't need to be overly chatty (though the term often used is conversational). You can be convivial and brief at the same time when writing dialogue.
  • Quality – Don't say what you believe to be false. Don't say things for which you lack evidence. For implementers this is, “Don’t say it if you can’t do it.” A chatbot shouldn’t say, “Let me get you an agent” if there’s no methodology in place for a transfer or getting the conversation data over to an agent.
  • Manner – Don't be obscure. Don't be ambiguous. Be brief. Be orderly. Think of how we navigate each other in the world at large. Most of our social/shopping interactions are brief and to the point. “Do you want to buy the software?” “Yes, I want to buy the software.” “Thank you for buying the software.” Short, friendly to the point.
  • Relation – Stay relevant and says things that are pertinent to the discussion. Interactions should stay relevant to the task at hand. Previous data points gathered in the conversation should be reused, if possible, for confirmations. “Thanks for your order, Jenny. Can I text you the confirmation code to the number you gave us earlier?” 

Conversation design goes beyond just voicing commands or generating a static dialogue, it allows users to engage with a system on more complicated topics in a user-friendly way. Conversation interfaces can enable customers to interact with automated systems more naturally, often using symbols (think emojis or images). From virtual assistants to concierge chatbots, conversational interfaces have the potential to provide customers with at-scale convenience and customizations in a variety of forms. 

We can take cues from our human interactions to build intentional, thoughtful designs that help people make decisions with ease and seamlessly bounce back. There are immediate benefits in designing conversation; it’s a mental architecture we’re used to. Deliberate choices of language can make digital interactions feel as though they were designed by humans with humans in mind. Fortunately, language can help us to be strategic, designing conversations that are inclusive, feel natural.

Designing against personas presents a chance to keep customers engaged, drive brand recognition and perception, and make the user experience enjoyable and effortless for your end users.

Depending on what your brand does, and whom you are talking to, you may want to decide whether your style of conversation is easygoing and entertaining, or straightforward and professional. You can appeal to a wider range of people by celebrating their dialect or conversational style in your designs. Embrace peoples’ diverse ways of speaking and writing and develop conversations that accommodate everyone. Embrace language variations, and you open your arms to welcome more people into a conversation.

Another boon of quality conversation design is streamlining your overall user experience and customer journey. You don’t need to keep your customer support representatives waiting on another line to respond to questions that can be answered by a chatbot or an AI-powered virtual assistant. A well-designed conversation AI system can be integrated with a website, application, voice, or SMS to engage and assist in a way that benefits both you and the user/customer. Conversations are everywhere, and conversation AI helps to answer customers questions in a quick and accurate manner.

Conversations are an important part of almost any kind of business, but the development of a conversation backbone across channels of communication offers unique opportunities to each company. Whether you are the product owner, design lead/developer or business analyst, the data that can be gleaned from a well-designed conversation is invaluable.

Story by Shawn Augenstein, whose expertise is architecting advanced conversation-based interactions at scale. Using best of breed solutions and advanced machine learning for analytics, Shawn has deployed global solutions for a variety of clients.