How to design a chatbot experience

Giles Colborne will present on designing for conversations at

Generate London on 22 September. The co-founder and CEO of cxpartners will discuss both the opportunities and pitfalls presented by conversational interfaces.

We love our messaging platforms; they give us the opportunity to communicate in ways we normally would not when face to face – such as emojis, memes and atmospherics. The voice call as we know it is fading, and not just in personal use, but in business use also. Even voicemails are considered archaic and laborious, with a preference now to be text-based.

Over the past five decades we have experienced shifts in messaging, from ELIZA, DoS bots and gaming to MSN Messenger. The core of human connection to computing has been through the messaging paradigm. As we live through this current cycle, new messaging platforms with new usable and useful interfaces, and with much more personal user context, are being created.

With 50 million business users, Facebook Messenger is exploding its commercial API capabilities weekly, allowing brands and services to order food, book a flight, contact local emergency services or send a payment through simulated bot services. 

Bots are maturing fast, as customer experience, service and marketing teams explore the potential of conversational UI for solving issues with self-serve processes (such as booking a hotel or changing flight details). 

As the user’s pace of input and absorption of content within messaging windows increases, brands and services will need to meet this demand. A truly seamless, end-to-end ecommerce customer service bot experience is still a way off, but platforms such as are progressing fast in this area. The case for exploring purchasing simplification through conversational UI has never been so important.

As a designer, emphasis on the ‘design of words’ (natural language) and user intent within a messaging window will be at the fore of your work. To convey the pace and depth of practice emerging in this space, in this article I have covered only a few key areas for consideration when designing a successful bot user experience.

If you are considering designing a bot for your brand or service, there are a lot of factors involved. First you need to decide if a chatbot is the right option for your product. Consider the following:

Creating a successful automated (end-to-end) chatbot is hard. Because it is a relatively new medium for organisations, best practice for implementation is learned, tested and evolving daily and globally. 

You also need to make sure you have the ability to put this into practice. Skills such as natural language programming, conversational UX, and in-house technical competencies are vital, but you also must factor in the constant effort required to maintain a successful bot experience.

Design a whole chatbot system

First, prototype your flow as information architecture. You are designing a systematic set of conversational flows that take a service from beginning to end. The flows need to be short and simple, with reduced interaction points – the aim is to enable users reach their intended result as easily as possible. 

It’s vital to accommodate for any potential dead-end scenarios. Here are some tips:

Use of natural human language within menus and micro-button options need to be contextually exact in meaning to allow swift progression and prevent ‘guess selection and input’. This also prevents users starting the conversation a second time.

Bots are primarily conceived to provide expertise, increase convenience and speed of interaction with a brand, service or general information request. There are some fundamental approaches to bot responses that need to be considered.

If a customer must input more than two or three times to correct intent or flow, the experience has failed. System responses such as ‘Sorry I didn’t get that’ , ‘Do you need help?’ and ‘Would you like to see our deals?’ can be frustrating and misleading, depending on the user’s task. If a user must seek help to establish the correct response that will rescue their position within a flow, they will become frustrated, restart or drop off. 

Design your bot

This is a good thing – if all brands implemented custom design for their bot experiences, the UX would become chaotic, distracting and inconsistent across different platforms. 

The design needs to be controlled and adaptable within the guidelines of the particular platform, as the user would expect it to be. As a result, you need to accept that your flows may look a little different across platforms. 

  • Begin with sketching the branching flow dialogue of your bot, focusing on the key actions it will address for users
  • Tools such as, Twine and Mind Node can be useful for prototyping dialogue branching
  • In your initial prototype, detail all dialogue relationship flows, sentences (verbs), subjects, user tasks, navigation and potential dead points
  • The goal is to always steer the conversation forward using contextual suggestions, options and prompts based on understood user intent

Whatever media you plan to use as part of your dialogue flow, make sure it is used sparingly, is on-brand and contextually relevant. Design elements should not interrupt the dialogue flow. Similarly, the design of selectable button options and prompts should act as a support to the dialogue, not overtake the UI.

The future of chatbots

Brands now need to ramp up and self-educate internally at pace. They will have to investigate whether their products and services can translate into conversational natural language experiences. Figuring out whether they can live within this window as a micro-service, and support users’ expectations while reimagining internal services and products will be hard. Finding the talent to lead these endeavours may also be hard.

For more on designing conversations, come to Generate London on 20-22 September, where Giles Colborne will explain how to get started, introduce us to some easy-to-use tools and more. Get your ticket today.

Related articles:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *