Designing conversational UIs using Storytelling

storeybook I’ve been to a couple of great workshops on designing conversational UIs lately, more recently with Ben Sauer of Clearleft and Steph Hay of Capital One who took us through their thoughts on how to design for conversations.   Whether it be a voice app or a bot that we are designing for, this new medium of communication with our customers is an exciting area for us UX’ers to venture into.

As we know, in this new medium, the experience is stripped back to the bare bones of the experience: the conversation between and your user.  Which is liberating but also a bit daunting at the same time.  So how do we approach designing for this brave new world?   It seems to me, that thinking about these new experiences in terms of a story may help us create something that our users can relate to and easily engage with.  

Creating a world that our users can relate to, through Storytelling.

How can framing our designs as stories help us design conversations?

  • Stories are about a series of events that brings the user on a journey towards some anticipated endpoint.  In our designs, we aim create a series of steps which will help our users achieve their goals.  Knowing what our users need to achieve will help us plot these steps, and foresee any pain points or danger spots our users may encounter on the way.
  • Stories are about compelling characters and we seek to create well defined, supportive characters in our chatbots or voice apps like Alexa.  We need to create characters our users can relate to and who they can trust to support them on their journeys.
  • Stories use words to engage and connect with the people who are reading them.  In our designs, we look to understand the words and language our users are likely to use and we seek to communicate with users using terminology and language that is meaningful to them.
  • Stories happen through unfolding dialogue and action.   In conversational UIs this translates into flows of conversation (whether it be via voice or text) between our users and the system.  For our designs, we need to understand how conversations in this context work, maybe not something as straightforward as we might initially think.  Google has published a useful paper on deconstructing the different elements of conversations and how this relates to designing conversations for UIs.

    Alexa from Amazon
  • Stories do not happen instantaneously but rather build up gradually.   We aim to replicate this flow in our designs by taking time to build up relationships with our users. We understand that conversations will get better through experience and  mutual learning over time.
  • Good stories make use of subtext, that is they understand the not so obvious underlying meanings behind words and situations.   Understanding the feeling behind words is a very human trait but important in terms of connecting with our users. This may be something that is not so easy to solve in this new medium.  However by having a deep understanding the context in which are users operate and  particularly their different emotional states as they engage in these activities will help guide our designs and make these new experiences more meaningful.

The Story of our lives. 

Stories are important.  They are part of our DNA as humans and are how we learned and evolved over the centuries.  And while storytelling and journeys are by no means new tools for us  UX’ers; we use them all the time when designing traditional interfaces, i think framing our designs in terms of a story will be especially important in this new medium.  Storytelling offer us the opportunity to really focus on what the heart of what this new experience will be about;  understanding our users world, the trails and tribulations they face and being a supportive character to help them get through it all.


Google’s paper – The Conversational UI and Why it Matters. 



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