Conversational Design

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Conversation design is the newest trend in UI/UX design, it is a design language based on human conversation. The more an interface leverages human conversation, the less users must be taught how to use it. It is a synthesis of several design disciplines, including voice user interface design, interaction design, visual design, motion design, audio design, and UX writing. The most basic step to conversational design can be shown as Amazon Alexa. The key component is really teaching computers how to communicate like humans and not the other way around. And communication by the way, which is often talk about as Voice User Interfaces, but it includes typing and even includes potentially swiping and tapping because all those things are part of this back and forth turn-taking you might be having with the computer, and Conversation Design is the design practice for this. Conversation Design is not just about sprinkling in some words, it’s about the whole flow and construction and how we build it so that people know what to say.

What Is Conversational Design?

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At its core, conversation design is about the flow of the conversation and its underlying logic. Therefore, one needs to start from the bottom up when redesigning an interface to be conversational. The logic that works for a graphical user interface is almost never going to work as-is for a conversational interface. A working graphical user interface cannot be converted to conversational by simply adding voice input and text-to-speech output. It is a common misconception to assume that “conversation” refers only to what is spoken or heard - Conversation is inherently multimodal. Conversation should not be an afterthought; instead, it is the roadmap of what’s possible and how users get there.

A conversation designer.

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The role of a conversation designer is like that of an architect, mapping out what users can do in a space, while considering both the user’s needs and the technological constraints. They curate the conversation, defining the flow and its underlying logic in a detailed design specification that represents the complete user experience. They partner with stakeholders and developers to iterate on the designs and bring the experience to life. Part of the role of a conversation designer is that of a screenwriter. Before you can write a dialog, you must have a clear picture of who the characters are; personas are the design tool used for this. A good persona is specific enough to evoke a unique voice and personality yet brief enough that it is 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 created to be the front end of the technology that the user will interact with directly. Defining a clear system persona is vital to ensuring a consistent user experience. Otherwise, each designer will follow their own personal conversational style and the overall experience will feel disjointed.

How to do conversational design?

Conversation design is about teaching computers to be fluent in human conversation and its conventions.

Start with what humans do

Conversations with a computer should not feel awkward or break patterns that have evolved over the past hundred thousand years. Instead, computers should adapt to the communication system users learned first and know best. This helps create an intuitive and frictionless experience.

Adapt to technical limitations

In some ways, computers fall short of human capabilities. Technical limitations introduce scenarios that do not occur in human-to-human conversation. For example, human conversation never fails due to an unrecoverable error. Human conversation does not require starting with a specific word or phrase, e.g., “Ok Google”. In these cases, rely on user research to determine the best approach.

Leverage technical strengths

In other ways, computers can exceed human capabilities. They do not get tired of being asked the same questions. They aren’t offended by being given commands. There is no need to pepper their responses with filler words or other formulaic language, e.g., ums and ahs. They can quickly find and share information. Look for opportunities to avoid annoyance, streamline conversations, and exceed expectations.


Action on Google (n.d), Conversation Design: What is Conversational Design, [Online] Available at (Accessed: 04 September 2020) Gail Axelrod (2019) Drift: Google’s Cathy Pearl on Why Conversation Design is the Next Frontier, [Online] Available at (Accessed: 07 September 2020)

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