As mentioned on an earlier post, one of the hot topics in web design today is that of improving the User Interface and thus the User Experience, both critical areas, in that a site offering a good user experience will be rated more highly by Google and also, as importantly engage with the visitor and make them more likely to stay around.
One of the aspects within this UX area is that of what are called ‘Conversational Interfaces’, (CUI) which are in essence interfaces that mimics the process of a human chatting with a computer. Not in the conventional terms of clicking on icons, but instead chatting in the manner that they are used too, that is using the human voice.
However, there are also CUI’s which use ‘chatbots’, these being a ‘visual’ version of a Conversational Interface.
This type of user interfaces is not new, there being many instances of their use around today, Apple has Siri, Google has OK Google, Amazon has Echo, Microsoft has Cortana etc.
These’ voice assistants’ give you the ability to do things like play music, get an answer to a question, call someone, add an item to a shopping list etc, just by speaking.
When it comes to chatbots there are even more, Facebook has M, a human-assisted chatbot who lives within Messenger, whilst Slack’s Slackbot is another great example.
Why are companies becoming more interested in these interfaces?
The biggest reason perhaps is that these conversational interfaces are truly cross-platform, working on smartphones, desktop computers, smartwatches, and even devices which don’t even have a screen, like the Amazon Echo. Best of all they can integrate with a whole range of services like Twitter, Facebook and or Snapchat.
From an easy to use perspective, Conversational interfaces mean that every single function in an app or service no longer needs to be buried in a menu, or have to be represented by an icon, you can find it simply by asking it to be activated.
However, the real reason everyone is getting excited about conversational interfaces, is because they can eliminate that underlying friction that makes it hard for people ‘to get things done on a computer’.
Basically put, computers and humans essentially speak different languages, using a graphical interfaces as a translator. Computers are also really pedantic when it comes to the way you have to talk to them, be it by voice or action, thus humans and computers have communicated through ‘Rosetta stones’; users pointing at symbols representing what they want a computer to do. One good example is that of clicking an icon to open an application. With a conversational interface, computers and humans can finally speak the same language without a Rosetta stone in between.
Should you use a Conversational Interface?
As with any design project, you need to start by identifying the real ‘user needs’ and their ‘real problems’. You need to research how users solve problems today and then evaluate the data, then you can use CIU where it can remove any ‘friction’ and enhance the users experience.
It is vital that you don’t try to chat-ify or voice-ify your site just because it’s a cool trend. You also need to bear in mind that in many ways conversational interfaces (CUIs), both voice and visual, have more usability constraints than traditional GUIs. One example is that it is hard to interrupt the conversation to recover from errors, you can’t easily skim through information, progress is always linear and you very often need to rely on recall.
For more information on Conversational Interfaces please check out