Chatbots, Content, and Machine Learning: Designing "Smart" Conversational Interfaces
VAs (virtual assistants) are becoming ubiquitous, from Apple’s Siri to Amazon’s Alexa. While exciting new possibilities abound, so do new design challenges. How can designers develop best practices for these non-visual interfaces? What roles do information architecture and artificial intelligence play? What do users expect from VAs, and how can bots rise to the occasion? This presentation addresses these questions with a firsthand look at implementing virtual assistants to solve real-world problems and key considerations for designing your own VA.
Chatbots, Content, and Machine Learning: Designing "Smart" Conversational Interfaces
YOURS:Designing a Digital Concierge
MARCH 24, 2018Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Center, Washington, D.C.
BOOZ ALLEN HAMILTON INTERNAL
Amy Arden @tessarden
IA Summit 2018
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Photo by Jason Rosewell, Pexels.com
WHEN PEOPLE ENGAGE
THEIR EMOTIONS ARE IN
JONATHAN FOSTER, MICROSOFT DESIGN, CORTANA
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
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When machines use our language, we anthropomorphize them…
even when we know we’re communicating with a machine!
FOR AN ARCHITECTURE THAT IS
Conversations, whether human or machine, are
dynamic, organic, and unpredictable
HOW DO YOU DESIGN AN IA…
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Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, Blade Runner, 1982.
Conversational Design: a user interface that
mimics qualities of human-to-human
Chatbots: screen-based interfaces where inputs
are typically typed
Ex: Facebook Messenger bots
Voice User Interfaces (VUIs): users speak and
receive responses from a virtual assistant
Ex: Google Home, Amazon Echo
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Photo by Alex Knight. Unsplash.com
CONVERSATIONAL DESIGN RELIES ON DYNAMIC, 2-WAY
BETWEEN A HUMAN AND A MACHINE
THAT RELIES ON MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING
IN REAL TIME
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THIS IS NOT SIMPLE
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• User Research
• Top Tasks
• Use Cases
• User Personas
• User Journeys
These UX processes and artifacts continue to be
relevant and important in the world of
7Booz Allen Hamilton InternalPhoto by Gilles Lambert. Unsplash.comPhoto by Caique Silva. Pexels.com
• Interface Persona: More than just an avatar, interface
personas synthesize language, tone, style, branding, visual
identity and technological capabilities to deliver an
experience to users.
• Machine Learning / Natural Language Processing (NLP): NLP
capabilities are advancing the types of interactions that CIs
can provide, as well as the quality of those interactions.
• Data Science: Conversations are content, and content is data.
Data science, machine learning, and NLP allow CIs to adapt to
users and become increasingly responsive to their needs and
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Photo by Gilles Lambert. Unsplash.com
IF YOU BUILD IT…
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…THEY MIGHT COME
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START WITH “WHY?”
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Why build your conversational interface (CI)?
What makes it useful, and for who?
Why is a CI the most appropriate solution? Will you be building a chatbot, or a VUI, or
both? What’s the rationale?
Go beyond use cases to identify any underlying, unmet needs and how the CI will solve
According to a 2017 VoiceLabs report, there is only a 3% chance that a user who
tried an Alexa or Google Home skill will still be a user in week 2.
DEXi: A PLATFORM FOR COGNITIVE DIGITAL
DEXi, a platform developed by Booz Allen Hamilton, uses machine intelligence (MI) and natural language processing
(NLP) to make it significantly easier for people to get the information they need, when they need it.
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HOW MACHINES PROCESS LANGUAGE
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Image from Amazon Developer Guidelines, Designing for Voice. https://developer.amazon.com/designing-for-voice/what-users-say/
VIRTUAL ASSISTANT: INTERNAL SUPPORT
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ANSWERING COMMON QUESTIONS
Event staff at a busy office building
spent much of their time responding
to questions from users who found
the online system unwieldy or
1. Develop on-brand persona for the
virtual assistant interface
2. Create single source for answers
3. Alleviate space reservation pain
Interface Persona Sketch: BAH Virtual Assistant
Persona Sketch. Booz Allen Hamilton.
CHATBOT: SERVICE WITH EMPATHY
Families with children receiving medical
treatment at the Children’s Inn at the NIH
often have questions about their stay. A
virtual assistant named after the on-site
therapy dog, Zilly, provides answers and
reassurance during a stressful time.
1. Design an approachable and empathetic
2. Optimize content for CI
3. Integrate machine learning capabilities
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VOICE USER INTERFACE: AMAZON ECHO
ADDRESSING AN EPIDEMIC
An Amazon Echo skill created for a
federal health agency enables citizens to
conveniently access information on
opioids, including treatment options.
Interaction cost is reduced by more than
1. Develop, test, and refine dialogues
2. Use usability testing findings to iterate
3. Consider how and when to handoff;
never send users out of the system and
into a brick wall
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What are opioids?
Welcome to HHS Info. You can ask
questions about public health issues
and your health privacy rights.
What would you like to know?
Opioids are natural or synthetic
chemicals. These chemicals can
bind to receptors in your brain
or body and reduce sensations of
pain. Opioids include some
prescription drugs as well as
illegal drugs like heroin.
• What do users need?
• What interface best meets that need – chat, voice,
• How will technology support meeting those needs?
• What experience will be delivered?
• How will machine learning impact your design, and
DESIGN WITH INTENT
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DESIGN FOR MULTIPLE PATHS
• Conversations may be non-linear
• Set expectations
• Provide guidelines to help users
stay on track
• Design for errors and
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• What's at stake for users?
• Where are your users – physically? emotionally?
• What will make your users successful?
• How will you measure how well the technology is
meeting user needs?
DESIGN WITH EMPATHY
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Photo by Remi Walle. Pexels.com
IF WE DESIGN WELL ENOUGH TO CHANGE
WILL MACHINES TRAIN US?
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LinkedIn: Amy Arden
• “The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Chatbots” Chatbots Magazine
• "Conversational Design Essentials: Tips for Building a Chatbot" Smashing
• “7 Things to Consider Before Developing a Chatbot” ICTworks
• Design for Voice Interfaces: Building Products that Talk, O’Reilly e-book
• “Designing Voice Experiences” Smashing Magazine
• Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide
24Booz Allen Hamilton InternalBooz Allen Hamilton, Charleston, SC.
25This document is confidential and intended solely for the client to whom it is addressed.
Foster, J. (2018, January 4.) What did we get ourselves into? A history of Cortana personality design. Medium. Retrieved from
Boren, Z.D. (2014, October 7). There are officially more devices than people in the world. The Independent.. Retrieved from
Gershgorn, D. (2017, December 26). Google’s voice-generating AI is now indistinguishable from humans. Quartz. Retrieved from
Balakrishnan, A. (2017, December 26). Amazon’s Alexa had a breakout holiday – people even used Echoes to buy more Echoes. Cnbc.com.
Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/26/how-many-amazon-alexa-echoes-were-sold-over-the-2017-holidays.html
Lardinois, F. (2018, January 5). Google says it sold a Google Home device every second since October 19. Techcrunch. Retrieved from
DeMers, J. (2018, January 9). Why you need to prepare for a voice search revolution. Forbes. Retrieved from
26This document is confidential and intended solely for the client to whom it is addressed.
Del Ray, J. (2017, January 23.) Alexa and Google Assistant have a problem: People aren’t sticking with voice apps they try. Recode.net. Retrieved from
Alexa Voice Design Guide, retrieved from https://developer.amazon.com/designing-for-voice/
Cerejo, L. (2017, May 3.) Designing voice experiences. Smashing Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/05/designing-
Klein, L. (2016). Design for Voice Interfaces: Building Products that Talk. O’Reilly Media. Retrieved from http://www.oreilly.com/design/free/design-
Pearl, C. (2016). Designing voice user interfaces: Principles of conversational experiences. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.