Talk meets technology

Conversation design guidelines

Achieve mutual understanding

The goal of conversation is not merely to transfer information but to ensure that both parties understand that information.

A conversation bubble indicating the user typing A conversation bubble indicating the user typing

Principles

Recipient Design

In natural conversation, speakers tailor their talk, spoken or written, to their particular recipients in multiple ways, such as, adapting to their perceived level of knowledge. For example, they choose different topics and levels of detail depending on what they believe the other person knows and will recognize. When designing for conversation, don’t force the user down a single path of your conversation flow. Instead adapt to how this user proceeds and to what this user knows.

Minimization

Speakers in natural conversation design their talk to be efficient, using the least number of words or requiring the least amount of effort, on the part of the particular recipient, to understand. Unnecessary details may make the point of the speaker’s action harder to grasp. Reading and especially listening to a conversational agent’s responses takes time and effort. Strive to minimize these for the user without sacrificing understandability.

Repair

Speakers tend to use just enough words to enable the recipient to understand, and then they wait to see if it works. If it doesn’t, the speaker relaxes the concern for minimization to repair the misunderstanding, for example by paraphrasing or elaborating. If you build robust repair mechanisms, then your conversational agent does not need to always get it right on the first try.

This mechanic of recipient design, minimization and repair thereby provide for efficiency in natural conversation. Conversational UX design should incorporate this mechanic.

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