2007 has had an everlasting impact on me and of millions of people. I graduated and started my first job in the digital industry, which has not quite changed the world yet, though. More importantly and on January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone.
Some experts were sceptical, downplayed, ignored, or even laughed at this product at first (Video 1). Anyone still using a Nokia and Motorola – at least in the “developed countries”?
The iPhone has shaped the digital landscape, the way we use the internet and how we interact with technology nowadays. Some might correctly claim that Apple was not the first to introduce touchscreens, but they made them mainstream. Are you using a physical keyboard on your phone? Since the dot-com era, we have seen technological trends come and go. Around 2000 the dot-com bubble burst. I used to work for Orange Communications; the world wide web had become a commodity and possessing a Palm was considered cool. The mobile web was about to become a thing thanks to coloured displays, @wap, or MMS. However it was probably only with the launch and spread of the iPhone that the use of the mobile web became mainstream. Web development was focused on desktop computers. Fancy Adobe Flash websites were hyped. It was probably not until 2012 and Ethan Marcotte’s 2011 book release “Responsive Design” when the industry turned the identically named design approach into practice and made it a buzzword. “We want a responsive website” I would hear from clients at the agency in which I worked then, rather than “what is the need of our user?”.
Simultaneously Facebook and “Social” were and still are buzzwords. Facebook pages and apps were a “must have” for companies, followed by a presence on any other hyped SOM platform. Other web design trends became the talk of the town. The “mobile first” movement suggested that any web project should start with mobile in mind first, this was justified with the growing use of mobile devices. Then there was the rise of native apps. Apple’s promotional claim “there is an App for that” got adopted by almost every company. Companies would release apps for anything without questioning a need, purpose, or user benefit.
Now, in 2016 we seem to have entered the age of messaging, conversational UIs, chatbots, smart assistances and artificial intelligence.
"It's clear to me that we are evolving from a mobile first to an AI first world (Google and Pichai, 2016 / Video 2)".
The conversational UI trend seems to be a stop-over into a future where we do not use screens anymore. Design becomes invisible and anticipatory interacting unobtrusively on our behalf – in theory at least.
“The best interface is no interface” as Krishna (2015) proclaims.
But we still tend to talk about technology for the sake of it and neglect the human and its problem we are trying to solve. Terms like "human-centred or user-centred design" and "User Experience Design" have been around for decades. Nevertheless, core principles of these philosophies still seem to be often neglected. Even when we look at “mature” products such as an ordinary computer. We would assume that manufacturers have figured out by now, how to produce user-friendly devices and software. Well, reality seems to prove differently when we look at Apple’s latest MacBook Pro for example (Apple Inc, 2016). Their new top end models only offer USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports meaning I could not plug in any device I currently own without buying dongles. Hashtag #donglelife used by people complaining about it, even trended on Twitter (Kastrenakes and The Verge, 2016). As even industry leaders sometimes do not get established technology right, it seems more than necessary to thoroughly examine how to design for new and emerging technologies, before we do so.
This research project examines how we can do so by keeping the user and human in mind and asks:
Three sub question emerge and get tackled in this study:
- What is the current state of the industry and technology, and what fields are we looking at? – This relates to the big players in the market, conversational UI, bots, smart assistances and AI and their definitions.
- How might established principles in design be used and adapted to build conversational UIs in a way that they serve their users? This relates to general design guidelines and principles, UX and usability guidelines, and specific guidelines for conversational UIs.
- What are the tools and processes we can apply to do design conversational UIs? This aims at evaluating a process, tools and artifacts that can help to build a conversational UI.
To answer these questions, I am going to look into literature related to the current state of technology and trends, conversational UIs, bots, AI, and literature covering established and new design and UX guidelines and specific guidelines for bots. Furthermore, I am going to interview five experts (Figure 1 and 2):
- Dennis Mortensen (CEO, x.ai)
- Austin Beer (Designer, HUGE)
- Stan Rapp (Developer)
- Jon Grant (Designer/Strategist)
- Adrian Zumbrunnen (Designer, Google)
Figure 1: Industry Experts – Interviewees, Visualisation
Figure 2: Expert Interview “Downloading & Clustering”
Additionally, I have collaborated and contributed to a bot project by Adrian Zumbrunnen (Designer, Google) and uxdesign.cc: uxchat.me.
Furthermore, I have teamed up with leading Swiss digital agency Hinderling Volkart to assist them on their website redesign project – hinderlingvolkart.ch – that involves the integration of chatbots.
The field I have looked at is highly dynamic and constantly evolving. Even though some of the current market observation might already be outdated by the time you read this, the resulting findings and recommendations hopefully provide scaffolds that prove to be relevant and lasting for a longer period.
Enjoy the read.