Conversational UX Design - Styles


Interaction Styles
 
All conversations are interactions, but not all interactions are conversations
 
Today's chatbot platforms enable you create a variety of different styles of user interaction. Because they use natural language classification (NLC), these platforms are an advance over earlier voice control systems that only recognized a set of pre-specified command phrases. Natural language classification enables recognition of a much wider range of phrases. However, how NLC is used together with the agent's responses and other UI elements can produce very different user experiences.
 
Below are invented examples that represent four distinct interactional styles that we see in today's chatbots and conversational agents: System-Centric, Content-Centric, Visual-Centric and Conversation-Centric. (A is the agent or chatbot. U is the user.)


1. System-Centric

01 A:  Hello, I am MedicareBot. To find answers to Medicare
02    
questions, type your question in natural language.
03     Include whether you have Original Medicare or Medicare
04     Advantage. For example: "Original Medicare coverage
05     for influenza vaccination."

06 U:  Original Medicare coverage for influenza vaccination?
07 A:  Medicare covers tests to screen for diabetes as well
08     as services and supplies to help treat the disease.
09     Medicare will pay for 100% of its approved amount for
10     the test even before you have met the Part B deductible.
11     You will pay no copay or deductible for these tests if
12     you see doctors who take assignment... more 

13 U:  thanks
14 A:  There are no results for this question. To find answers
15     to Medicare questions, type your question in natural
16     language. Include whether you have Original Medicare or
17     Medicare Advantage. For example: "Original Medicare
18     coverage for influenza vaccination."

System-centric interaction styles are like interactions with databases. They are user-driven and consist of only 2-turn action pairs: query-response. The user must conform to the system's query requirements rather than speaking in a more natural way. This is due in large part to the fact that the system does not recognize conversation management actions (see Conversation-Centric below).

2. Content-Centric
01 A:  Hello, I am an automated Medicare Assistant. I can
02     answer questions about Medicare insurance. What is your
03     question?
04
U:  am I covered for diabetes screenings?
05
A:  Medicare covers tests to screen for diabetes as well
06     as services and supplies to help treat the disease.
07     Medicare will pay for 100% of its approved amount for
08     test even before you have met the Part B deductible.
09     You will pay no copay or deductible for these tests
10     if you see doctors who take assignment. Doctors and
11     other health care providers who take assignment cannot
12     charge you more than the Medicare approved amount.
13     Medicare Advantage Plans cover all preventive services
14     the same as Original Medicare. This means Medicare 
15     Advantage Plans will not be allowed to charge cost-
16     sharing fees (coinsurances, copays or deductibles) 
17     for preventive services that Original Medicare does
18     not charge for as long as you see in-network providers.
19 U:  thanks
20
A:  You can ask a question the same way you would ask your
21     doctor.

Content-centric interaction styles are like interactions with search engines. They too are user-driven and consist of 2-turn action pairs. And like system-centric styles, they return documents or document-like responses, often from web FAQs. Such responses tend to be long and detailed since accuracy and thoroughness are of primary importance; however, they cannot be used in voice-based interfaces due to their length. Their length also tends to limit opportunities for back-and-forth over a single topic since all of the details are presented in one shot. In content-centric systems, intents may be topic-based, rather than action-based, as they direct all inquiries or requests pertaining to a particular topic to a single response.

3. Visual-Centric
01
A:  Hi, I'm Melanie, your virtual nurse! I can answer your
02     Medicare questions. To start, which plan do you have?
03     [Original Medicare] [Medicare Advantage] [ Other ]
04     ((U clicks/taps Medicare Advantage))
05
A:  Okay, Medicare Advantage. What is your question?
06
U:  am I covered for diabetes screenings?
07
A:  Medicare covers tests to screen for diabetes as well
08     as services and supplies to help treat the disease.
09     Medicare will pay for 100% of its approved amount for
10     the test even before you have met the Part B 
11     deductible. You will pay no copay or deductible for
12     these tests if you see doctors who take assignment.
13
A:  Was this answer useful?
14     [ Yes ] [ No ]

Visual-centric interaction styles borrow heavily from GUI, web and mobile interfaces, all of which rely on the principle of direct manipulation instead of text commands or natural language. Graphical elements, such as buttons and data visualizations, are mixed into the interaction along side natural language inputs. And dialog techniques from web and mobile interfaces, such as "Was this answer helpful?," are incorporated. Unlike system- and content-centric styles, visual-centric styles tend to be more agent-driven, although they allow some mixed initiative. The agent tends to lead the user down a somewhat linear path. For example, the agent tends to "hijack 3rd position" (line 13), that is, consistently take the turn in which the user might do a repair, "that's not what I mean," or a sequence closing, "thank you!"

4. Conversation-Centric
01 A:  Hi, I'm Alma. I'm here to answer any questions you
02     have about your Medicare insurance. How can I help
03     you?
04
U:  I have a question about diabetes screenings
05
A:  Okay, what's your question?
06
U:  am I covered for them?
07
A:  Diabetes screenings are covered at 100% of the 
08     approved amount so there is no copay or deductible
09     if you see doctors who take assignment.  
10
U:  what do you mean by take assignment?
11
A:  Oh. Assignment means that your doctor, provider or
12     supplier agrees to accept the Medicare-approved
13     amount as full payment.
14
U:  ok thanks
15
A:  You're welcome! Is there anything else I can do
16     for you?

Conversation-centric interaction styles are more like a natural human conversation than the other styles. First and foremost, they can do conversation management, that is, recognize actions that function to manage the conversation itself. For example, "what did you say?," "none of your business," "okay," "never mind" are all operations on other utterances in the interaction. This is a major part of what makes a conversation a conversation. In addition, the responses in a conversation-centric interaction are relatively short, or "bite-sized." This enables efficiency and speed as conversations happen in real time, either through voice or text. It also results in a lot of back-and-forth utterance exchange instead of longer monologues. Finally, conversation-centric styles are fully mixed-initiative and non-linear. Either the user or the agent can lead, and the user can always redirect the conversation. Consequently, they also rely on the user more to decide on next actions.

All of these interaction styles can be useful for particular applications, but the user experience is different in each. We strongly believe that if the interaction metaphor for the application is that of a human conversation, then the Conversation-Centric style is the most appropriate.

Continue on to learn about designing Conversation-Centric interactions...




Project Members

Dr. Robert J. Moore,
Conversation Analyst, Lead

Raphael Arar,
UX Designer & Researcher

Dr. Margaret H. Szymanski,
Conversation Analyst

Dr. Guang-Jie Ren,
Manager