“…there’s a whole wide range of female voices, that range is as large as half of humanity itself.”
Hundreds of questions were submitted by attendees of Botmock’s AMA about Techniques for Conversational Design and Development. Five industry experts with backgrounds in conversation design answered as many as we could in a live roundtable discussion. To register for future (free!) AMA sessions and watch the full recording of this session, you can do so here.
The following conversation design experts joined us to answer your questions:
Maaike Groenewege, Conversation designer & coach @ Convocat
Amanda Stevens, Director of Conversation Design @ Master of Code Global
Sarah Storm, Head of Ideation & Conversation Design @ BOOM Integrated
Anna Mackenzie, Software Developer @ Myplanet
Brenda Martins, Conversational Designer @ LogMeIn
In Part 3, we covered the following topics:
The World Health Organization COVID-19 chatbot has been a perfect example of how to get a bot right without being completely conversational or AI-driven. The WHO developed a chatbot with a basic set of FAQs for COVID-19, and made it publicly available. As a result, almost every COVID-19 bot uses this content, which is great. They also made sure it is always up to date and accessible for everybody around the entire world. To achieve this, they chose a very basic IVR system that could also be used with phones that might not have smartphone capabilities. They made it available in a lot of languages, they made it offline so people can access it in areas where there is no coverage (especially in developing countries), and they kept maintaining it. So kudos to them — they have been doing a brilliant job!
I was lucky enough to be working at a company that makes “work from home” software of all kinds. So we were in a unique position to have extended trials for essential workers of nonprofits, healthcare organizations and government agencies. Quickly building out conversational flows so those kinds of new things were handled in a chatbot was very interesting and we were super successful. Since, at this moment, covid is such a forefront issue, people will just go straight to the point and say, “I’m a church, can you help me?” [whereas if Covid weren’t so pervasive right now, we wouldn’t be able to predict with as much accuracy what this question actually means]. To correctly identify Covid-related intents we were able to tweak the NLU and recognition to conclude that this is probably somebody asking about COVID-19. So now we go ahead and put them into that flow, explain how the plan works, ask them a few questions and try to get them to the right people. And yeah, It worked like a charm! It was very simple and very clear. It’s something we’re proud of.
There are two voice experiences that I like. The first one is called “Breastfeeding Friend” (currently live in Canada and the UK) and is essentially a guide for how to breastfeed. Since it is a voice experience, it walks you through the steps in a hands-free way. The second one, which is available in Canada, is called “Recycling Buddy”. In this experience, you can ask questions like, “I have this can or this bottle, can I recycle it?”. It is cool since it helps you understand how to sort whatever recyclables you have. This skill recognizes a lot of different types of recyclables and it also has a little bit of sass built into its persona. It is very funny as it explains the best ways to recycle.
I hope that the future is filled with multimodal experiences that can successfully communicate with all people, regardless of how they need to access the experience. As designers, we have to consider accessibility. I’m not doing enough in that regard yet. Beyond accessibility, I believe that it is important to acknowledge that we all have different preferences regarding how we like to communicate. I think making sure to keep your conversations simple and direct is also very important. In my case particularly, we are mostly creating interfaces for storytelling, so we have to anticipate and think about who we are designing the story for and who our audience will be. To achieve this, we like to build and experiment with sample user personas so that we can get a more precise picture of who we are designing this information for and how they will want to access it. Designing with this approach in mind will help create something that your audience will find compelling.
Gender in AI is becoming a bigger and bigger discussion. Regarding the first part of the question: Should it be revealed if it’s a bot instead of a human? Absolutely yes, you can never go wrong with being transparent and it is important to align the user’s expectations when they are interacting with your conversational solution. In terms of whether it should have a specific gender or not, I typically design around a brand and make a gender decision based on what is more logical to the brand. If a company has a mascot or a character that is core to their brand, it makes sense to set anchor on that, take that character’s gender, and use it in a chatbot or a voice bot. Gender, of course, comes more into play when you’re designing for voice.
In every aspect of our lives, there’s such a push for diversity; I believe we should also join that way of thinking and find solutions that provide momentum to that shift. We’ve seen a lot of voice assistants default to female genders while we could be using non-binary gender voice solutions (search “Q Voice assistant” in youtube) that are out there ready to be implemented. This is a good moment to encourage diversity and equality so let’s get a multitude of different experiences out there.
There is a decent amount of research being done around male versus female voices in assistants. Which one is more effective? The short answer is: it depends. It depends on your branding, on the persona that you’re building, and on the energy that you want on your system. For example, I had a customer that needed a voice system and they were set on wanting a female talent. I asked them, “well, do you want Kathleen Turner, Roseanne Barr?” We have to be more specific, there’s a whole wide range of female voices, that range is as large as half of humanity itself. I have seen cases where a customer that was set on a specific gender will come back to us after revising some preliminary questions about persona and decided that a male voice would work better for the case. So, it just comes down to the actual persona you want to convey.
…there’s a whole wide range of female voices, that range is as large as half of humanity itself.
I think the issue of “human or bot” is especially important. BOOM designs voice experiences that feature human voices, so at some point along the way, I have to give the user some indication that they are hearing the voice of a human but talking to a bot. As far as gender, I think we have to push back on rigid and binary ideas about gender. I find it concerning how many voice assistants have female voices and I do believe it is a reflection of the inequities in our society. I don’t think that a bot’s gender has to be this or that. In my opinion, it really depends on what the persona is and what is called for. I do think it’s important to question unconscious biases and understand why we’re making assumptions or why we’re deciding that this bot should be a woman and that bot should be a man. We also need to start thinking about what non-binary voices might sound like. Non-binary people need to be represented in voice as well.
…it’s important to question unconscious biases and understand why we’re making assumptions or why we’re deciding that this bot should be a woman and that bot should be a man.
Knowing how to let go is very important. Being a perfectionist in this field is super hard. So yes, developing your capacity to sit in discomfort, being ok with being wrong about things, being willing to learn and then go iterate are all good approaches and attitudes to have. I know this is not a specific technical field, but having a thirst for knowledge is the best thing you can have. Knowing how to be a resourceful researcher; not only in the building of things, but in the learning of how to build things.
…developing your capacity to sit in discomfort, being ok with being wrong about things, being willing to learn and then go iterate…
To stay updated and register for future (free!) AMA sessions, you can do so here.
The Botmock team is excited that more of our community members are involved than ever before.
This article is an expansion of the first topic covered in Botmock’s recent AMA about becoming a conversation designer. You can also read recaps of the other two sections, The foundations of conversation design and Companies are investing in conversation designers.