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The fundamentals of conversation design: sample dialogue

As conversation design is becoming more and more popular, it is important to understand some of the fundamentals. Sure, we can talk about advanced psychological principles that can be applied when designing for conversational interfaces, but for now, we are sticking to the basics. It’s important that we all start using these fundamentals in the right way so that we can ensure that those billions of users will at least have a good and human-centric experience. In this article, you will learn about the concept called Sample Dialogue and the basic conversational structure of acknowledgment, confirmation, prompts. Let’s get to it.

What is sample dialogue

In conversation design, sample dialogue is a form of role-play based on a user persona’s likely scenario. It is used to create a low fidelity conversational flow for your chatbot or voice assistant. Two people sit back to back from each other. They need to sit back to back because we don’t want any visual communication. When they can’t see each other, they only have their voice to work with. This is perfect for designing for conversational interfaces.

Download: How conversation design will have an immediate impact on your business and customersOne person plays the user. The other person plays the AI Assistant. They get into character and role-play the experience. This experience can be anything you want to design for. Maybe ordering a product, asking complex service questions, playing a game… it can be anything. The user speaks freely and the person playing the AI Assistant tries to guide the user through the experience. By doing this exercise multiple times, you will understand all the questions, motivations, concerns, and anxieties your users might have. This allows you to incorporate that into your design.

You want the Sample Dialogue to be as natural as possible. You want to be close to the real-life situation. That means that the people doing Sample Dialogue should really get into character. The Conversation Design Canvas helps with that. This canvas helps you set the scene for the role-play. It looks at the conversation from the user’s perspective and from the bot’s perspective. It helps you consider motivations, anxieties, goals, expectations, concerns from the user’s perspective. And from the bot’s perspective, it helps you define the parameters of the conversation: information the assistant needs to ask, things it might already know, information it can look up, and other useful information. The Conversation Design Canvas helps you prepare for Sample Dialogue and makes sure you get a good conversational flow faster.

Why is sample dialogue important in conversation design

Sample dialogue ensures that you develop an empathetic human-centric experience. It makes sure that a user feels understood and is happy to engage with the AI Assistant. Sample dialogue is what turns a static business process or complex information into a natural conversational flow. Sample Dialogue allows you to design an assistant that people enjoy talking to. It makes sure the assistant doesn’t come across as robotic, but as friendly, useful, and empathetic.

5 things to prepare before starting sample dialogue

1. Understand the setting of the conversation

Before you start the role-play, it helps to understand the setting of the conversation. You want to know where they are likely to be, who they are with, and if there are certain time factors that might influence the conversation.

All these things influence the conversation. When someone talks to your assistant, they might be on their own at the kitchen table with a nice cup of tea. It’s a quiet evening and they want some information about a product they are interested in. No rush, just a conversation.

But someone can also be on a train, during rush hour, with lots of people around them. They forgot to buy someone a birthday gift so they need to quickly find and order something, and make sure it gets delivered on time.

Each setting creates a different type of conversation. As a conversation designer, you need to understand the most likely scenario for your user persona and use case, and then use that information to prepare for Sample Dialogue and help people get into character.

2. Understand what the user wants to achieve

You want to understand what the user wants to achieve. Sometimes this can be pretty simple. Sometimes it’s more complex.

For example, ordering a pizza is pretty straightforward. The user wants to order a pepperoni pizza and have it delivered to his office. How hard can it be?

But what if this user also wants to order a pizza for his colleague. And this colleague is vegetarian and eats gluten-free. How much more complex does it then get? We probably need to be able to do a pizza selection by asking a few questions. This allows us to filter the menu to come up with a pizza that might be a good fit for the colleague. It gets complicated quickly.

The person playing the user during Sample Dialogue needs to really understand what the user wants to achieve to play the role in the most natural way.

3. Understand the user's mindset

Now that we know what the user wants to achieve, we have to look at his mindset. How does he actually feel about what he’s setting out to do?

What motivates him? Sure, he’s hungry and in the mood for pizza. But perhaps there is more. Maybe he sees ordering this pizza as a good way to connect with his colleague, and it shows the manager that he doesn’t mind working late.

And what is he worried about? Perhaps he’s worried that he’s ordering the wrong pizza for his colleague and the colleague will be disappointed in him. It would pretty much wipe out the motivation of connecting with the colleague.

And now this user is reaching out to our voice assistant, what is he actually expecting from this experience? Does he expect the assistant to know his preferences or location? Does he expect it to know his address? Or does it expect the assistant to connect him with a real person in the restaurant? It can be anything and it all influences the dynamics of the conversation.

Having thought about all these things that are part of the mindset, how do we think this person actually feels? Is he excited? Anxious? Super motivated? Hangry?

Before you start Sample Dialogue, you want to map all these things out on the Conversation Design Canvas. The person playing the user during role-play will study this situation to get into character. This makes it real. It makes it come to life. It creates a natural conversation.

Now that you have looked at the conversation from the user’s perspective, it’s time to look at it from the perspective of the AI Assistant. you want to get a clear picture of this because it helps guide the conversation. When you are engaging in role-play, you do want to keep it realistic. That’s why you need to keep it within the boundaries of the reality of the assistant.

4. Understand the assistant's superpowers

Your voice assistant has certain superpowers. There are things it can do and there are things that it can’t do. You want to have a clear overview of both. For example, it might be able to tell you which pizzas on the menu are vegetarian. But it cannot tell you all the ingredients of each pizza. When you are designing for an AI Assistant, it is vital that you understand the technical capabilities of your assistant because you don’t want to design for functionalities that the engineering team hasn’t developed yet.

Then there are things that the assistant can tell, and things that the assistant might know already. For example, you might be a regular customer and therefore the assistant already knows your preferences. This comes in handy!

When you set someone up for Sample Dialogue, it’s important that this person understands the superpowers of the assistant. But you know, with great power comes great responsibility… we, therefore, have to look at the responsibilities as well.

5. Understand the assistant’s responsibilities

Talking about the responsibilities an AI Assistant might have, a few things need to be addressed.

To help the user, there are questions that you need to ask. In this case, we need to know which kind of pizza, the size of it, if we need to add drinks, where it needs to be delivered, and how it’s going to get paid for. You need to figure out this list of questions because these are the questions that need to be asked during role-play.

Then there can also be information that your assistant has to tell. Often, there is legal information that needs to be shared. Or a promotional message that needs to be communicated. If that’s the case, the person playing the AI Assistant will have to find a way to weave that into the role-play in the most natural way.

There is also behavior that you want to encourage and behavior that you want to discourage. For example, you might want to supersize his drink or pizza. Or get him to breadsticks. It can be anything. But if there is a desired behavior, then you need to steer the user towards that behavior during role-play.

So what’s something that we want to discourage? Well, you might want to prevent someone from calling the restaurant after the order has been placed to confirm the delivery. It would cost the restaurant money each time they do that, so you want to make sure that they don’t. You can design for this and emphasize this during role-play.

Preparing for sample dialogue

Now that you have used the Conversation Design Canvas to prepare yourself for Sample Dialogue, you can get started with the role-play. Both participants study their part. They get into character and sit back to back from each other.

They use the information from the canvas and act out the situation. At first, it will be silly and goofy. The user will ask tons of questions and it’s important to let him speak freely. We want to collect every thought and learn if it’s relevant for our design.

Sample dialogue takes a couple of iterations. Just prepare yourself well and have fun with it. Be creative, but make sure that you stay within the boundaries of the user persona and the AI Assistant.

Final thoughts on sample dialogue

To create good conversational experiences, Sample Dialogue is crucial. It is what turns a boring business process into a human-centric conversation. It is what turns static and robotic interactions, into natural empathetic flows.

Sample Dialogue truly is the fundamental step of conversation design. You need to prepare for it, make sure you understand the situation, and then you are well on your way to design conversations that are natural, fun, and useful.