How does Conversational UI change how we design conversations?

How does Conversational UI change how we design conversations?

As technology advances, the modern user interface (UI) has also leaped forward with the emergence of conversational UI. 

Conversational UI is an interactive technology replicating conversations between a user and a computer or digital system. This type of interface combines artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), and augmented reality (AR). As a result, it enables people to interact with smart systems using simple voice commands. This makes the interactions more intuitive. 

The idea behind conversational UI is to make conversation with machines as natural as interpersonal communication. This way, people can get what they need faster and more effectively than ever before. 

In this blog post, we explore the concept of conversational UI further and discuss how it should revolutionize how we design conversations in applications.

What is a Conversational User Interface?

Conversational User Interfaces (CUI) facilitate a natural human conversation between humans and machines. It is what clients see when they interact with an artificial intelligence assistant. The purpose of a conversational user interface is to make this interaction more natural.

Computers have advanced from understanding programming languages to understanding natural human language. You can have conversations with computers just like you do with human assistants.

The number one limitation in the evolution of this technology is the need for more expertise in the field. It's essential to consider the growing demand for AI assistants, such as chatbots and voice applications.

Not long ago, people relied on organizations to respond to basic inquiries. The human-to-human methods leave much room for human error or lunch breaks.

When you need something, you’d visit the company website and scan for what you seek.  Generally, this would be a solution to a problem you have. It's complicated for you but easy for a knowledge expert. The old way resulted in a phone call and a continued hunt to find the answer to the question.

Conversational interfaces change all that. Conversational UI bridges the customer, knowledge base, and customer support team. Now, customers have faster access to information. The customer completes the interaction in a positive and streamlined manner.

Conversational User Interfaces types

There are two main types of conversational user interfaces: chatbots and voice applications. As you might have guessed, you can talk to chatbots via written language, while voice applications require you to speak to them.

Messaging is becoming the preferred method for people. People want to message or text to connect with customer service teams.

A well-designed CUI is key to helping more people, faster and at a lower cost.

The CUI:

  • Takes the information it receives.
  • Understands the inquiry.
  • Helps the customer.


Chatbots are automated software programmed to communicate with humans via messages. Some use artificial intelligence to provide more varied answers.

It's common these days for businesses to use chatbots to support customers' inquiries. A conversation with a chatbot feels normal for people, even if the conversation itself isn’t how they naturally communicate. A customer can type out an inquiry and get an instant reply. The experience mimics that of a texting conversation with a human being.

The difference between good and average chatbots is how they make the customer feel and how fast they solve their problems. The main purpose is to eliminate the feeling that you are talking to a machine instead of a human being.

Chatbots use:

  • Shorthand
  • Emoticons
  • Messages
  • Images
  • Carousels

A chatbot may even be formal and use full sentences. The chatbot answers and follows up without needing exact commands or programming.

Chatbots are trained to understand natural linguistic communication. If you’d message someone about it, you can have it in a chatbot.

Some of the common chatbots you may already be familiar with are:

  • Slackbot
  • Facebook Messenger chatbot
  • WhatsApp chatbot

Chatbots are popular for businesses that want to automate customer service and support. They are also used for marketing and sales and stay on task 24/7, maximizing the hours in a day. 

Voice interfaces

Voice User Interface Technology (VUI)

Unlike chatbots, text-based applications, Voice User Interfaces (VUIs) enable people and computers to communicate via sound. Instead of typing, you speak to a voice assistant.

Like chatbots, voice assistants are conversational AI assistants. They are trained to understand vocal commands and interact with people. They create a human-centric, inclusive, and empathetic experience in this process. 

Tech giants like Amazon (Alexa), Apple (Siri), Google (Google Assistant), Microsoft (Cortana), and Samsung (Bixby) have introduced VUI to households throughout the world.

Siri is one of the most widespread voice assistants that uses a conversational user interface. Siri is voice-activated. She schedules appointments sends messages, and conducts internet searches. Conversational UI interfaces like Siri continue to develop for mainstream use.

VUIs work via a combination of:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Voice recognition

Voice technologies are complex. Natural language understanding is even more intelligent than text-based interfaces.

VUIs are careful regarding the wordiness, tone, and timbre of the conversations they have.

VUI technology supports them in understanding people. It dissects the important information in the conversation and responds.

The technology behind AI Assistants is so complex that it stays within the arena of the big tech companies who continue to develop it.

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Other avenues

Conversational UIs are not limited to chatbots and voice applications. App design is versatile. Apps like Flo are designed to onboard the audience and keep them engaged. The app asks for questions and waits for answers. There’s no back-and-forth chatbot but it's customized for the audience.

Amazon’s Echo Show uses multimodality. It’s a smart speaker with a screen designed around the AI assistant Alexa.

Amazon Echo Show is worth mentioning in regard to Conversational UI. It raises the debate on how UI and conversational user interfaces interact with each other and with people. The content of both offers diverse experiences. Both UI and CUI have the similar goal of keeping the conversation moving.

How does a conversational user interface work?

Conversational UIs work by designing around human communication. The design works through conversation flows to support the customer's journey.

AI assistants like chatbots and voice applications need conversation designers to create good customer experiences.

Conversational design models human communication for interactions with a digital system. It uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) as the foundation.

The design is fundamentally different from the typical UI design. Typical UI design focuses on using visual influences to navigate interactions with a digital system.

Designers work with the intent of making conversational UI responsive to conversations. They also guide them.

The design team needs to answer 2 questions:

  1. What does the customer need?
  2. How does the conversational UI get them there?

The foundation of conversational UI is based on 2 fundamentals:

  1. Natural Language Processing (NLP)[1]
  2. Natural Language Understanding (NLU)[2]

1. Natural Language Processing (NLP)

NLP is concerned with the interactions between computers and human language. It's the language used to program computers to process large amounts of natural language data.

NLP is a branch that combines 3 fields:

  • Linguistics
  • Computer science
  • Artificial intelligence

2. Natural Language Understanding (NLU)

NLU is a branch of natural language processing that has a specific purpose, to interpret human speech. NLU works with NLP to reinterpret a person's intent and continues the line of questioning to gather more context if needed.

The purpose of NLU is to teach the AI assistant to correctly interpret visual and textual clues.

The design-build

The design-build varies depending on the modality of the system.

CUIs may be:

  • Voice applications
  • Chatbots
  • Multimodal (as in the example of Amazon’s Echo Show above)
  • Visual
  • Physical

R2D2 is a great example of a physical CUI that engages with humans. 

For businesses, CUI bridges the frontend customer experience and the backend knowledge and database.

The CUI uses NLU and sets trigger actions to lead the customer to the end result.

Conversational AI Design Build

Designing conversational interfaces successfully.

To design conversational interfaces successfully, designers need to consider how the AI assistant should not only understand the intent of the customer but be inclusive as well. The goal is to deliver inclusive, human-centric CUI. 

Design approach

Great design teams:

  • Adhere to standards that guide the design process.
  • Test with real people.
  • Work through conversations with the AI assistant. 
  • Focus on language and communication.
  • Work with a focus on communication.

Designing Conversational Interfaces Successfully

Don't just understand intent, make the chatbots inclusive

Like a chatbot, good communication[3] between humans and AI assistants is designing natural language programming to understand slang and non-standard dialects. A successful design incorporates inclusive language and design practices. 

Incorporating inclusive language and design is about communicating in a way the customer resonates with. The key to successful CUI is communicating with the widest customer base and efficiently adapting to the natural language.

Conversational UI Design

Conversational design is, at its core, a design method that looks at human conversation as the model for interactions with a digital system.[4] This contrasts the typical UI design, which focuses on visual influences to navigate interactions with a digital system.


A Conversational User Interface facilitates a natural human conversation between humans and machines. It is what clients see when they interact with an artificial intelligence assistant. The purpose of a conversational user interface is to make this interaction more natural. 

There are different types of CUIs, and it is important to design them successfully in order to have a successful AI assistant. Here at The Conversational Institute, we have designed various courses that allow you to develop a deep understanding of everything related to conversational design.

From conversation design and conversational copywriting to AI training, we’ve got everything covered. We offer introductory individual classes if you want to become more familiar with conversational design. You get a recognized certification and access to all modules, regardless of the course you decide to get certified in. 

As the way people learn is constantly changing, we don’t give up on high standards when it comes to teaching. Feel free to subscribe to our community and learn more about what we do by attending our two free courses.