UX & Technology

Are chatbots really the new face of UX?

Lara Williams

Lara Williams, Editor-at-large

Chatbots are on the rise. But are they the future of user experience or a transient trend?

Ever since Mark Zuckerberg opened up chatbots to businesses and brands on Facebook in 2016, the number of intelligent automated messaging systems have been on the rise. Currently 100,000 bots exist on the platform, and even more beyond the realm of Facebook, helping users with everything from ordering pizza, finding recipes to combatting anxiety.

Designing a conversation may be one of the hardest jobs a UX designer has to face, but what benefits could chatbots bring to a brand’s UX?

chatbots facebook

Conversational UI

The interactions of the future aren’t just made of buttons, and chatbots are proving this.

Rather than interacting with a series of buttons, users can respond more naturally with emojis and words – just as they would with another person.

This conversational UI is one of the main attractions of chatbots. Users get the efficiency of automation with the friendliness of something almost human.

Emotionless robot or non-judgemental friend?

While there’s a debate over whether chatbots can truly replace humans, for many users, knowing they’re talking to a bot might be preferable.

For example, Timothy Bickmore at Northeastern University, Boston, has created a chatbot to help terminally-ill patients make end-of-life decisions.

It’s a sensitive topic, but early studies revealed that patients felt far less anxious about dying and ready to talk to loved ones. The chatbot can guide users through meditations, discuss a range of religious topics and the user’s health.

Being able to chat with a bot who can’t judge you is comforting, as opposed to the potentially emotionally fraught conversations talking with loved ones on the same topic might bring.

Cooking with chatbots

On the lighter side of the spectrum, Jamie Oliver has recently launched a chatbot to help promote his new book, 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food.

chatbots jamie oliver

The premise is simple – you send an emoji, and the bot recommends a recipe. A bowl of spaghetti, for example, prompts a ‘Lemony courgette linguine’ and gives you the option of watching a short video from Jamie with cooking tips.

The fact you can only use emojis keeps the chatbots capabilities clear, and prevents irritating misunderstandings or communication fails.

While ultimately not offering anything advanced in terms of technology and AI – it shows how effective a simple chatbot can be. Fun (a cheeky aubergine emoji prompts an ‘Oi oi’), with a clear purpose, it engages users and no doubt encourages them to check out the book.

The main challenge for chatbots is getting users to interact with them regularly, or as regularly as they’d use a standalone app. However, with applications from therapy-esque services to quirky marketing campaigns, chatbots certainly have a place in the future of UX.

2 Comments

  • Tic Gordon

    11th October 2017, 23:13

    Chatbots are posing as our friends, but in reality it’s an algorithm with a motive – funded by mammoth digital conglomerates.

    These AI’s masquerade as friends having personal relationships which are anonymous (at best) with a person.
    Ones who look for such an interaction with AI could be considered vulnerable and prone to psychological manipulation. A far flung idea from Jamie’s ideas for tea… how can the article flippantly skim over euthanasia advice to Lemon courgette linguine?
    Since when did computer programs pass the ethics exam at net school giving it authority to talk to a person about anything let alone end-of-life decisions?! It’s not a drop in at the local Samaritans we’re talking about here… It sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    How long people will believe they are in control of their own destiny is a curious quandary as it’s evident that social media is manipulating the collective consciousness. Echo chambers represent our social anomic fissiparous fragmenting societal crisis, a la reality TV President, and AI merely fuels the flames of disorder and chaos.

    AI is an outgrowth of our evolutionary path and will control us well before we realise it’s happening.
    Like now, potentially. Oi Oi.

    Interesting article, just take it easy on the salt.

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