conversational user interface - cover

Conversational User Interface (CUI): From Clicks to Conversations

Design, Product
15 min
May 03, 2024

We all want our tech to just work seamlessly and feel natural to use — as easy as chatting with another human. Traditional interfaces with menus, buttons, and windows have come a long way, but can still feel a bit clunky compared to how we actually talk and think.

Conversational UIs let you interact with computers, websites, and apps simply by speaking out loud or typing, just like you’d chat with a friend. No more digging through complex menus — just ask for what you need, and the system will respond accordingly.

As artificial intelligence and language processing get more advanced, these conversational experiences are becoming increasingly intuitive and human-like. And they’re only going to keep growing more important as the era of voice assistants, chatbots and beyond continues emerging.

In this article, we’ll explore what conversational UIs are, the different types that exist, benefits they offer, and principles for designing effective ones. We’ll also peek at examples being used today and how this user interface paradigm is evolving.

What Is Conversational UI?

A conversational user interface is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with a computer system or application through natural language conversations.

Let’s say you want to order a pizza for delivery. With a conversational interface, you could just say out loud, “Order me a large pepperoni pizza from Pizza Palace,” or type that instruction out in a chat window. The system would understand your natural language and intent, and be able to place that pizza order for you seamlessly.

Conversational interfaces use artificial intelligence and natural language processing to understand the human’s words and engage in a back-and-forth dialogue. This makes the experience feel incredibly natural and intuitive compared to traditional computer interfaces.

Types of Conversational User Interfaces

When it comes to having conversations with computers and digital devices, there are a few different approaches out there. Each one allows you to interact in a slightly different way that may feel most natural depending on the situation:

Types of Conversational UI

  • Text-based conversational interfaces. These work kind of like a messaging app or chat window, where you type out instructions or questions using regular language, and the AI responds with text back to you. It’s like having a conversational texting experience to get things done. Many companies use these chatbots for customer service inquiries these days.
  • Voice-based conversational UIs. With these, you simply speak out loud using voice commands and natural phrasing. The device or software then uses voice recognition to understand what you said and responds by speaking back or taking action for you. Voice assistants like Siri and Hey Google are controlled this way.
  • Multimodal conversational interfaces. These give you the flexibility to interact through a blend of voice, text, visuals, and even gestures or movements within one unified experience. So you may start by speaking a command, provide some clarifying text, and have the system show you related visuals while talking you through the next steps.

No matter which type though, the core idea is being able to engage with technology using your own natural language abilities as a human — through speech, typing, or a hybrid of both. There’s no need to memorize clunky technical instructions or jargon. You just talk or type like you normally would, and the conversational AI is designed to understand and respond accordingly.

Some situations may call for the hands-free convenience of voice control. Others may be better suited for the flexible multitasking of text-based chat. And certain experiences work best when blending modes like speaking, texting, and viewing visuals together.

Real-Life Examples of Popular Conversational User Interfaces

You’ve probably already experienced conversational interfaces in action without even realizing it. Here are some examples of conversational user interfaces you might have already come across:

Examples of Conversational UI

  • Customer service chatbots. Whether on a company’s website, messaging app, or even over SMS/text, these text-based conversational AIs let you ask questions, get support, or complete basic tasks simply by typing out requests using everyday language. Many businesses now use chatbots as a first line of customer communication.
  • Voice assistants. Using just your voice, you can ask these AI helpers for information, set reminders, control smart home devices, play music, and plenty more simply by speaking natural commands aloud to them. They comprehend your plain speech and respond verbally to have a dialogue.
  • Conversational AI crop up in messaging platforms. Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack and others are increasingly incorporating chatbots and conversational interfaces for handling tasks like scheduling appointments, getting account info, or even completing purchases through chat. It works seamlessly within your existing messaging workflow.

Conversational AI abilities are becoming a normal part of how we use technology day-to-day. And as the technology understanding human language gets smarter, we’ll keep seeing more ways to control apps, websites, and devices simply by talking or typing back-and-forth.

Benefits of a Conversational UI

Conversational UIs offer some really compelling advantages over traditional interfaces. They open up new possibilities for more intuitive, accessible, and personalized digital experiences. Let’s explore some of the biggest benefits.

Benefits of a Conversational User Interface

Enhanced Natural User Experience

CUIs cut out the middleman of menus and visuals. You simply state what you need out loud or type it out. No more having to learn a computer’s complicated rules and workflows. This natural language ability makes accomplishing tasks and finding information substantially easier. You don’t have to struggle to navigate complex interfaces. Just ask for what you need in plain terms and the system comprehends. It’s a much lower barrier to getting things done efficiently.

Improved Accessibility

Conversational UI design can greatly enhance accessibility for people with disabilities or impairments. Voice interfaces are hugely beneficial for those with vision issues or limited mobility. They can control experiences hands-free through speech. Likewise, text-based chat UIs are invaluable for users with hearing difficulties.

What’s more, conversational AIs can adapt their interactions for users with cognitive disabilities or language-based needs. They can simplify communication, adjust pacing, and create a more inclusive experience overall.

Personalized for Each Individual

The interactive, iterative nature of conversations allows these interfaces to continually learn and evolve for each unique user over time. Through natural language processing, they pick up on individual preferences, patterns, situational context, and specific needs with every exchange. This allows the conversational AI to serve up a highly personalized experience tailored to that person.

So for each user, the experience optimizes to how they naturally communicate, what information they frequently need, and what capabilities best suit their circumstances. It creates a much more bespoke solution compared to one-size-fits-all interfaces.

Streamlined Tasks and Workflows

Another huge benefit of conversational interface design is how it simplifies and streamlines complex workflows into quick conversational commands. What may have previously required navigating through page after page of options can now be accomplished through a single plain language instruction.

For example, rather than clicking through a dozen payment and shipping form fields, you could simply say, “Purchase the gray t-shirt size large and send it to my home address for standard delivery.” Conversational AI understands that complete intent and smoothly automates the execution of all those discrete back-end tasks.

Elevated Customer Experiences

Businesses can use chatbots and voice assistants to provide 24/7 personalized support at any stage of the customer journey. Conversational AIs can act as knowledgeable concierges, handling routine questions, offering product suggestions based on past preferences, guiding customers through transactions, and more. And for issues requiring human support, they can still gather context to enable more personalized hand-offs.

Overall, conversational interfaces are powerful because they represent a fundamental shift in how we interact with technology. Instead of trying to adapt human behavior to the constraints of machines, these systems are purposely designed to work how we already intuitively operate as people.

How to Design Effective COnversational Interfaces

Creating a truly great conversational UI takes careful planning and adherence to key principles. These interfaces need to feel natural, understand context, handle errors gracefully, leverage multiple modes, and properly guide users. Let’s dive into each area.

Focus on Natural Conversations

The most critical piece is facilitating interactions that feel just like talking to another human. The language has to be simple, casual, and easy to understand — no robotic jargon or complex phrasing. The conversational flows should mimic how people actually communicate in real-life dialogues.

Pay close attention to your tone of voice and personality, too. Is it friendly and approachable? Knowledgeable but not stuffy? Having a consistent, relatable persona helps the experience feel more human and engaging.

Understand the Full Context

Effective conversational UIs need to pick up on the full context of every interaction. That means accounting for the user’s location, previous conversations and preferences, their current goals and tasks at hand, and any other relevant situational factors.

With this 360-degree context awareness, the UI can provide hyperrelevant responses to each specific user’s needs at that moment.

Handle Misunderstandings Smoothly

No matter how advanced, conversational systems will inevitably face misunderstandings and errors at times. Maybe the user phrased something unclearly, or the AI missed some nuance in their intent. In these cases, the UI must handle errors gracefully to prevent total derailment.

Provide clear feedback on what went wrong. Offer alternative suggestions or ask clarifying questions to get back on track. Most importantly, make it easy for the user to smoothly recover and try again without frustration.

Leverage Multimodal Inputs/Outputs

While some conversational systems stick solely to voice or text, effective ones often incorporate multiple modes. They blend speech recognition, text inputs, visuals like images or animations, and even gesture or touch controls into one seamless experience.

This approach provides flexibility to adapt to each user’s needs and context in the moment. It lets people engage through their preferred input mode while allowing the AI to respond through the best output format for that particular interaction.

Guide Users Through Conversations

Conversational UIs shouldn’t just respond but proactively guide the user through different dialogue paths and tasks using clear prompts and suggestions. Provide visual cues about the next steps. Make it obvious what valid inputs are at each stage of the conversation.

The UI should essentially function as a knowledgeable tour guide, leading users through different conversational flows intuitively. Frequent feedback on system understanding also builds trust.

When a conversational interface truly seamlessly blends all these elements together, that’s when you get experiences that feel incredibly intuitive and intelligent — almost like conversing with another person who deeply understands your needs and can deftly assist you through any task or query.

Creating a Conversational Brand Voice

Beyond just the functional design, conversational UIs also need to establish a distinct personality and brand voice. This consistent persona helps create more memorable, engaging interactions that reinforce your brand.

When users chat with your AI assistant, the tone and language should align with your company’s values and resonate with your target audience. Consider factors like:

  • What overall vibe do you want — friendly and casual, knowledgeable and professional, quirky and fun?
  • How would you describe your brand’s personality in human terms?
  • What age group and demographics are you designing the experience around?

For example, a conversational banking app for younger users may have a more relaxed, upbeat voice using modern slang. But a healthcare chatbot for seniors may aim for a more nurturing, clearly explanatory tone.

Once defined, this unique personality should stay consistent no matter where users interact with your conversational UI, whether a website chat, mobile app, smart speaker skill, or other touchpoint. Every response should reflect that distinct voice.

Beyond just word choices, the voice also extends to things like:

  • Response length and pace
  • Use of emojis, GIFs, or other embellishments
  • When and how it asks follow-up questions
  • How it handles user frustration or confusion

And just like a company’s visual branding, this conversational voice and tone needs to keep evolving based on market trends and direct user feedback. Pay close attention to how users respond to the persona through chat logs, surveys, and other insights. Then continuously optimize to keep the voice feeling current and delightful.

Key CUI Performance Metrics

But how do you really know if your conversational UI is hitting the mark? Tracking and analyzing CUI metrics is critical for understanding what’s working well and where there’s room for improvement.

  • One of the most important factors is user satisfaction. Are people genuinely finding the experience helpful and enjoyable? You can gauge this through direct surveys, analyzing chat logs for positive/negative sentiment, tracking star ratings, and other feedback channels.
  • It’s also vital to measure actual task completion rates. What percentage of conversations result in users successfully accomplishing their intended goals, whether making a purchase, getting information, or resolving an issue? High completion rates indicate an effective, usable conversational UI/UX.
  • Beyond individual conversations, you’ll want to analyze overall engagement and retention metrics too. Things like the average conversation length, how frequently users return to interact, and what percentage continue using the UI over time. This insight reveals whether users find enough value to keep coming back repeatedly.
  • Digging into error rates and fallback scenarios is key as well. How often do misunderstandings occur where the AI can’t comprehend the user’s intent? Or cases where it has to defer to a knowledge base article or human agent? Frequent errors highlight opportunities to improve natural language processing.
  • For conversational experiences focused on sales or conversions, you have to look at hard metrics around conversion rates too. Did the interaction ultimately lead to purchases, signups, or other desired actions? This quantifies the bottom-line business impact.

By continuously tracking and analyzing a mix of subjective satisfaction data with these objective performance indicators, you can pinpoint friction points and iterate to optimize every aspect of the conversational experience over time.

Maybe users get stuck at certain points in particular conversation flows. Or perhaps there are consistent patterns in the types of queries that frequently trigger errors. These insights enable data-driven adjustments and A/B testing to refine the UX.

The best conversational AI assistants are never “finished” — they continually evolve and improve based on routinely measuring how well they are truly serving their users’ needs.

The Future of Conversational UIs

Conversational interfaces are only going to keep getting smarter and more advanced from here. Here are a few key trends that are shaping their future.

The Future of Conversational UI

AI Integration

Combining conversational AI with cutting-edge artificial intelligence and machine learning will unlock more intelligent, contextual interactions. These AIs will get better at comprehending nuanced language and providing personalized responses by leveraging deep learning algorithms.

Rise of Voice Interfaces

Voice assistants and voice recognition tech are just the start. Voice-based conversational UIs will continue growing and becoming more ubiquitous interfaces across many experiences. They’ll also integrate with immersive AR and VR environments for multi-sensory voice interactions.

Global Reach

As conversational UIs spread worldwide, they’ll have to seamlessly adapt to different languages, cultures, and regional communication norms to provide a consistent experience globally. Localization and cross-cultural design will be crucial.

So, while conversational design is impressive today, the future will only bring more seamless, ambient conversational experiences that adapt to your needs, location, context and preferences in intelligent ways. It’s an exciting time for human-computer interaction.

Conclusion

By facilitating natural dialogues, conversational interfaces provide experiences that old menu-driven systems can’t match. But capitalizing on conversational UIs requires smart design — establishing a clear, adaptable persona focused on natural language, understanding full context, handling errors, and guiding users through tasks.

Ready to design an intuitive conversational UI for your product or service? Contact Uitop. Our team specializes in creating intelligent, natural language interfaces that delight users through smooth conversational experiences adapted to their needs.

by Ivan Klyzhenko
UX Startup Advisor, Uitop

FAQs

What is the difference between a conversational UI and a chatbot?

A chatbot is a specific type of conversational user interface that allows users to interact through text-based messaging. Conversational UIs can utilize text chat, voice commands, or a multimodal blend of interactions. Chatbots are just one form of conversational UI.

Why are conversational interfaces becoming so popular?

Conversational UIs provide a more natural way for humans to interact with technology using plain speech and language. As AI and voice recognition improve, these conversation-based experiences feel increasingly intuitive.

What are the main benefits of using a conversational UI?

Key benefits include enhanced accessibility for all users, personalized experiences tailored to individuals, streamlined task workflows, 24/7 automated support capabilities, and an overall user experience that simply feels more natural and human-friendly.

What metrics are important for measuring a conversational UI's success?

Important performance metrics include user satisfaction levels, task completion rates, overall engagement and retention, frequency of errors and misunderstandings, and ultimate conversion rates when utilized for sales/marketing purposes.

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