Once upon a time, you could only find chatterbots in science fiction shows like Star Trek. Now, artificial intelligence is at anyone’s fingertips.

It’s no secret: humans love to talk! And they love interfaces that talk back. When you can literally “speak to” your customers’ needs – or even anticipate them – through technology they’re already using, you can make your product more accessible. 

Chatterbots are quickly becoming the “salespeople” of the new technological age. It’s true that customers are more than capable of navigating most online processes themselves – that’s what UX is for. But chatterbots can make that process feel fun and personalized by catering directly to your audience in a way that a typical user interface can’t. They can make your product easier to find, easier to use or obtain, and can add an element of fun and familiarity to otherwise boring, clinical, or difficult processes.

Interested in designing a chatterbot of your own? Keep reading to learn how.

Don’t feel like reading? This tutorial is also available in video format.

Step 1: What should my chatterbot do?

Chatterbots are enormously capable – they can be programmed to do everything from hailing an Uber, to ordering a pizza, to calling your Congressperson. So it’s important to review what you would like your chatterbot to be capable of.

Use guiding questions to establish your goals for your chatterbot. For example, what does your product do? What do users want to experience when using your product? What user-facing processes could a chatterbot make easier? You want your chatterbot to be able to help with the parts of the process that are most common. For example, if you are creating a banking chatterbox, you may know that 99% of users check their balance when they first access their account. Ideally, your chatterbot should anticipate this need, and offer it up front.

Review your user research, and think “user first.” Who is your typical user? What do your users want out of your product? How do you want your brand to be represented? Chatterbots are built with their own personality and voice, so it’s important to establish a personality and voice that synthesizes well with how you’d like your brand to be perceived.

Step 2: Map your goals

Once you’ve established who your user is and what they want, you can begin mapping your goals for your chatterbot. An empathy map can help guide you through this process. It will help you get inside your ideal user’s head and map their experience with your product. From there, you’ll no doubt have a wealth of ideas for how that experience could improve. Think about what you’d like to say to your ideal user, if you could. A chatterbot will be able to do just that.

Let’s pretend I’m creating a chatterbot for an online makeup brand. I’ve reviewed my user research, and pulled out information to help me make my bot. My empathy map might look a little like this:

An empathy map showing 4 sections: thinking, seeing, feeling, and doing.

From this empathy map, I can easily state my goals:

  1. My chatterbot should be fun and friendly.
  2. My bot should help users find makeup they like more easily.
  3. It shouldn’t annoy or pester my users.

Using this information, we can move to Step 3…

Step 3: Start with a prototype

The third step to designing your chatterbot will be to create a prototype. Begin by visualizing the ideal “flow” of a conversation.

When users encounter your chatterbot, the bot’s goal should be to guide them through a conversational path to the goals you’ve established. Mapping this flow either with paper or using BotSociety will help you to visualize the “happy path”: the scenario in which a user follows all of your instructions perfectly.

You’ll need to start with an opening line. This opening line will establish the purpose and personality of your chatterbot. For example, for my makeup chatterbot, I’d want my opening line to be something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m BeautyBot – I’m here to help you look your best with Beauty Brand!” Then, to create a clean line of conversation, I’d provide my user with three selectable options:

A mockup of Beautybot.

The opening line for your chatterbot should always have a limited number of available inputs. It can be phrased a yes or no question, or present the user with a limited number of selectable options. It may even outright state the available answers, such as “text [NEXT] to continue.” But remember that this is the first line your customers will see – it is important for it to be succinct, impactful, and representative of your product! (For more on how to create a great opening line, you can read Vittorio’s article over here.)

Step 4: Find the happy path

After creating an introductory line, create a map of each “path.” For me, I’d map the user paths from each of my three opening options. I’d be asking questions to establish whether or not they were an existing user, and using that information to generate new inquiries.

To see my mockup live, click here.

A mockup of Beautybot's "happy path."

Once you’ve prototyped your chatterbot, it’s time to employ some testing methods. After you’ve checked your chatterbot for any obvious defects, the next step is to entrust it to a few test users who can put it through its paces. User feedback is an invaluable part of the process of designing bots. Once you understand how your interface appears to users – and how they’re most likely to use it – you can refine it. You may end up creating alternate paths, teaching your bot to respond to different language, or retooling your bot to address different user needs. Use user feedback to create a bot that anticipates its users needs by design.

Step 5: Assemble your toolkit

Although there are a multitude of free and easy tools you can use to create your chatterbot, BotSociety makes conversational design easy. BotSociety was created with new and improving developers in mind. Joining up will give you access to a multitude of design tools, tutorials, interviews, and blog posts. BotSociety is here not only to inspire you to join the chatterbot “conversation,” but to show you how, and to provide you with the tools you need to create the chatterbots you most admire. Ready to get started? You can sign up here.

The future is being created here by people like you – people who are interested in cultivating a personalized, conversational user experience. Chatterbots are the new frontier. If you’re ready to “boldly go where no one has gone before,” and BotSociety is a great place to learn, hone your skills, and create fantastic bots.



Creative writer and Professional Nerd™ based in the San Francisco Bay Area