Let’s just get this out in the open up front–a chatbot is not an app or a website; it’s a chatbot.

Chatbots are built upon variables and user responses and the design is built to mimic the natural flow of a conversation. Well, as close as a talking robot can get to a natural conversation that is. The expectations of the final product are going to be very different than those of a website or app so it’s extremely important to keep that in mind throughout the entire design process. Chatbot design patterns are really all about understanding how a conversation could flow and the different paths they might take.

But before we even start talking about design principles, let’s make two things very clear:

It is important that you have clear goals for your bot before you even start to think about the design.

  • What do you want your chatbot to do?
  • How do you want your bot to accomplish the goals?
  • What do you want users to get out of their interaction with the bot?
  • How do you want users to interact with your bot?

It is equally important for you to remember that you are designing your bot for a two-fold purpose.

  • To meet the expectations of the end user
  • To convince potential clients that purchasing your bot will be worthwhile.

 

Designing the Chatbot

So now that you know you’re designing a chatbot, what you want it to accomplish, and how you want it to accomplish that; it’s time to start designing. Here are some of the best chatbot design patterns and practices to make sure you’re getting the absolute most out of your chatbot.

 

Simple will Suffice

Take a look at some of the most popular bots on the market now (Mitsuku, Rose, Right Click, Poncho, Swelly). What do they all have in common? They kept their design simple and easy for users to interact with and comprehend. Don’t feel like you need to make your chatbot do more than its intended purpose. It is much better that your design and conversation flow is as good as it can be for its intended purpose. Imagine you’re ordering a pizza online using a chatbot; you want to be able to order that pizza without struggling and having to go back and start over a million times. Designers of this bot would focus on building the conversation help you order a pizza as opposed to adding in a bunch of unnecessary information that would muddle up the process. The same principle applies to any bot design, no matter the purpose. Keep your design simple, focusing only on accomplishing your main goal.

TL:DR Do one thing and do it well.

Poncho, for example, has a singular purpose–to tell users what the weather is. It tells users everything they could need to know about the weather, but isn’t trying to venture into other topics. It is well designed, easy to understand, and therefore, very successful.

Conversation is Key

It’s important to understand that people are used to talking to other people, not robots. The more natural your bot sounds and operates, the better and more natural the user experience will be. Don’t be afraid to throw little quips or personal touches into your design! Add a photo, emoji, gif, or even a joke. Anything that can make the user feel more natural while interacting with your bot will increase their experience. However, with that being said, don’t try to convince your users that your bot is a human. Be clear when they are interacting with a bot to avoid any confusion.

TL:DR try to make your chatbot sound as natural as possible.

Let’s use Rose as an example to illustrate this. This chatbot’s design really understands the concept of keeping it conversational and human like. She understands conversational slang like “haha” and “lol”, can move the conversation onto a new topic if the user hasn’t responded in a while, and still makes it seem as if the user is talking to a real person by making the conversation as natural as possible.

Structure is Your Friend

Users can respond to your bot in a number of different ways; most commonly through free response answers and set response buttons. When first designing a bot, remember that structure is your friend! Adding buttons and set response options can really help streamline the interaction between the user and the bot. As you continue to tweak and change your bot’s design, you can add in more chances for free response answers to get more detailed and personalized answers from your user—bur remember, never sacrifice the usability of the bot.

TL:DR use set response buttons to steer the conversation.

Here’s a good example of a bot that uses set response buttons very well. Swelly directs their users along a certain path by creating structure for the users to follow. That way, they ensure that the interaction between the user and the bot is always following the path they want it to.  

 

Failure is Inevitable

This one is important—understand that failure is inevitable and that’s okay. If a user is trying to do something that your bot doesn’t currently have the capability to do, tell them that! But make sure that you take each failure as a learning opportunity and use that failure as a information about how you can improve your bot in the future.

TL:DR it’s okay for your chatbot to not be perfect.

Right Click is a chatbot that is designed to help users create websites. It will ask questions such as, “What industry are you in?” or “Why do you want to make a website?” and then based upon your responses it will generate a website template. In this example, the user tried to talk to the bot about something that it was not designed to interpret, love. Through the intelligent design, the bot told the user that the responses were beyond it’s comprehension and then steered the conversation back to what it could comprehend.

chatbot design patterns

Designing a chatbot might seem like a daunting task at first but it’s really just thinking about how any regular conversation might play out. Start with what you know (how to communicate with other people) and build off of that! If you remember to follow the design principles laid out here, you’ll design a successful chatbot that will have clients knocking down your door! 

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Tricia Surber

Technical Communication and Media Studies Graduate from Mercer University.