Close Menu

Conversational UX Design

August 20th, 2009
By: admin

This spring at the U of M’s MinneWebCon I heard Doc Searls (a co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto) talk about efforts to shift from a mindset of vendors managing customer relationships toward one of customers managing vendor relationships. It is a radical shift in thinking for a culture that has grown around a hierarchical structure where capital markets are built on the backs of an entire class of workers whose labor is highly managed and prescribed.

The interactive revolution is challenging the inertia of this system by repositioning the relationship between the public and the institution. Ironically (albeit predictably – if you are a McLuhan follower), the very mechanisms of this revolution are still catching up with their own ideology. Mass culture naturally applies old methods to the new medium until it has figured out its true potential and meaning.

Thus the early days of the Web saw a proliferation of brochureware, taking the stuff we already had and just presenting it in a different medium. Today we see a proliferation of what I call broadcastware – and let’s face it, pushing video through an interactive channel is not so different from pushing a billboard. These engagements don’t utilize the true potential of adaptive, social technology. To tap the potential, we must open the platform and provide mechanisms and personal tools rather than messages. And to do that, we need to ask users for a deeper engagement early in the process. As Albert Einstein said, “information is not knowledge.”

There is no lack of conversation about the importance of early engagements in site experiences. Registration forms, sign-ups, and the like qualify for this kind of interaction. Initiatives like OpenID  are underway that hint at a possible future where the dreaded registration process becomes less painful by consolidating your online identity. RFID technology and other ambient recognition will go a long way toward creating deeper relationships without much input required. But there will always be a need for dialogue, and if we are to have a meaningful conversation with our users, we have to facilitate the conversation with an interface that welcomes them with open arms.

The standard way of inviting people to the conversation is with a carrot and a stick, hiding the most important parts of the conversation behind sparkly objects and hoping that the users really really want to talk to us. This requires us to clearly spell out what is commonly called a value proposition (the carrot). Already, we find ourselves slipping into our bad marketing habits. We are back to our old tricks, telling instead of showing. We’re like that guy at the party who only listens to you until he can return to talking about himself, sending a clear message that you are not important – you are interchangeable with anyone else who will endure his greatness. We have long been treating conversations with our customers as transactions, withholding the goods until we have a signed prenuptial agreement with the user. Where’s the romance in that?

Let’s skip the paperwork and get straight to the romance. When I have an experience online that invites me into an open conversation, it reveals itself to me and teaches me about how to use it with every interaction. Now I’m sure you can think of a hundred reasons why this is a bad idea. Especially if you’re a corporate lawyer (no offense). But as consumers, we are living in the world of what is, not the world of what if. Our time is valuable and our attention is overwhelmed by the saturated media space. So if you make it easy to talk to me, I will immediately be a lot more likely to keep talking.

A great example of conversational interaction design can be seen in the registration process on tumblr.com. There is no sales proposition – the first page you see beckons you to start using the tool. If you really want to, you can go see the 21 reasons why you’ll love tumblr. But you don’t have to. You can just dive in.

tumblr1 Conversational UX Design

This idea is carried through into the smallest parts of the interaction. The example text in the URL input field shows you immediately that you’ll have your own web address with your username as the sub-domain. The label on the button shows you that you’re doing this so you can create a blog post, reassuring you that you are moving toward your goal.

tumblr21 Conversational UX Design

Next thing you know (literally), you are being prompted to create your first blog post. By simply starting the conversation, you have begun creating content and taking ownership of your actions.

Uploading an image, continues teaching you how to use the interface by focusing your attention on a real interaction rather than an instruction manual.

tumblr3 Conversational UX Design

And now that you have some content posted on your new blog, you are prompted to name it and personalize it.

tumblr 4 Conversational UX Design

You can then easily follow other people you know who may have a tumblr blog.

tumblr 5 Conversational UX Design

Tumblr puts the actual interaction with their service front and center. They turn the registration process into a learning process where users learn by doing what they came there to do. So the question becomes, do you give people fish, or teach them to fish? Human psychology has shown us definitively that learning by doing produces the deepest imprint on our memory and behavior. It is far and away the most engaging way to teach, and this kind of interactive learning produces knowledge rather than just information. And knowledge, not information, creates a feeling of ownership. By asking users to engage on a personal level, we are creating a relationship based on shared ownership of knowledge and value. And best of all, it doesn’t feel like work. Actions really do speak louder than words.

  • http://jaredgruner.typepad.com Jared_Gruner

    The Tumblr example is great, and I think the premise extends far beyond classic website UX.

    Even in traditional advertising, brands are used to the “promise THEN deliver” model when many brands, particularly those that sell information, would be better suited to use most communications platforms to skip the promise and JUST deliver. That way, the promise is simply implicit, not a separate entity.

    I’ve also been thinking how this can apply to politics, particularly now that we’re in the midst of local politics season. Instead of interrupting me on my way to the subway (is that what you’re going to do when we elect you?), why don’t you do something useful like gather your supporters and clean up the park, find shelters for homeless people, and make a list of all the potholes that need to be fixed. It seems way easier to build a movement of supporters that way.

    Granted, I don’t know jack about campaign law, so maybe those things are impossible. But ultimately, the idea of being useful from the get go should be applied pretty universally.

  • http://uxhero.com Nathan Bowers

    It’s like tutorial levels in video games where you learn by doing. 10000X more fun than reading a manual.

  • Anonymous

    “The label on the button shows you that your doing this so you can create a blog post”

    YOU’RE. Not your. “Your” means something that belongs to you. “You’re” means “you are”.

  • http://emmarae.tumblr.com/ Emma

    I love love love love love TUMBLR. (:
    emmarae.tumblr.com

  • Pingback: Conversational UX Design | From The Head Of Zeus Jones « Netcrema - creme de la social news via digg + delicious + stumpleupon + reddit

  • http://jaredgruner.typepad.com Jared_Gruner

    The Tumblr example is great, and I think the premise extends far beyond classic website UX.

    Even in traditional advertising, brands are used to the “promise THEN deliver” model when many brands, particularly those that sell information, would be better suited to use most communications platforms to skip the promise and JUST deliver. That way, the promise is simply implicit, not a separate entity.

    I've also been thinking how this can apply to politics, particularly now that we're in the midst of local politics season. Instead of interrupting me on my way to the subway (is that what you're going to do when we elect you?), why don't you do something useful like gather your supporters and clean up the park, find shelters for homeless people, and make a list of all the potholes that need to be fixed. It seems way easier to build a movement of supporters that way.

    Granted, I don't know jack about campaign law, so maybe those things are impossible. But ultimately, the idea of being useful from the get go should be applied pretty universally.

    • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

      I love that idea. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://uxhero.com Nathan Bowers

    It's like tutorial levels in video games where you learn by doing. 10000X more fun than reading a manual.

    • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

      Yeah man, exactly! Thanks for the comments.

  • alvareo

    “The label on the button shows you that your doing this so you can create a blog post”

    YOU'RE. Not your. “Your” means something that belongs to you. “You're” means “you are”.

    • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

      Thanks for the free proofreading, the offending typo has been corrected.

      • alvareo

        You're welcome, any time.

  • http://emmarae.tumblr.com/ Emma

    I love love love love love TUMBLR. (:
    emmarae.tumblr.com

  • Anonymous

    With basic usability now fairly well understood (albeit not always practiced) Service design is the low-hanging fruit for UX designers. If you examine real-life shopping experiences, you’ll find it’s remarkably easy to address the traditional pain points. Tumblr does this exceptionally well. If you want to see how NOT to do it, visit wine.com.

    I’ve compiled a list of 10 things that customers will tell you they don’t like about shopping experiences offline. Most comes from Paco Underhill, some comes from my own research. I can’t remember the source for each having used these for years. Anyway, if a UX designer thinks about these things, the correlation to an online experience is obvious – as are the steps that needed to be taken to rectify a given problem.

    1. Don’t tell me how great you are. BE great!
    2. Go the extra mile.
    3. Don’t get in my way when I’m trying to shop.
    4. If I know what I’m looking for, help me find it.
    5. If I have questions, I want straight answers, not a salestalk.
    6. Tell me if you’re going off to look for my size. Don’t just turn and leave.
    7. If you expect me to buy something, tell me what it costs
    8. Are your own affairs so important that you feel justified in ignoring me?
    9. Don’t make me feel stupid.
    10. If you make a mistake, admit it.

    Thanks for a terrific article.

  • http://tylermolamphy.com/ Tyler Molamphy

    personally, I do have a tumblr account. i love it.

    but, when i was signing up, and for a decent time, i saw it as a blog. period.
    i had no clue whatsoever that it was social and interactive. so, when i followed someone for the first time, it was a very confusing process.

    im just suggesting at least a nice popup in the corner, that can explain, or link to an explanation, about the social aspect of tumblr.

    –Tyler Molamphy
    http://tylermolamphy.com
    twitter.com/tylermolamphy

  • ericreiss

    With basic usability now fairly well understood (albeit not always practiced) Service design is the low-hanging fruit for UX designers. If you examine real-life shopping experiences, you'll find it's remarkably easy to address the traditional pain points. Tumblr does this exceptionally well. If you want to see how NOT to do it, visit wine.com.

    I've compiled a list of 10 things that customers will tell you they don't like about shopping experiences offline. Most comes from Paco Underhill, some comes from my own research. I can't remember the source for each having used these for years. Anyway, if a UX designer thinks about these things, the correlation to an online experience is obvious – as are the steps that needed to be taken to rectify a given problem.

    1. Don’t tell me how great you are. BE great!
    2. Go the extra mile.
    3. Don’t get in my way when I’m trying to shop.
    4. If I know what I’m looking for, help me find it.
    5. If I have questions, I want straight answers, not a salestalk.
    6. Tell me if you’re going off to look for my size. Don’t just turn and leave.
    7. If you expect me to buy something, tell me what it costs
    8. Are your own affairs so important that you feel justified in ignoring me?
    9. Don’t make me feel stupid.
    10. If you make a mistake, admit it.

    Thanks for a terrific article.

    • lukesbeard

      Great write up

    • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

      Good guidelines for sure. Funny how we forget them sometimes when we put on our digital design hats.

  • http://tylermolamphy.com/ Tyler Molamphy

    personally, I do have a tumblr account. i love it.

    but, when i was signing up, and for a decent time, i saw it as a blog. period.
    i had no clue whatsoever that it was social and interactive. so, when i followed someone for the first time, it was a very confusing process.

    im just suggesting at least a nice popup in the corner, that can explain, or link to an explanation, about the social aspect of tumblr.

    –Tyler Molamphy
    http://tylermolamphy.com
    twitter.com/tylermolamphy

  • http://archvista.net/ archmond

    great work!!!

  • http://archvista.net/ archmond

    great work!!!

  • Pingback: e-Strategy Internet Marketing Blog

  • Anonymous

    Es muy buena esta propuesta para postear y a la vez, la conexión con mis contactos de otros servidores. Estoy apenas metiendome a todos estos asuntitos, espero ir creciendo más en esto, e ir subiendo progresivamente material para compartir, Gracias TUMBLR

  • gualo

    Es muy buena esta propuesta para postear y a la vez, la conexión con mis contactos de otros servidores. Estoy apenas metiendome a todos estos asuntitos, espero ir creciendo más en esto, e ir subiendo progresivamente material para compartir, Gracias TUMBLR

  • http://twitter.com/seanomalone Sean Malone

    Great post. Terrible blog UX on the post, as the type size is incredibly small and color too light. My eyesight is fine… enlarged it with my browser.

  • http://twitter.com/seanomalone Sean Malone

    Great post. Terrible blog UX on the post, as the type size is incredibly small and color too light. My eyesight is fine… enlarged it with my browser.

    • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

      I have also thought about that – thanks for the call out. I'll pass it along to the team.

  • Pingback: Conversational UX Design | Konigi

  • http://kriscolvin.com Kris Colvin

    Yup! This is why we love tumblr so much we wanted to design for it actually. Not only the points mentioned here, but the service is sort of in two “layers” – visitors have an experience with your site that you can control totally – you can choose to show who you’re following or not for example (a lot of people don’t know my kriscolvin.com site is a Tumblr because it looks like a traditional blog.) But behind the scenes, you have your own unique experience with Tumblr as the site owner and person who can find cool stuff to reblog, or more people to follow. It’s the perfect blend of short burst messages (like Twitter) without the overhead of WordPress and its many widgets and options. Can’t rave about it enough and appreciate this detailed post, as a uxpeep. :-)

  • weheartstudios

    Yup! This is why we love tumblr so much we wanted to design for it actually. Not only the points mentioned here, but the service is sort of in two “layers” – visitors have an experience with your site that you can control totally – you can choose to show who you're following or not for example (a lot of people don't know my kriscolvin.com site is a Tumblr because it looks like a traditional blog.) But behind the scenes, you have your own unique experience with Tumblr as the site owner and person who can find cool stuff to reblog, or more people to follow. It's the perfect blend of short burst messages (like Twitter) without the overhead of WordPress and its many widgets and options. Can't rave about it enough and appreciate this detailed post, as a uxpeep. :-)

    • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

      Thanks for your comment. Have you tried posterous? Another interesting case study there.

      • weheartstudios

        I have a posterous I have not been using and like it also, but for me it's all about the branding (I don't think a user experience is as fun without an appealing design.) The Posterous design itself is nice and minimal, but I like the fact that I can make Tumblr “my own” and use it as an easier, more fun option for a blog than WordPress. The great thing about both platforms is the mobility – being able to post messages, images, video and audio on the go from phone or email is what makes both of these platforms a winner in my opinion. I hope they'll both be around a long time – everyone has different tastes, and I know both interfaces appeal to different folks for different reasons.

  • David

    text is way too small in your post.

  • David

    text is way too small in your post.

    • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

      Those responsible have been sacked.

  • http://www.unboundedition.com/ JdB

    Great writeup, thanks! I have read more often about the Tumblr and Posterous UX and the good things they are doing, but I like how you tie it to a larger shift here. And the comments make it even richer! Although I believe in showing rather than telling, I have to agree with Tyler Molamphy that sometimes you need some explanation or selling to go with it. Of course that’s where you get into a tricky area and have to decide for each addition whether it adds value to the user or not.

  • http://www.unboundedition.com/ JdB

    Great writeup, thanks! I have read more often about the Tumblr and Posterous UX and the good things they are doing, but I like how you tie it to a larger shift here. And the comments make it even richer! Although I believe in showing rather than telling, I have to agree with Tyler Molamphy that sometimes you need some explanation or selling to go with it. Of course that's where you get into a tricky area and have to decide for each addition whether it adds value to the user or not.

  • Anonymous

    Great article. The shift to customer driven has really been an evolution. Customers are more demanding and less tolerant of poor design and many companies who haven’t made it, are having that ‘left behind feeling’.

    What a joy to review tumblr’s approach which integrates simple design principles and good pedagogy. I think I’ll give it a try.

    Now if only I could figure out how to get this comment posted to where I really want it to go!

  • jillbrainlogic

    Great article. The shift to customer driven has really been an evolution. Customers are more demanding and less tolerant of poor design and many companies who haven't made it, are having that 'left behind feeling'.

    What a joy to review tumblr's approach which integrates simple design principles and good pedagogy. I think I'll give it a try.

    Now if only I could figure out how to get this comment posted to where I really want it to go!

  • http://www.recoverybull.com/ Recoverybull

    Thanks for the information, you have provide very good example using “tumbler” …Helps a lot for advertising and marketing if you really know to use this kind of tools in better way…

  • http://www.recoverybull.com/ Recoverybull

    Thanks for the information, you have provide very good example using “tumbler” …Helps a lot for advertising and marketing if you really know to use this kind of tools in better way…

  • Pingback: Conversational UX Design | From The Head Of Zeus Jones | Squico

  • Pingback: MisEntropy

  • Pingback: » Conversational UX Design | From The Head Of Zeus Jones - Yee Torrents News 4

  • Pingback: Revue de presse | Simple Entrepreneur

  • Pingback: Conversational UX Design | From The Head Of Zeus Jones | to. wa.

  • Pingback: Interact Seattle » Blog Archive » User eXperience (UX) Digest #3

  • Pingback: Notre attention est submergée par les médias | Simple Entrepreneur

  • http://www.centreaide.com/ aide psychologique

    It was time. this could not last

  • http://www.gucci-outlet-store.com gucci

    “Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in brfinder.net this forum!

  • http://www.nike-air-force-one.com Nike air force

    Here products xx, has fashion model, superior quality and service, cheap price and updates quickly.I support strongly always! I want to buy XX, Original I hesitate to select which style more better.Hope your unique recommends.

  • http://www.air-jordan-8.com/ air jordan 8

    It looks good,I have learn a recruit!
    Recently,I found an excellent online store, the XX are completely various, good quality and cheap price,it’s worth buying! http://www.globalcommuni-cation.com/

  • http://www.gucci-outlet-store.com gucci

    Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in this forum! http://www.brfinder.net/

  • http://www.prada-outlet-store.com prada outlet

    Hhe article’s content rich variety which make us move for our mood after reading this article. surprise, here you will find what you want! Recently, I found some wedsites which commodity is research-laboratory colorful of fashion. Such as that worth you to see. Believe me these websites won’t let you down.

  • Anonymous

    Sunrise Capital Private Limited is a privately owned independent company At the core, Sunrise Capital is a team of highly accomplished financial professionals with a range of skills and qualifications which enable us to advise confidently and competently on most aspects of portfolio management and associated financial planning issues including specialist areas. kse

  • Pingback: Talk to Me! Conversations are Better than Boring Forms | A UX State of Mind

  • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

    I love that idea. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

    Thanks for the free proofreading, the offending typo has been corrected.

  • Anonymous

    You’re welcome, any time.

  • Anonymous

    Great write up

  • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

    Good guidelines for sure. Funny how we forget them sometimes when we put on our digital design hats.

  • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

    Yeah man, exactly! Thanks for the comments.

  • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

    I have also thought about that – thanks for the call out. I’ll pass it along to the team.

  • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

    Thanks for your comment. Have you tried posterous? Another interesting case study there.

  • http://kriscolvin.com Kris Colvin

    I have a posterous I have not been using and like it also, but for me it’s all about the branding (I don’t think a user experience is as fun without an appealing design.) The Posterous design itself is nice and minimal, but I like the fact that I can make Tumblr “my own” and use it as an easier, more fun option for a blog than WordPress. The great thing about both platforms is the mobility – being able to post messages, images, video and audio on the go from phone or email is what makes both of these platforms a winner in my opinion. I hope they’ll both be around a long time – everyone has different tastes, and I know both interfaces appeal to different folks for different reasons.

  • http://jasonsack.com jasonsack

    Those responsible have been sacked.