Conversations with Things
The Future is Spoken presents Diana Diebel as this week’s guest to discuss all things conversational design.
Diana is an experienced Voice User Interface (VUI) designer and the current Design Director at Grand Studio, a Chicago-based product design and strategy consultancy. She is also the co-founder of both the VUI Design Slack channel and the Chicago chapter of the Ubiquitous Voice Society. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and colleges across the country, including SXSW, SpeechTEK, VOICE, Northwestern and Columbia University.
The episode starts with Diana discussing her upcoming book, “Conversations with Things: UX Design for Chat and Voice” (slated for publication in 2021), which she co-authored with her colleague, Rebecca Evanhoe. According to Diana, unlike other voice design books, “Conversations with Things” places the user experience, not business needs or technological features, at the center of the design process. From the start and throughout the process, the goal is to first and foremost deliver voice interfaces that are accessible and easier to use.
Diana gives the compelling example of sensitive contexts such as domestic abuse and addiction to illustrate the power of voice automation. “Whenever there is a human involved,” Diana said, “there will always be a perception of a person’s judgement, whether it exists or not.” By enabling the user to interact with a bot, the VUI is in effect creating a safe-space that allows the user to confide in these technologies without fear of being judged and “to succeed or fail, but… do so with true support that [they] would not necessarily feel from another human.”
Diana also dove deep into the topic of data privacy issues in the field of voice. She provided a few possible solutions to improve the relationship between big tech companies and users. “Part of it is transparency,” Diana said. “You have to tell people where their information is going [and] where they are pulling information to serve you with.” She added, “if I go into a hotel and the voice device already has my credit card information, I would hope that they would tell me where they got my information from. One might assume as a designer that they just pulled it from the backend because they checked in using their card so it’s already on file. This explanation makes sense. But if you don’t tell people how it works, it creeps people out and makes them feel like everyone has an in on their personal life.”
Diana further explored the importance of personas in conversational design. “Personas are the most fun part of designing an assistant… Everybody wants in on this workshop, but people get carried away in creating a character.” She insisted that it is important to always keep sight of the reason why an assistant exists and what use cases the assistant is being used for. “If your use case is relational,” she said, “and your team goes down a rabbit-hole of, ‘We really want someone who represents our company the way an efficient customer service representative does,’ but the whole goal of the assistant is to be relational and build a brand relationship over time, that’s going to fail because you are addressing people in a different way because the prompts will be more curt as opposed to relational.”
Diana also touched on the importance of understanding context in conversational design, defining standards of an assistant, and much more in this incredibly insightful episode.
Tune in Now!
[00:07] Diana's fascinating journey to become a VUI designer
- Diana explains how she got into VUI designing while sharing her experiences of being a health writer.
- She is also writing a book called, Conversation With Things, to explain a practical approach towards VUI. She is co-authoring this book with Rebecca.
- She had a script writing background, both from training as well as from life and work experience.
[05:04] Can 'Conversation Interfaces' benefit industries?
- Diana approaches this question in an interesting manner. Instead of favouring one side, she goes black and white, and explains how it is a use case based thing.
[11:20] Empowering people with technology!
- She discusses the role of conversational designing in empowering the physically or emotionally disabled people. She also touches on the involvement of technology in moving people out of addiction.
- Diana elaborates on the responsibility of the modern day assistants in medicating the people and helping them in many different ways.
[19:02] The Matter of Privacy!
- Since we are having assistants almost everywhere, this creates a question of privacy because some of the people are sceptical about it. Diana lays down some of the powerful points to use these devices with better ethical solutions in place.
- She also explains that it is the responsibility of the whole team to come up with the strategies to ensure the user's privacy, meanwhile speaking about the importance to target the needs of all the users.
[30:51] Is System Persona game changer?
- Diana defines System Person as the most fun part of designing any kind of conversation platform, and touches on the importance of an appropriate persona.
[35:00] How can defining the standards help drive the conversation?
[37:19] How important is context when it comes to designing conversations?
- Diana elaborates on the need for context, and also inculcates the importance of multimodalities in improving the conversations.
Learn more about Diana at
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Follow Shyamala Prayaga at @sprayaga