4 Steps to Inclusive Conversational UI

BrandPost By Marko Muellner
Oct 18, 2021
Diversity and Inclusion

Moving Beyond Antiquated Conversational UI—It’s Time for Proactive Inclusivity and Accessibility

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Credit: iStock

Your experiences can do better—they can (and must) meet the needs of more people, in more situations. Not only are most digital experiences behind the inclusivity curve, but they also tend to perpetuate old stereotypes.

Designing for greater inclusivity is more than just the right thing to do; brands that fail to create experiences that consider people with diverse perspectives, situations, and capabilities increasingly face ramifications that include legal challenges, damage to their brand reputation and lower search rankings even. In addition, designing more inclusive experiences can expand your customer base: in 2018, the purchasing power of adults with disabilities was approximately $490 billion.

Inclusive design is the process of creating a product, service or environment that can be used by the most people without special adaptations. It is related to universal design and accessibility but is usually applied to digital products and services. It strives to surpass the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to better integrate adaptations into the experiences themselves. This approach is particularly important for conversational experiences with personified interfaces that are expected to engage and assist people in many different contexts.

Conversational experiences that are enabled by a conversational user interface (UI) are an increasingly popular way to interact with devices. A conversational UI is a software-enabled conversation agent that mimics interacting with a human. Over the past year, the number of people who prefer using conversational UI jumped from 65% to 85%, and consumer retail spend via conversational UI is predicted to reach $142 billion by 2024. With increased implementation in industries ranging from healthcare to hospitality, user experience (UX) designers should understand best practices behind implementing an inclusive conversational UI experience, from building a strategy to defining governance, refining, and optimization.

However, despite the best efforts of UX experts to incorporate inclusive design principles, conversational UI often misses the mark. An often-criticized example of this is voice assistants and chatbots, which tend to be personified as women, further solidifying stereotypes of women as subservient. In addition, chatbots often fail to account for how people with visual impairments will interact with their UI.

Avoiding these types of mistakes requires thinking beyond the baseline expectation of accessibility. For more inclusive design, consider adding these steps to your process:

Plan for inclusion

Once you’ve defined your journeys and solved for your primary use cases, make sure to bake in time to define and accommodate additional use cases from diverse perspectives that weren’t previously considered. Since your teams may not be used to working with unexpected personas and insights, allocate time to gather, analyze and apply them, especially the first time you do this work.

Consider diverse perspectives

How does your tool speak to users? What assumptions do both the UI and end user make? Are there responses or interpretations that could be misunderstood by certain people, or that need more clarity for others? Empathy, and the ability to challenge assumptions, will be key here; most bias is unconscious, and you must push far beyond the surface.  

Consider these visuals from Apple’s talk on inclusive design at WWDC 2021:

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[Alt text: A graphic containing icons representing the perspectives to explore on inclusive design: class, culture, ethnicity, language, education, political beliefs, philosophical beliefs, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, abilities, disabilities, handedness, body measurements, environment, location, connectivity, and modern tech.]

How will a teenager engage with your experience? Will a high-net-worth individual understand your jargon? Will someone who lives in a home with many other people, such as extended family, be able to use your tool?Questions like these must be explored, answered, and tested thoroughly before a conversational UI goes to market.

There’s nothing more valuable than getting diverse people to test your experiences. Observation is the most useful approach, but there are many ways to get valuable feedback on prototypes.

Be intentional in how you use data

Having a measurement plan is table stakes, but you need to go deeper into how you capture and analyze data for truly standout design. Consider both implicit and explicit forms of data capture and think how to ask users about their experience. Ensure you can capture and analyze path data to see where people are losing their way or jumping ship. You can also look to voice and text analytics tools to understand sentiment and uncover bias by listening for phrases like “That’s discriminatory”, or “I don’t understand.” These insights are key to continuous improvement, and they will help you uncover biases and problems you didn’t catch during design.

It’s hard enough to create conversational experiences, but if you take an inclusive design approach from the beginning, you’ll be amazed at how many more people will engage—and ultimately help you improve—your project. By adopting inclusivity measures, you will find that you can reach broader markets, create better user experiences, and make a positive impact for both your internal and external stakeholders.

Learn more about how to create an inclusive CX strategy at pkglobal.com.