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Chatbots get a mixed reception

Will Grant & Steff Aquarone, authors of User Experience and Interaction Design for Mobile and Web:

2016 was the year that chatbots (or ‘conversational interfaces’) went mainstream.

Apple’s Siri got new superpowers and made her way to Mac, while Amazon’s Alexa made her way into the home with the Echo device and Google integrated voice control deeper still into Android.

Whichever anthropomorphised robot you choose, it’s clear that people were using computers less frequently with their fingers and more with their voices. And, the less said about Microsoft’s doomed chatbot ‘Tay’ the better.

Josh Payton, VP UX, Huge:

I don’t think I heard any idea pitched more in the last year than the chatbot. It’s also the thing that seems to have amounted to the least payoff.

Guess what? AI is HARD. If you’re not already an organisation experienced in producing digital products, trying to build a chatbot will quickly put a very bright spotlight on that fact.

There are a million chatbots in the world today and 999,999 of them are garbage. Shouts to Xiaoice.

Phil Williams, senior UX designer, PRWD:

There’s lots of hype around chatbots. …Currently, they are seen as a bit of a gimmick. It’s those pesky little ‘help’ pop-ups on a website that try and answer frequently asked questions.

However, the technology behind these bots is getting better by the day. There is true AI (artificial intelligence) lurking behind those pop-ups and they are getting smarter.

Their understanding of language and communication will soon be on par with a real human being; they will able to hold a conversation and help you in many ways a personal assistant would.

Take this form for example. Data input has never been a strong human skill, it’s actually quite alien to most of the population.

Ask your mum to fill out a complex form and she’ll no doubt struggle. Ask her to send you a text message, and it’s something she’s much more familiar with.

Chatbots take the stress out of this by turning a process into something which humans have done for thousands of years, they have a conversation with you.

chat bot

It’s not just about startups anymore

Will Grant & Steff Aquarone:

A lot of big organisations have found ways to build products and experiences that are best for customers.

It proves you don’t have to be a startup to be quick, nimble and adaptable. Once anything gets going and it successful it needs lots of people and procedure to keep it working, even if part of that process is to “think and rebuild” regularly.

A few big organisations have shown they’re capable of changing with the times and shipping great products, without the need to sponsor startup incubators.

Startups are just as – in fact more – likely to get things wrong. They just care less and can recover and learn more quickly.

Paul Rouke, founder & CEO, PRWD:

The combination of bringing more humility into businesses, becoming truly customer-centric, developing a test and learn culture and running A/B tests across the full spectrum of testing (iterative, innovative, strategic), [are and] will all play a part in helping change the mindset of the business.


New rules, new tools

Josh Payton, Huge:

2016 felt a bit like the time around 2002 when people started earnestly abandoning Quark for inDesign.

We’ve been dealing with process changes for at least five years now, and a big trend I’ve noticed more recently is the serious migration towards a host of new digital-first design tools.

Powerful, compatible tools like Sketch and Principle, which are made specifically with digital interface design in mind, coupled with the significant process changes that have occurred over the last five years or so have diminished, replaced or eliminated the roles of many tools designers have used for the last 15 years.

Photoshop is still firmly entrenched, but loyalty seems much shakier when it comes to pretty much every other tool in the box.



Josh Payton, Huge:

I first noticed this trend at the end of 2015 with The Trainline’s excellent redesign, which also follows the 2015 Circular typeface trope.

Over the last year I’ve noticed the turquoise rise to prominence everywhere, from Deliveroo doubling down on it to the American Government hopping on the bandwagon.

If you want your designs to look instantly dated, make them flat, use the circular typeface, and use turquoise as your emphasis colour.

thetrainline app

Google Optimize offers pros and cons

Paul Rouke, PRWD:

Just as Google provided the catalyst for mainstream web analytics tracking when it launched Google Analytics for free, launching Google Optimize for free [in September 2016] is going to see a major acceleration of A/B testing in 2017 and beyond.

The combination of Google’s credibility and visibility coupled with Google Optimize being free provides a heady combination, which businesses of all sizes will find difficult to ignore.

[But], although Google Optimize is going to help bring A/B testing to an even wider audience, the biggest challenge for the conversion optimisation industry is that it has the potential to hinder the intelligent practice of this slowly establishing industry.

The reality is that when a product or service is free, more often than not, the end-user won’t use the product or service intelligently.

Google Analytics is a great example of this. A number of businesses who use Google Analytics “out of the box” (with little or no intelligent configuration) discover they can’t draw any meaningful insights from the data which thus limits the tool’s capabilities.

The free and simple to use Google Optimize, (where you can “test within minutes” so says one of the straplines) is potentially going to create the mindset that A/B testing is purely about speed and simplicity whilst overlooking the importance of user research, UX design, strategy, company culture, psychology and copywriting.

google optimize

The continued evolution of the UX designer

Paul Rouke, PRWD:

As experimentation becomes more established within businesses, more UX designers are being forced (if they resist) to change their approach to the design process and scientifically test how their new designs impact user behaviour.

Many UX designers (who naturally have a healthy amount of egotism about their design work) are gaining a wider perspective of how irrational users can be when making decisions and have to adjust their process accordingly.

Silos still exist

Paul Rouke, PRWD:

Working in silos is still one of the biggest issues within businesses.

For a business to embrace a culture of experimentation through testing, they have to develop ways to be more collaborative, either internally or in partnership with their agency.

CRO (conversion rate optimization) requires a multi-disciplinary team all working towards the same goal, rather than each team or department competing for resources, budgets or credit.


What else do you think has made UX waves in 2016? Let us know below.