3 Design Challenges Faced by UI-free Chat App Developers

April 5, 2016 - 3 minutes read

AI mobile app developer

For many mobile app developers, designing simple chat bots is just a step on the path to mastering your programming language of choice. Base-level “artificial intelligence” in the form of task-oriented bots has been a feature of computer science since the beginning. (Just take a look at Twitter, where over 23 million user accounts are automated bots.)

Well, it turns out those conversational skills may prove useful for more than just proving your JavaScript mastery. Conversational (or “invisible”) apps are beginning to take off among mobile developers and mainstream users, as big names like Facebook and Amazon push their own brands of AI assistants that live on top of existing platforms.

Here are a few of the biggest challenges facing Chicago mobile app developers as they experiment with UI-free app design:

1. Discoverability

Discoverability isn’t easy when it comes to mobile UI design — but it’s even harder for conversational apps, where your only tool is the conversational interaction between user, bot, and database. Rather than thinking visually as a designer, developers have to consider psychology and social standards. Libraries like Wit are cropping up left and right to help parse intent from complex, unpredictable user input. However, there’s still far to go before digital products begin trumping the Turing Test.

2. Branding & personality

Startups like Digit that live exclusively in SMS or messaging apps face an uphill fight establishing a visual identity. Beyond a profile picture and sign-up page, 99% of app interactions will come in the form of raw text. Again, creating personality through the subtleties of wording is often the designer’s only tool. (Hopefully “millennial bots” like Microsoft’s Tay that play on Internet slang will quickly become played out.)

3. User flow

Slowly but surely, best practices are beginning to emerge for how mobile app developers can guide their users through the “flow” of their app experience. Startups like Meekan, for example, quickly found that introductory and suggestive reminders were necessary. Users are unpredictable, and even when handed a “calendar app,” prone to enter nonsensical or confused input to test the bot.

Clearly, mobile app developers need to account for user curiosity as much as bot functionality as we move forward with mainstream conversational apps.

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