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Designing a chatbot to empower small business owners.

Zeitgold is a Berlin-based startup, striving to empower small business owners (cafe owners, barbershops etc.) to easily manage their administrative tasks such as payroll and bookkeeping. For about 2 months I worked remotely in of one of Zeitgold’s product teams to create designs for 3 advanced features, including a chatbot interface for complex operations.

Starting this project, I felt somewhat uneasy about doing UX work remotely - after all it requires constant communication and lots of collaboration. To my relief, the Product Owner and myself quickly figured out a great workflow that enabled us to iterate on a daily basis and produce high-quality features with very little impact on our effectiveness. The secret was that every day we had 1.5 hours blocked for collaborative work. Using Zoom.us for video and screen sharing, we used the time to be each other’s thought partners, discussing how the new features could work. After each day’s session I would dive into the designs and implement the changes, so that we could discuss them again the next day. We both enjoyed such consistent cadence of iterations very much.

Since the company didn’t have a well-documented UI library, I tried to use as many existing design components as possible, creating new components only if that was truly necessary. After uploading the designs to Zeplin, I would then typically get feedback from head of design, as well as the front-end developers. Zeplin has a fantastic commenting feature, which allowed us to organize all our discussions.

Designing the chatbot interface was particularly interesting, as it was my first project of this kind. First, the reason why we ended up going for a chatbot interface, was because we were dealing with a feature that required the user to keep tabs on numerous unresolved items - each requiring its own resolution workflow. Some of such workflows could be automatic and instantaneous, while others required a human input and were asynchronous. Chatbot interface was a perfect medium that catered to all the various use cases with the same approach, minimizing the learning requirements on the user. Moreover, it was also an opportunity to make dealing with complex administrative issues feel fun and light.

Starting with a conceptual flowchart, we first mapped out all the various branches, and subbranches of the experience. While some were straight-forward, others needed more research. 

Then we started to create simple ‘sketches’ of the conversations that would unfold under each branch and sub-branch. Perhaps it was too early to jump into something as polished-looking, but I downloaded the Facebook Messenger UI Kit for Sketch, and started to mock those conversations directly using those UI components. It took the PO and myself over a week of iterations to eventually arrive at a solution that included all the business logic, legal requirements and felt like something we could show to the users.

Reading NNG guide to designing chatbot interfaces and other literature on the subject helped me to get confirmation that generally we were following all the best practices, as well as get answers to questions like what we should do with action buttons once the user has already clicked on them. Should we keep them active and allow the user to change their mind, or deactivate them and enable the user to change their mind in some other way? Reading has helped us to understand that ‘If your chatbot employs buttons, users will scroll back and try to use the buttons again. This has been proven time and time again in various user tests. While you shouldn’t expect everyone to scroll back to look for buttons, a good chunk of users will, and accordingly, you should keep those buttons functional.’ 3 other things that we changed to follow best practices were 1) We disclosed in the beginning that this was a bot 2) We added a way to reengage the conversation, after it has come to an end 3) We showed users a face-like illustration instead of Zeitgold icon, as - according to NNG research - doing so has been shown to lead to a better engagement.

Overall, it was a very exciting project during which I really enjoyed to learn more about remote work, chat interfaces and one of the most effective designer-PO dynamics.

Thank you for reading! Here are other projects you might find interesting to learn about:

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