Designing an inclusive chatbot

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I recently completed the Designing a Feminist Chatbot course on FutureLearn. As a starter course it has a lot going for it, covering areas such as different chatbot uses, how chatbots can become biased, user centred design (UCD) principles, persona creation, conversation design, storyboarding and prototyping. Having studied UCD at degree level and worked on countless software design projects in my career this could have become a bit boring but it’s always good to revisit the basics and is especially interesting to apply existing knowledge to new problems. There were some fascinating new areas to me such as conversation design and chatbot personality design, and the course drew heavily on the Google Conversation Design Process which is a great resource in itself and has some useful canvas-style templates for guiding the development of a chatbot.

While the feminist angle was interesting, for me the course was more about developing an inclusive chatbot rather than specifically a feminist one. The taught materials focussed on UCD principles around knowing your users and designing for them, which is decades old stuff, but then added more modern topics such as understanding how biases can be surfaced and how stereotypes can be reinforced by your design. This all becomes especially important when designing conversations, characters and chatbots. I feel much better armed about inclusive chatbot design now than I do when I went into this course, so it has served its purpose well and helped me to identify some areas I’d like to dive deeper into.

The final part of the course was a coding section. Given the prevalence of no-code chatbot tools in the market this seemed a bit unnecessary. While doing this course I was also researching no-code and low-code chatbot development tools and have selected FlowXO, so I would have preferred to apply the taught materials in my tool of choice. But I’m happy that now I have some of the core principals of chatbot design and a development tool to work with, I’m ready to start doing some CPD around using chatbots for learning!

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