Conversation design and grounding strategies with Jon Bloom

Conversation design and grounding strategies with Jon Bloom 1800 1200 Kane Simms

Jon Bloom, Senior Conversation Designer at Google, joins us to share what a conversation designer does at Google, as well as some conversation design techniques used at Google, such as ‘grounding strategies’.

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Conversation design and grounding strategies

Conversation design is one of the core skillsets required to create engaging and effective voice and conversational experiences. UX Mag recently wrote about how the role of conversation designer will be one of the fastest growing UX roles in 2020.

But what exactly is conversation design? And what does a conversation designer actually do?

This week, we’re joined by Jon Bloom, Senior Conversation Designer at Google to find out.

We discuss the role, what’s involved, Jon’s prior experience, the resurgence of enthusiasm in the voice community, as well as some conversation design techniques you can use to start creating engaging conversational experiences.

Conversation design techniques

One of the highlights of the conversation is Jon’s take on errors.

Within the conversation design community, most people talk about ‘error recovery’, which is recovering from situations in a conversation where things go wrong. For example, if a user asks for a pizza, and the system says ‘what flavour’, what happens when the user says a flavour that the system doesn’t have? Or if the system mishears the user?

Recovering from these situations is typically known as ‘error recover’, but Jon’s perspective is different and refreshing.

Jon mentioned that within all conversations, there are no such thing as errors. There is simply ‘grounding’.

Grounding includes anything and everything the two people do within a natural conversation in order to ensure understanding.

For example, if a user asks for a hotel room for Tuesday, the system might confirm with ‘Here’s the rooms I found for Tuesday’. Confirming that it heard Tuesday is a form of grounding.

In the pizza example, where the user asks for a flavour the system doesn’t have, the system might respond with ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have Hawaiian, but we do have farmhouse’.

These aren’t ‘errors’, they’re natural parts of human conversations and the things we do to ensure both parties are on the same page.

We get into some great detail on this with Jon, as well as plenty more conversation design techniques.

About Jon Bloom

Jon is a veteran in the conversation design space, with decades of experience working in speech recognition systems, conversational UX and natural language-based human-computer interaction.

He created the interface design process for the well renowned dictation system Dragon Dictation by Dragon Systems, before moving to SpeechWorks (acquired by Nuance) to work on conversation design for IVR phone systems and in-car speech recognition systems.

Jon then worked at Synchronoss Technologies working on analysing and improving speech recognition systems for IVR phone systems, then moved back to Nuance as a Senior User Interface Manager.

Jon currently works predominantly on the Google Assistant and is responsible for making interactions and experiences on Google Assistant as intuitive and as user friendly as possible.


Follow Jon on Twitter
Designing Voice User Interfaces by Cathy Pearl
Voice User Interface Design by James Giangola
Google’s conversation design guidelines
Google’s ‘error’ recovery guidelines (The irony isn’t lost on me that Google has called this ‘errors’, rather than ‘grounding’. Although this does include genuine system errors such as speech recognition issues)

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