Eight Principles of Conversational Design

Using human conversation patterns to design more natural digital interactions

Maya Hampton
Published in
8 min readNov 6, 2019


silhouette of man and woman sitting on ottoman
Photo: Etienne Boulanger/Unsplash

WeWe increasingly rely on digital systems to either mediate or replace human communications. But often, these experiences feel clunky and impersonal, or even scammy and deceptive.

Asking Alexa to add something to my shopping cart is a breeze:

“Hey Alexa, add bananas to my shopping list.”

“Okay, I’ve added bananas to your shopping list.”

But if I want to add 10 things to my list, I have to ask Alexa again to add each individual item.

“Alexa, add peanut butter to my shopping list.”

“Okay, I’ve added peanut butter to your shopping list.”

“Alexa, add strawberry jam to my shopping list.”

“Okay, I’ve added strawberry jam to your shopping list.”

“Alexa, add whole wheat bread to my shopping list.”


Alexa’s limited recall means I have to repeatedly call her name and tell her the context again, which results in a very unnatural conversation and makes me wonder if it would have been quicker just to write down the list myself.

While voice interactions and other digital interfaces often use cutting edge technology, if the design is too constrained by the application logic, it can strain the experience of the humans that use them. The key to designing interactions that feel more human is to follow the core principles of human interactions and conversations.

Systems are ubiquitous, and we rely on them to do to more and more. Having multiple interfaces and systems to interact with (voice, text, website, on location) makes it more complicated to exchange value. Regular context-switching means interfaces need to be as simple, intuitive, and as similar as possible, to avoid a disjointed experience for customers.

The challenge for designers is to make interactions with digital systems feel less robotic and more personal, creating systems that succeed on human terms.

The key to designing interactions that feel more human is to…



Maya Hampton
Writer for

Digital professional, creative life. Product manager for design systems at REI.