Disney have been anthropomorphising inanimate objects since the 1950s. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object. Creating human personality and traits of something that is not typically human creates trust and believability and this is something that I feel is important when we create chatbots, digital assistants and digital agents.
People these days don’t mind sharing their information or data with chatbots so long as they feel that they are getting value from them. In June 2017 Woebot was launched. Woebot, one of the first chatbots of its kind, is powered by artificial intelligence not to tackle people’s deepest problems, but to improve their mood, and even alleviate symptoms of depression. It has been a great success and it never pretends to be a human. It does however show human traits which endear it to its users, its personality is a combination of Mr Spock’s logic and Kermit the Frog’s compassion. Woebot is a great example of anthropomorphism and shows that if you invest time in creating a personality for a chatbot, that people will not mind using it, conversing with it or sharing data.
So what can we learn from Disney?
They have understood for decades that personality is about more than being human, it is about showing vulnerability, passion, trustworthiness and likability. When you are thinking about the user flows for your chatbot, also start to think about its personality, should it be playful, steadfast, funny or straight to the point?
As you can see in the illustration above by Preson Blair, a Disney animator who started in the 1930s and went on to work on “The Flintstones” there are certain rules to adhere to when making an animated character “cute”. It is worth thinking about what it is your chatbot is trying to achieve and more importantly who are the users that it is serving. These are the five questions you should consider when designing your chatbot’s personality:
- What is their motivation for using it?
- What type of mood might they be in?
- How are they feeling emotionally?
- What environment will they be in when they are using it?
- What device will they be using?
Once you have considered these questions you can start to understand the personality that is required, then it is very important to test your ideas, one way to do this is to write two versions of the chatbot, one with personality and one without… How do people react differently to the two bots? If you ask the right questions of your user group, this insight can be vital when finalising your chatbot’s personality.
But don’t force personality where it is not needed. Some time ago I was working on a website who’s primary audience was young teens and our client was adamant that the whole look and feel would appeal to kids. This is completely unnecessary, just look at sites like Facebook and Bebo, they are not “kiddified” they are simple and easy to use and let the content itself appeal to the audience.