Why Make Bots Believable?

A little story from Aladdin’s magic carpet.

Do we all remember the good old Disney movie Aladdin? Back then, Disney showed us how believability can be translated into characters of non-human nature, with just a magic touch of human personality. If you remember Aladdin’s magic carpet you already know what I am talking about. A quote by Loyall in 1967 draws a comparison of virtual agents and the magic of personality: “Believable agents are personality-rich autonomous agents with the powerful properties of characters from the arts” (…) It is shown even more strongly by the character of the Flying Carpet in the Disney animated film Aladdin. It has no way of being realistic, it is a totally fantastic creature. In addition, it does not have many of the normal avenues of expression: it has no eyes, limbs nor even a head. It is only a carpet that can move. And yet, it has a definite personality with its own goals, motivations and motions.” (cit.)


If we think about bots, many challenges are driven around the notion of making bots truly intelligent. But what what happens if we can make them, alongside, more human-like? And this is what struck me and inspired me to dig deeper into the literature of HCI, specifically in the context of conversational agents. Merriam-Webster defines believability as capable of being believed especially as within the range of known possibility or probability.

This short text will fast forward explain why it is good to build believable bots.

Trust. In Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) studies have touched upon the notion of credibility (i.e. believability) in terms of computing products. In 1999, Fogg and Tseng have discovered that believability in general tends to be described as a perceived quality and is defined with notions such as trustworthiness and expertise.

Value. When it comes to human-bot interaction, believability can be considered through different characteristics, such as personality. Hingston in 2012 stated that bots bring more value if they operate at a human level. For example, if a bot possesses an extroverted personality, it can be referred to as the power, status, or control factor, and it ranges from dominance to submissiveness.

Bonding. As social beings, humans have the tendency to group things with common characteristics. One of these aspects is attachment or binding, and it draws from the psychology of interaction among humans, which describes the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships. So if the bots and humans have the same view of the world, we could build towards building lasting interpersonal relationships.

Higher agency. Anthropomorphism is the tendency of individuals to believe that computers are like people. A study by King and Ohya in 1996 compared the perception of human and anthropomorphic representations. Even though human forms are more appraised in icons, all of the anthropomorphic representations were judged to be more intelligent and capable of higher agency than the other stimuli presented.

Richer experiences. Also, in games, bots are rewarding in richer and more engaging experiences to players, therefore Hingston underlines the importance of believable bot behaviour by encoding psychosocial elements (such as aforementioned personality, social role awareness, emotions, etc.)

So let’s all dig into that magic that Disney showed us some years ago. If we think about it, Aladdin’s carpet seems to be very intelligent and even though it cannot speak, the carpet presents itself as very shy at the beginning, but then very loyal, romantic, funny, cheerful, and heroic (saving Aladdins life a few times here and there). So it seems that if something behaves in a human manner, we treat it as human and for that same reason, we should start building bots that are believable. Aside from making them truly intelligent and capable of understanding intents, we need bots that present personality, express emotions, and are capable of building relationships with humans. To conclude, this is why we are to design believable bots:

Believability can be perceived as trustworthy and as an expert quality.

Believable bots bring more value to humans if they operate at a human level, for example, by projecting personality.

As humans are social beings, we tend to bond with things that behave similarly to us.

As anthropomorphic agents, believable bots can be judged to be more intelligent and capable of higher agency compared to human agents.

In games, believable bots bring richer and more engaging experiences.

Thank you for reading,

Let’s talk more on Twitter (@iStefan08) and LinkedIn (/stefanmanojlovic)

Written by:

Stefan Manojlovic, UX Researcher at Bellabeat

Roll up your sleeves and convince your manager that UX Research is key

“My manager does not believe in user research — thats why we don’t do it.”

I have heard this statement so many times! Some managers may still believe that doing research is purely connected to academia. Student research projects can last from a semester (approximately 6 months) to almost four years (PhD). Don’t get me wrong — I understand where they are coming from. And it is true in a sense, research is still very predominant in academic circles, but not completely.

Like other things in life that evolve and adapt, so does research. And user research, especially in tech startups, did refreshed the view on traditional ways. Being here, you probably know why research needs to be done — but how to convince others might be a bit tricky. So here are a few tips on how to convince your boss, specifically your lead or manager, to do user experience research.

1. Research can be fast and iterative, like design.

User research still is and will be about understanding humans, their behaviour, interactions, trying to figure out why some things work better than other, etc. Doing it in a company means being iterative throughout a cyclical process in which you identify a problem and propose solutions or trends. From these proposed solutions, insight are made and delivered to the design and development team. There follows the process of sketching, prototyping and designing. These are at the end tested on a target group or internally, depending on the problem statement.

Main takeaway: Explain to your manager that UX Research can be fast and iterative, done by one person, and most importantly — that it can fit in a two-week cycle.

2. Success stories never fail

Now tell me, who doesn’t like a good example of a successful company? There is nothing wrong with telling your managers that other companies find values in doing user research — see it as a source of inspiration.

I like this example from Uber’s design researchers: “Do it early and often. When we are building products at Uber, usability and visual design helps shape the product’s story. Testing at different stages helps us refine the story by uncovering user motivations, behaviours, as well as validating the assumptions we make during the creation process.”

Main takeaway: Take examples from successful stories, study them and be ready to answer questions!

3. It’s far less expensive to prevent a problem than to fix it later

For me it’s funny how we show facts, which come from research itself. Of course, researchers write about how beneficial research is. It’s really simple, we need to find out what people want, need or wish in order to build it. Right?!

Now for a second, try to think like a manager — and this is where it gets curious. Try to talk about how much more efficiently you would work if you had the right insight insights, or how much time of post-release fixes would developers save.

There is a really good book by Clare-Marie Karat from IBM, where it is explained how every dollar spent in usability returns in development and post-release maintenance.

Main takeaway: Talk about efficiency and time put to work that prevents fixing post-release.

4. Roll up your sleeves and strategise

In this phase, you need to put your skills on the table and in a table, LITERALLY. I had to prepare in advance and think strategically what I can offer. Be prepared to use the experience from previous work and cover the details — because this is where it gets interesting. If you perhaps do not have any practical experience and you are an aspiring UX Researcher, I hope this table helps you as well.

Firstly, I made explicit the methods I feel most comfortable with, diving them into quantitative and qualitative. I additionally inserted a column differentiating the number of users that need to be involved, number of weeks, researchers and designers from the team, time, place and money (the prices are purely an indication that the more time you spend with a user the more incentive you need to provide). Of course, incentives are something that needs to be run through more people in your company so be open for those to change.

Takeaway: This is the time to show your skills and explain the work you can do with appropriate tools.

5. Show your previous impacts

Often times we (user researchers) forget that other people might not exactly get what we do. So try to show examples from previous work that YOU have directly worked on. This way you can show the details of the research: such as methodology used and time, money and resources; problems that users face and actionable insight on solutions, etc.

Keep in mind that showing examples from your previous work might stimulate others to think of their own examples. It is important to open a discussion.

Takeaway: let your manager connect to your work by showing previous examples, where you had a direct impact.

I hope this read will help and I hope to hear some of your stories as well. 🙂

Follow Stories of a UX Researcher

Going beyond activity tracking apps: Bellabeat’s reimagined experience

by Stefan Manojlovic

Hello everybody!

This is the first time I have ever written a post of this kind (and no, it is not sponsored). I would like to share a few lines of pure love towards a product. Maybe product is the wrong word, lets call it reimagined user experience. I am dedicating this post to a Croatian start-up company called Bellabeat, specifically talking about the Leaf.

Bellabeat is a well-being and physical activity app that tracks steps, sleep, meditation, cycles and stress. It focuses on daily goals and it helps keeping track of your progress. Overall, it is targeted for a female audience. For me, the Bellabeat Leaf was not a “love-at-first-sight” kind of thing. It was more a “I want you, but we can’t be together right now” type of relationship. Finally I caved and bought the Bellabeat Leaf after months of hesitation.

Why did I hesitate?

Firstly, I was held back by the price of these kind of gadgets. I am not talking in the range of very expensive Apple watches, but still talking a price range of 80–200$ a device. There are also free apps like the Facebook Moves, but the limitation with these is that they show data with just infographics or metrics. What does it mean for me to walk 10.000 steps? What will I get with that? The goals these apps set are not personalised and the data represented is not meaningful. Secondly, I didn’t know how I felt about activity trackers in general. I felt no need to join the exceeded need for people to measure their own steps. No thank you! However, the novelty effect of this designed piece of technology is booming. As mentioned on Wearable: “trackers industry is set to almost triple from one valued at $2 billion in 2014, to $5.4 billion by 2019”. This finding really spiked my interest. Because if something is trending, there will be many companies who have the intuition to ‘jump into the wagon’ to the way of success. Such as Fitbit, Misfit, Habito, Jawbone, Garmin, Mio, Moov, Xiaomi… and my list goes on and on and on.

Some logos of already known activity trackers

Being in the tech field, I see many companies and products ‘hopping on the wagon’, only to fall off a bit later.. For me, it is not about ‘jumping into that wagon’, but about if this technology helps and supports the user at the end of day. This is the point where it hit me: The Leaf was more than a tracking device. Not only is an amazingly designed smart jewellery, but it also makes activity fun and personal.

So here is my story. I could talk about this for days, but I will introduce you to 4 main points I would like to address with this article. The Leaf, which is a tracking device for activity, sleep, stress and cycle, is doing a good job from a user experience perspective.

1. Devices that track data are not sexy, the Leaf is

Look at the Leaf! No really, please take a moment at look at it. Finishing details, shapes, colors, materials, size. This is just amazing. I don’t where the concept of the Leaf came from, but it just makes sense. The kind of designs, which combine ‘looks and feels’ with ‘functionality’ for me are the best ones. Compared to other trackers, it does not have a screen! Thank you Leaf for that, thank you for increasing people’s acceptance to technology just by removing screens. Sometimes innovation can be in the anti-innovation (shout out to Serena)! Plus, it is fashionable and it comes with different sorts of utensils to play around. Devices that look sexy and work well, that is the right way to go!

Another point is that for me (and according to Time Magazine) walking and running are definitely not sexy. Dancing, scuba diving, surfing, those activities sound cool. What Bellabeat does is offer the baseline of walking and running, but extending with a wider range of physical activities. For example, I use it to track my yoga workout.

Add activity screen.

2. Match between the system and the real world

The system speaks the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user. It feels friendly, nice and pleasant. Research has shown that it is not only me who thinks a personal voice is needed in technology. More research is conducted on the subject of AI (artificial intelligence) and personalised technology every day (just think about Google’s personal assistant in the Pixel).

Sleep feedback — goals and recommendations.

3. Personalisation is key

I believe that among other UX goals (like usability, user friendliness, etc.), personalisation is KEY. We should stop thinking that one size fits all. Standardisation is the past, personalisation is now. Bellabeat is targeting its products for a more female audience (but this did not stop me in buying the Leaf!). Among multiple features in the app, users can also track their menstruation. Brilliant idea! This conforms to the wide range of the audience, making it very standardised within the group, but personal among other groups. In addition, the Bellabeat uses personalisation to learn from the user’s data. Personalisation is important in order to boost user’s motivation, build loyalty, create a long-term engagement, and so much more. We need to personalise the user experience. For example, one of the most powerful screens (and my personal favourite) about the whole concept is definitely the one below: — “Leaf is learning from you”.

Personalisation is very difficult to do, but personally is the key to UX, the ultimate goal, the cherry on top, the icing on the cake.

Daily overview and feedback messages (left) and my favourite screen (right)

4. Positive reinforcement

Among personalisation, in order for the design to trigger or advocate behaviour change we need to use positive reinforcement. Usually in activity apps (where people don’t always comply to physical activity or lack easily in motivation), positive reinforcement helps the user by giving a virtual tap on the shoulder. What is actually tricky about this topics is the misuse of positive reinforcement. I believe that only thorough user research we can explore the right balance, or maybe even the right combination. For example — what I personally appreciated is actually not just positive reinforcement, but the its combination with context.

(btw I was called “Queen of activity” … and I secretly enjoyed it.)

Positive reinforcement in combination with context (running)

I could write more on how Bellabeat does a good job. Of course, there is always room of improvement, for example — as a user — I did not feel I have a complete control over the app. I could only track when my goal was achieve but I could not increase it. I reached my goal after 20 min of walking, and I wanted to challenge myself to do more (after 2 months I discovered the setting was somewhere hidden). I want to set-up bigger and realistic goals. The list could also go on.

To end this incredibly long post, I would like to recommend the Leaf as a user but also a user-experience professional. If you are hesitating to buy one (like I was) I hope this article helps you make up your mind. Or whichever device you buy, make sure it suits and supports your needs in the best way possible. Who knows what the future holds for Bellabeat, but I believe that they pretty much nailed the needs and wishes of their users, by creating the Leaf and Bellabeat app.

I hope you enjoyed the read. Btw, have you seen their newest release, the SHELL? I can’t wait to buy it… oh, but wait.


Twitter: iStefan08

LinkedIn: https://nl.linkedin.com/in/stefanmanojlovic

UXcampNL madness: bridging the gaps and becoming UX unicorns

Dear readers,

If you want to know more about the most awesome UX event in the world, you are at the right place!

UXcampNL tradition goes back to the year 2009; being the first one of its kind in the Netherlands, more specifically in Eindhoven. This year I had the honour to be part of the organising committee, so let me tell you more about it.

UX (user experience) camp is an “unconference”, born from the desire to bring together the industry and academic communities to share knowledge in an open environment. It is present in many places, such as UXcampEurope (Germany), UXcampDublin(Ireland), UXcampNL and UXcampAmsterdam (The Netherlands), UXcampBrighton(UK), UXcampCopenhagen (Denmark) and many more.

UXcampNL is known to be a completely free and open environment, a safe place to share ideas, projects or even challenges. Participants come from different parts of the world and bring with them a baggage of various UX (and non-UX) knowledge. They themselves are the ones who shape the event by giving talks or facilitating workshops. To make it even better, the variety of talks presented at UXcampNL is always depicted. This year, the variety can be seen from the titles of our 3 best talk awards:

  • 1st prize: “How to combine design methods with agile and remain sane” (by Den Tsekrovnyi — @dtserkovnyi)
  • 2nd prize: “Introvert’s guide to user research” (by Maria Leonova@marys_point)
  • 3rd prize: “UX & robotics: bridging the gap” (by Nina Buchina — @METiger)

This year, some of our sponsors had the opportunity to expose their shining talent(s). We invited Mirabeau and StudyPortals (two awesome companies everyone should check out) to take part in workshops.

Mirabeau shined in explaining the secret of their wireframing, calling it: “Breaking the Fairy Tale of Wireframes”. StudyPortals on the other hand, shined in “A Grand Experiment (of 50 minutes ;)) in Multidisciplinary Teamwork” (*we heard about the paper plane challenge StudyPortals, smart move*).

As a new addition to the UXcampNL, we organised the panel discussion. We had the joy to invite Karin Slegers (KU Leuven), Gabriela Braga (IBM) and Ivor Grisel (TU/e) for an intriguing one-hour discussion. Topics varied from current hypes in the UX, future concerns and fears, tips and suggestions and many more.

Some of the questions posed by the audience were: What will be the next big move in UX? And what are the biggest challenges experts face in everyday work? Are we going become UX cyborg designers and/or UX drone researchers?

Aside than having fear about the unknown future, participants were interested in the panelist’s job experience, specifically “How do we bridge gaps between design and engineering, or design and research? How can everyone be on the same page and speak the same language?”

This event wouldn’t be possible without an amazing team of hard-working and passionate people. The organisers are UX professionals from the User-System Interaction (USI) programme at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). Add them and to talk to them, give them some love. 🙂

To recap, I had the honour to be part of the UXcampNL and experience…

… a total of 200+ reserved tickets

… so many nationalities and disciplines

… UX Designers, UX Researchers, Front-End Developers and many more

6 organisers and 8 volunteers

9 amazing sponsors

16 talks, 3 workshops, 3 members of the panel discussion

… A lot, a lot, a lot of energy, enthusiasm and fun

To conclude, I feel that people in this community are ready to change the world of UX. I saw people with stories and passions, ready to show their superpowers. Coming back to the title, we are not ready to become UX unicorns, but we already are (*). As a personal note, I would like to encourage everybody to start the UX camp initiative in your town or even country. It is amazing to discover and come across different stories and experiences. If in doubt, I am more than willing join the conversation!

A big shout out to Gabriela Braga, she inspired me to write this article. Thank you, Gabi!

For more info visit http://www.uxcamp.nl/ and follow us everywhere (@UXcampNL).

Enjoy your day!


“Humans are driven by the right combination of emotion and reason, at a particular point in time.”

“Humans are driven by the right combination of emotion and reason, at a particular point in time.” (IBM Innovation Jams)

Hi all,

Not long time ago I had a chance to assist an Innovation Jam from IBM in Dublin, where 3 amazing UX Designers from IBM Design where presenting the “IBM Design Thinking”. First of all, I am myself in the UX field, so the term Design Thinking was not new, however, I found some interesting points that I would like to share with you.

If you take a look at the logo (the infinite icon, or an 8 rotated for 90 degrees) there are three points, two at the extremes and one in the middle, all joined together. These three points represent the “observe — reflect — make”, which makes the basis of the design thinking principle, and the joint is the iteration of the agile development.

Design thinking has been around for a while now, used by many companies to innovate their businesses. In these cases, DT (design thinking) can vary from model to model. Some define phases such asunderstand, explore, prototype and evaluate (this one comes from IBMactually)… others have a much detailed focus (ex. Liedka — Design Thinking for Business Innovation). Typically tools used in these processes are very “user needs” focused, whereas IBM take into account also user’semotional part. Still being user-centred tools such as “Customer Empathy Maps, Persona Building, As — If Scenarios” are used to build aSTORY of a user, taking into account not only the needs, but also what he/she thinks, feels, sees and hears.

Usually, if I think about design thinking, I am always afraid that the process is too static, almost like a waterfall, a step-by-step guide, which professionals tend to follow. Here, however, comes into play theagile methodology, where professionals or experts use iterativeprocesses (go through different iterations) to try out new or improved concepts. Through these iterations, come into play the user and/or other stakeholders (since we are designing for them, not to forget), which enriches the process itself.


(A) They are taking into account users’ emotions, thoughts, etc.

(B) They are not being static, but rather iterative.

To reflect upon the whole experience I was really glad I could be a part of it. However, they ended the workshop by saying “Humans are driven by emotion, not by reason”, which I totally agreed at the time (……. 5 weeks ago). If you ask me today, I would partly disagree. Why?

From my experience, the outcomes of such processes are not always one-directional. They tend to be rich in diversity of input, which is sometimes very difficult to prioritise when creating the concept. Coming back to the statement, I believe that the winning factor is this exact relationship between these two aspects, EMOTION and REASON, in a certain time slot. So, I would like to end by rephrasing the quote:

“Humans are driven by the right combination of emotion and reason, at a particular point in time.”

Thanks for your time,


How can we translate expression into objects? — Fast prototyping in the “fuzzy” front-end


I will start by saying the fuzzy front-end of a design process is the very initial phase of exploration, brainstorming and idea generation where the result is not clear (in my words: “I learn by doing and consequently, I will grow something out of it: could be a building, could be a letter”).

By this task, I was quite intrigued by the movement of the pupil since it is really mysterious. It can dilate due to related emotions, substances, light/darkness, etc. Being part of a Masters in IT Product Design helped think quickly through rough prototypes. This project was done in 2 two days and the results could differ from obvious expectations.

DAY1: In the first day, the endless exploration of my pupil’s behaviour and research on digital platforms was needed in order to create a context of understanding of the expression. Given the chance to have some entities such as LED, servo motor, Arduino Leonardo, an elastic hairband and tons of bricks of LEGO, the exploration started. The aim of the day is to try to replicate an opening/closing effect of the pupil. To translate this action on a tangible surface was complex since for me it didn’t create any meaning. Looking at a video of a pupil made me think of what are the possible reasons for it to dilate, looking at the prototype I could only hear the sound of a servo motor trying to break my elastic hairband.

DAY2: On the second day I took a different approach. Rather than understanding/exploring the pupil on myself and the digital platform, I started to concentrate on what this prototype looks like. Maybe it is my “design mind”, but I needed to make the rough prototype look at least like an eye to help me engage with it. After some laser cutting and foam modelling, I tried to replicate my eye, putting the elastic band on (what was supposed to be) the Iris to evidence more the “ergonomics” of the movement. After this stage, I was ready to study a smooth, a fast and a “normal” movement. This step definitely helped in understanding why such movement is related to what factor, and it finally triggered my reflection like the video in Day1 did.

The purpose of the fast prototyping in the initial stage made me realise to what extension and which factors I need to include in translating an expression into a prototype, such as smoothness/roughness of the movement, the placement/position of the desired component and how can we help trigger reflection by simple form-giving. Most importantly, it made me realise how a simple elastic hairband move can trigger reflections and imagination. It took me in scenarios of what if this tangible was facing running in tunnels of dark/bright spaces or if maybe wake up after a good night sleep. This method of Fast prototyping in the “fuzzy” front end helped further exploration in engaging with the expression and elaborating them into tangibles. This turned out to affect positively the thinking of expression-movement-object in later on design development.