The next great UX designer will be a linguist

For the last 25 years, UX design has been all about what you see on a screen. But, according to Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft), the next generation of interfaces will be based on conversation.


There’s some strong evidence to support his case: Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Facebook Messenger, Google Now and WeChat, for example.

So, how do you design the UX for conversation?


Well, the same rules still apply: it’s all about communicating the information you need, clearly and concisely.

So, how can you do that in language?

Here are 2 things to set you on the right path: the first, a story; the second, a stat.

Herbert Paul Grice was born just outside of Birmingham during the First World War. Raised in a time of chaos and reconciliation, Grice wanted to better understand the roots of discord. He turned to language, studying it during a formidable academic career – first at Oxford, and later at the University of California.


Although he died 20 years ago, his books on the philosophy of language influence our modern understanding of how language works. As well as analysing semantics, he also formulated a set of 4 ‘maxims’ for successful conversations.

Our definition of conversation has broadened since Grice created these rules. There are more communication channels with a longer reach and which never switch off. We’re in a constant conversation with people, brands and technology from the moment we wake to the moment we fall asleep. And these conversations are where brands can express their brand identity, their brand positioning, and their brand tone of voice. But Grice’s rules for a successful conversation still hold. Perhaps they are more relevant now. They are:

  • Quantity: Give as much information as is needed, and no more.
  • Quality: Be truthful. Don’t say anything you believe to be false, or that isn’t supported by evidence.
  • Relevance (‘relation’): Only say things that are pertinent to the discussion.
  • Manner: Be clear, brief and as orderly as possible. Avoid ambiguity. Don’t be obscure.

They’re a good place for any UX designer to start. And here’s a hard stat to back them up:

The US Press Association carried out a study to see how sentence length can affect comprehension. They found that shorter sentences help people to understand what you’re saying.

People understand 8-word sentences 100% of the time.

They understand 14-word sentences 90% of the time.

People understand 43-word sentences only 10% of the time.

If you didn’t follow what I was saying anywhere in this blog, the chances are the sentence was longer than 14 words.

Conversational interfaces are the next big thing, so it’s time for UX designers to understand how language works. That’s why the next great UX designer will be a linguist.

If you’re interested in understanding how language works for your product or for your brand, or how it creates brand positioning and vision statements and influences all of your brand identity, email Chris.