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Multimodal Design: Elements, Examples and Best Practices

Elena Mitsiou
•  22.03.2024
Have you ever wondered how technology adapts to the way we naturally communicate and interact? Multimodal design is at the heart of this fascinating evolution, transforming user interfaces by embracing multiple modes of interaction, such as voice, text, and haptic feedback.

The core aim of multimodal design is to elevate user interaction and engagement with systems, making technology more intuitive and user-friendly.

In this article, we’ll dive into the essence of multimodal design, its key elements and types, as well as provide examples and best practices for mastering it.

What is Multimodal Design?

multimodal design

Multimodal design is a method of crafting UI experiences with the incorporation of multiple modes of interaction such as voice, text, or haptic feedback. The main goal of the multimodal design is to enhance the interaction as well as engagement of the user with the system.

Multimodal design taps into the various ways that users intuitively communicate and interact to create more natural interactions.

Hence, instead of using only a mouse or a keyboard to produce traditional outputs to communicate with a system, multimodal interaction revolves around the idea of using a host of sensory inputs and outputs. For instance, this can be voice commands or gestures.

This comes back to the idea of creating more intuitive interactions between humans and computers, offering the user the chance to give and receive information using the mode that best reflects their needs or abilities. Multimodal design and interaction find applications in a range of fields such as VR, AR, and HCI where the multiple sensory inputs and outputs can enhance the user experience and craft immersive experiences.

Multimodal VS Multichannel Experiences

Multimodal experiences should not be confused with the concept of multichannel experiences as those two are two distinct approaches to designing user experiences.

On the one hand, a multimodal experience revolves around the different ways that the user can communicate with a system, using, for example, their voice or gestures, all within a single interaction. The multimodal experience aims to create an immersive experience where the user can pick and choose the sensory inputs or outputs that best fit their needs.

On the other hand, a multichannel experience is all about providing the customer with different communication options so that they can choose their preferred communication method. For instance, a business might include channels such as live chats, emails, or phone calls to interact with their users. Multichannel experiences aim to create enhanced communication between the customer and the business.

Multimodal Design Elements

multimodal design elements

Here are the main components of the multimodal design:

Input Modalities

Input modalities refer to the various ways a user can interact with a system. In the context of multimodal design, these go beyond traditional modes of inputs like the mouse or keyboard and include:

  • voice commands
  • touch
  • gestures
  • motion
  • facial expressions

For example, a system designed using multiple modalities might permit the user to fill in a form using their mouse and keyboard or voice commands. As a rule of thumb, the greater the range of input modalities, the more intuitive and immersive an experience can feel.

Output Modalities

On the other hand, output modalities refer to modes in which information is presented to the user. Again, in the context of multimodal design, this can take a combination of more traditional forms like text or graphics blended with more innovative ones such as haptic feedback, sounds, or even speech.

For instance, in the example of filling in a form that we used previously, the user might experience a vibration or a sound when the form is completed as a confirmation along with a text message.

Context

Context is a quintessential component of the multimodal design as the designer needs to take into consideration the context of use with factors such as the user preferences, and the capabilities of the different devices.

By considering those parameters, the designer can craft multimodal experiences that can adapt dynamically creating immersive and engaging experiences at all times.

Importance of Multimodal Design for User Experience

multimodal design

Multimodal design can significantly contribute to an enhanced user experience. Along with the evolution of technology, the possibilities of multimodal design can only grow leading to more immersive and tailored user experiences.

Higher Engagement

Multimodal design incorporates an array of input and output modalities bringing all of the senses into the experience of using a system. This contributes to a far more engaging and immersive that in turn leads to higher engagement and enhanced user satisfaction.

Better Communication

The combination of different modalities can work wonders when it comes to conveying information efficiently. Sounds and visual cues can nicely complement a written message or a graphic, making the information not only easier to understand but also easier to remember.

Improved Accessibility

Multimodal design can contribute to enhanced accessibility by accommodating different user preferences and abilities. As mentioned earlier in this article, multimodal design offers an array of input and output modalities that can cater to the unique needs of users with impairments.

Hence, this design approach can be the answer to a more inclusive and flexible design of user experience solutions.

Inutitive Interaction

By tapping into different modes of communication, multimodal design can enable a more intuitive conversation between the human and the system.

Users are given the option to interact more naturally with the computer and in turn, the computer can respond in a more user-friendly way that suits the distinctive needs of the user in a particular context.

Tailor-made user experiences

One of the main benefits of multimodal design is that it gives the users the unique opportunity to choose from an array of interaction methods and find the one that best fits their needs at that particular time. Hence, multimodal design can be the epitome of more personalized and tailor-made user experiences that meet and exceed user expectations.

Single VS Complex Multimodal Design

Multimodal design revolves around leveraging diverse modalities for enhanced user experiences, with a focus on sophistication and simplicity.

In a single multimodal design, there is only a specific set of modalities combined for a particular purpose whereas a complex multimodal design goes a step further by leveraging different modalities for different purposes within the same context.

Here are some examples that showcase the difference in the two types of design:

Example of a Single Multimodal Design: The Smart Home Assistant

multimodal design example, smart home assistant

Siri Smart Home Assistant, Source

Single multimodal design offers a more enhanced user experience by the means of streamlining or simplifying the user experience. A great example of this is a voice interactive smart home assistant.

Users can mainly interact through voice commands and receive an audio response that informs them of the outcome. Users can enter their houses and turn on the lights and the heating by telling the system to do so using their voices. The option of typing it is also available but the voice command hugely simplifies the interaction in this context.

Example of a Complex Multimodal Design: The VR Headset

multimodal design example: oculus VR headset

Oculus VR headset, Source.

While single multimodal design focuses on simplicity, complex multimodal design is centered around the sophistication of the user experience.

A great example of a complex multimodal design is the use of VR headsets. In the context of the virtual reality context, the user interacts with the system using hand gestures, voice commands, haptic commands, and text inputs. In this scenario, different modalities are used for different interactions to make the whole experience more intuitive and sophisticated.

Best Practices for Creating Multimodal Designs

multimodal design

If you are looking to create an engaging multimodal design that truly leverages the co-existent of different input and output modalities, then here are a few of our top tips and best practices to keep in mind:

Combine Conversation and UX Design

One of the best practices when it comes to creating engaging multimodal designs is to combine conversational interfaces within your UX design. To ensure a spotless execution, one of our top tips is to make the voice commands feel like an extension of the interface and not as an awkward add-on, promoting a more coherent user experience.

Focus on Accessibility

When crafting multimodal design interfaces do not forget to laser focus on accessibility. The driver of using multiple modalities within the interface is not to showcase the capabilities of the system but rather to leverage them making the interaction more accessible and easy to use.

When choosing the different modalities, take into consideration any accessibility needs or impairments that the users might be working with to ensure an inclusive and accessible user experience.

User Experience is Key

Like with every other approach to design, user experience is the king. Tempting as it might be to start adding different modalities to your design start by understanding the needs and expectations of your users.

Conduct user research to gather insights to understand how intuitive or effective each of the modalities is before choosing which of those to incorporate into your design. Finally, make sure the final design is functional but also easy to use!

Depending on the type of product you’re creating, you may want to start your research with user interviews and moderated usability tests to see how exactly they interact with the product. To run and analyze those tests you’ll need a remote UX research tool like UXtweak!

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Context-Aware Design

As we’ve seen earlier, context is one of the key elements of multimodal design so implementing context-aware design principles is of utmost importance.

Before designing your multimodal solution ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the various contexts in which the design will operate as well as the capabilities of the different devices that the design will be used with. Finally, tailor the design to dynamically adapt to these different scenarios.

Clear Communication

Designing with multiple modalities can be messy so make sure the communication between the user and the system is clear and consistent. If the output is conveyed via different modalities e.g. text, graphics, and audio, ensure that the messages complement each other and that are all aligned to reduce ambiguity and cognitive load of the users.

Finally, the user needs to know what to expect, so clear guidance is also the alpha and the omega here.

To sum up

The evolution of technology has revolutionized design and user interaction. Multimodal design, whether single or complex, is a product of this evolution and it revolves around leveraging different modalities to create immersive user experiences.

By incorporating multimodal design into their workflow, designers have a unique opportunity to create simple and at the same time sophisticated interactions that are intuitive and mimic real human-to-human interactions.

Just like with any other design, user testing is crucial here. Don’t forget to evaluate your multimodal designs and their usability with users!

UXtweak is here to help you with that. Register for your free account and try in today! 

FAQ: Multimodal Design

What is an example of multimodal design?

A great example of a multimodal design is a voice-controlled smart home assistant. The user entering their home can give voice commands to the system to perform certain tasks such as switching on the light or putting the music on!

The system would in turn respond with audio feedback but also by actioning the tasks creating an immersive multimodal user experience.

What is multimodal interaction design?

Multimodal interaction design is a design method where multiple modes of interaction are available to facilitate the interaction between a human and a system. The main goal of multimodal interaction design is to create accessible and immersive user interactions that feel intuitive and natural.

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