A Model-Driven Approach for Multi-experience Development Platforms

Modern User Interfaces (UIs) are becoming complex software artifacts themselves, through integration of AI-enhanced software components that enable even more natural interactions, including the possibility to use Natural Language Processing (NLP) via chatbots or voicebots (aka., Conversational User Interfaces or CUIs).

Some times, several types of UIs are combined as part of the same application (e.g. a chatbot in a web page), what it is known as Multiexperience User Interface. These multiexperience UIs may be built together by using a Multiexperience Development Platform (MXDP).

“Multiexperience development involves ensuring a consistent user experience across web, mobile, wearable, conversational and immersive touchpoints”. [Gartner]

A typical scenario of multiexperience user interaction could unroll as follows (see image below too). Suppose that a customer on a Sunday morning wants to buy a new technical product (a cell phone or a home theater system). He first interacts with his home assistant (like Alexa or Google assistant) to ask it to find the best nearby tech store open on Sunday. With this information in mind, he looks at the store web site on his PC and, being satisfied with the kind of store, he asks the web site chatbot to find the type of products he is looking for. After browsing the various alternatives, he finds one item he likes, and sets the place and the product as preferences on his mobile phone. He reads the details of the product on the phone while walking to his car. When he reaches the car, he transfers the information about the place to the car navigation system and drives there. Finally, in the stores he looks around, tries various items, reads the reviews about them on a dedicated mobile app, and finally picks up the product and pays for it.

This kind of dynamic and seamless interaction demands a variety of complex design and implementation mechanisms to be put in place. Clearly, also very critical integration, evolution, and maintenance challenges need to be faced for these CUIs. Developers need to handle the coordination of the cognitive services to build multiexperience UIs, integrate them with external services, and worry about extensibility, scalability, and maintenance.

We believe a model-driven approach for MXDP could be an important first step towards facilitating the specification of rich UIs able to coordinate and collaborate to provide the best experience for end-users. Indeed, most non-trivial systems adhere to some kind of model-based philosophy, where software design models (including GUI models) are transformed into the production code the system executes at run-time. This transformation can be (semi)automated in some cases.

Our recent research tackles the application of model-driven techniques to the development of software applications embedding a multiexperience UI.

The research has been published in our recent paper Towards a Model-Driven Approach for Multiexperience AI-based User Interfaces, co-authored by Elena PlanasGwendal DanielMarco Brambilla and Jordi Cabot, recently published in the International Journal on Software and Systems Modeling (SoSyM) available online here (open access).

The paper contribution is twofold:

  • we raise the abstraction level used in the definition of this new kind of conversational and smart interfaces.
  • we show how these CUI models can be used in conjunction with more “traditional” GUI models to combine the benefits of all these different types of interfaces in a multiexperience development project.

In practice, we propose a new Domain Specific Language (DSL), that generalizes the one defined by the Xatkit model to cover all types of CUIs, and we show how this seamlessly integrates with appropriate extensions of the IFML model to design comprehensive multi-experience interfaces.

IFML model integrating traditional navigation of a web interface and a chatbot component.

You can refer to the full paper here for covering the details. The paper reference is:

Planas, E., Daniel, G., Brambilla, M., Cabot, J. Towards a model-driven approach for multiexperience AI-based user interfaces. Software and System Modeling (SoSyM) 20, 997–1009 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10270-021-00904-y

(open access, CC-BY license)

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