Conversation Designers: who are they and what do they do?
Conversation Designers will make up the next wave of digital jobs and just like you, I didn’t really know they existed until I became one myself. So here’s what I do all day + a few tips on how to become a good Conversation Designer.
How it all started
I remember my boss’ email asking if “we have a Twitter person in the house?” I was 18 years old and I had just started working part-time at a small agency. Because I was the youngest hire, I was suddenly in charge of our company’s Twitter account and its 4 followers.
Around 2010, when digital jobs first became a thing, there weren’t any concrete job descriptions. There were no social media agencies, digital strategists, online marketing managers or UX designers, and there certainly weren’t any written requirements for those jobs. As one of the earliest social media managers, I was a part of this wonderful digital wave and lucky enough to ride it too. I went from being “that Twitter girl” (and growing the account to +1200 followers in just a few months) to social media manager, to content creator, to copywriter, to UX copywriter, and most recently, Conversation Designer.
With the current rise of chat- and voice bots, it feels like we’re right back in that familiar water. Who will create them? What will they sounds like? What dialogs will they follow? Who will craft their personalities? What happens when they fail? Who is responsible for all this?
Enter Conversation Designers.
So what is conversation design?
Before I can explain what I do at work all day (besides drinking way too much coffee and sharing silly GIFs), we need to tackle the three pillars of conversation design: conversation, design, and technology. Oh, and perhaps I can quickly explain what a chatbot is too.
A conversation is any sort of interactive communication between two or more parties in which ideas, thoughts or information are being exchanged. Conversations are not always verbal — they can happen by sending text messages, emailing, or even sharing notes in class.
To design a conversation means that you craft a digital language for your bot, based on how humans would communicate in real life, taking in account human voice and natural language. You also need to create the flow, which are the paths your conversation can take.
The technology behind chatbots is called NLP, or Natural Language Processing. NLP is a field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that allows a computer to process and understand human language. It’s pretty complicated and I’m in daily awe of the people who take care of this at Chatlayer.ai.
A chatbot is a software tool anybody can talk to using normal language, kinda like a digital human agent. They’re often added to a website for asking standard questions or qualifying leads — you know, those little blobs that pop up in the lower right hand corner of a website — but they also live on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Chatbots are built by Conversation Designers
Now that you understand the basic elements of a chatbot, it’s the Conversation Designer’s job to design the conversation between a chatbot and its user, with the goal to make it feel as natural as possible and getting more done with fewer taps and clicks. They craft the chatbot’s personality, curate the conversation, design its conversational flows and write the most appropriate dialogs for each of these flows — creating the best possible user experience.
It’s kinda like being a UX designer, script writer and psychologist — all in one.
Let’s have a look at this conversation, where person A is ordering a salad from person B, with the computer’s interpretation between brackets:
A: Can I please get a salad? (Command from A to B)
B: Yes sure, what kind of salad would you like? The Happy Hummus, Green Goddess, or Backyard BBQ? (Options on how to fulfil the command)
A: I’ll have the Green Goddess salad, thanks. (Completion of a condition)
B: Here you go, that’s €12.99. How would you like to pay? (Condition from B that needs to be fulfilled by A)
A: I’ll pay cash, here you go. (Completion of a condition)
B: Oh wait, do you want extra cutlery? (Options on how to fulfil the command)
A: No thanks, I like to eat salad with my hands. (Completion of a condition. Command fulfilled)
Making it possible for this kind of complex dialogue to naturally happen between a human and a machine, that is what I and other Conversation Designers do. 💁♀️
Who would make a good conversation designer?
As I mentioned before, this role is so new that it’s still being defined. There was no “conversation design” major when I went to college (and there still isn’t). But from my experience, I think these types of people would make great conversation designers:
- Social media managers
- UX copywriters
- Creative writers
- Script writers
- Video game designers
What skills does a Conversation Designer need?
A good Conversation Designer should be able to shape and control conversations to match the chatbot’s audience and purpose. To craft fun and joyful conversations, they should possess the following skills:
- Understanding people: The first step of building a good conversation is to understand the people you’re targeting and trying to form a connection. Knowing what makes people “tick” is key.
- Creative writing: Users will always prefer an interesting chat over a dull one, so it’s important to style the conversation in a way that sounds joyful and engaging. Instead of saying “Yes, I understand.” you could say “Gotcha! What shall we do next?”
- Logical thinking: Planning a logical script is necessary to understand how your conversation flows from point A to B and C — but might suddenly go to G or X and then back to C. Logical thinking helps you visualise and adjust your flow to see how everything correlates.
- Curiosity: A curiosity and interest in how humans communicate is vital. I love figuring out how a specific type of user wants to interact with our chatbot, and how I can give that user not just a good, but a deeply personal and fun experience.
Give it a go yourself
Want to know more?
If you’d like to dive deeper into the world of Conversation Design, you can follow me on Medium and check out my other (future) articles. I’ve also listed some amazing resources from talented experts and thinkers below.
- Designing Voice User Interfaces: Principles of Conversational Experiences by Cathy Pearl
- Conversational Design by Erika Hall & John Maeda
- Designing Bots: Creating Conversational Experiences by Amir Shevat
While researching for this article, I was inspired by a few blogs and would like to recommend Hans van Dam on How to become a Conversation Designer and Hillary Black with her article What is Conversation Design and how to design your chatbot. Chatbot.com has a great blog full of awesome resources.