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What’s a Conversation Designer – and why do you need one?

02 Jul 2021 - 1 min read

You know what designers are, and you have conversations every day of your life. But have you ever heard of a Conversation Designer?

 

This role might seem like a novelty, but it’s becoming more and more essential. Your business can benefit greatly from implementing a chatbot, and to make sure people use those chatbots, you need Conversation Designers.

Not quite sure what these people do? Well, I’m here to tell you all about it! My name is Tess Tettelin, and I’m a Conversation Designer at Chatlayer by Sinch!

 

I didn’t know that “Conversation Designers” existed – until I became one myself. But it wasn’t long until I realized that this role would become very important in the near future.

Conversation Designers help build immersive chat experiences – like Unread Messages, the world’s first chat-documentary. But there’s so much more to do! Here’s a peek into what I do all day – plus a few tips on how to become an excellent Conversation Designer yourself.

Conversation Design may feel like unchartered waters – but soon it will be the norm.

When I was 18 years old and had just started working at a small agency, my boss sent out a full-company email:

“Do we have a Twitter person in the house?”

Social media was still new, and people weren’t sure how to handle it. Since I was the youngest person on the team and therefore assumed most tech-savvy, I was suddenly in charge of our company’s Twitter account and all of its 4 followers.

Around 2010, when digital jobs first became a thing, there weren’t any concrete job descriptions for roles like that. 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. You simply learned by doing.

As one of the early 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” to Social Media Manager, to Content Creator, to Copywriter, to UX Copywriter… and now, most recently, to Conversation Designer.

With the current rise of voice and chatbots, it feels like we’re right back in that familiar (but unfamiliar!) water. Who will create these bots? What will they sound like? 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 too much coffee and sending GIFs to my colleagues), we need to tackle the three pillars of conversation design: conversation, design, and technology. Oh, and perhaps I’ll 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 is being exchanged. Conversations are not always verbal — they can happen by sending text messages, emails, or even sharing notes in class. (Remember that?)

To design a conversation means that you craft a digital language for your bot, based on how people communicate in real life, taking human voice and natural language into account. You also need to create the conversational flow, which are the various paths a 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 by Sinch!

Finally, a chatbot is software that anybody can talk to using natural language – kind of like the digital version of a human agent. They’re often added to websites or messaging channels — you know, those little blobs that pop up in the lower right-hand corner of a website — for asking standard questions or qualifying leads.

 

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 conversational experience between a chatbot and its user. The goal is to make the conversation feel as natural as possible, and to get lots done with just a few taps and clicks. It should feel natural and easy for the user.

Conversation Designers craft the chatbot’s “personality”, curate the conversation, design the conversational paths, and write the most appropriate dialogs for each of these flows — creating the best possible user experience.

It’s kind of 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 in parentheses:

A: Can I please get a salad? (Command from A to B)

B: Sure! What kind of salad would you like? The Happy Hummus, Green Goddess, or Badass Broccoli? (Options on how to fulfill the command)

A: I’ll have the Green Goddess salad, thanks. (Completion of a condition)

B: Here you go, that’ll be $15.99. 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 fulfill the command)

A: No, thanks, I like to eat salad with my hands. (Completion of a condition. Command fulfilled)

 

Now, between two humans, that may seem like a very natural conversation. But how do you make it possible for that kind of complex dialogue to take place between a human and a machine?

That’s what I, and other Conversational 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, by the way). So, 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

Infographic showing the skill set a Conversation Designer needs for the job

 

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 need the following skills:

Understanding human behavior: The first step of building a good conversation is to understand the people you’re targeting and trying to form a connection with. Knowing what makes people “tick” is key to creating a good conversation.

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 visualize 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.

Tech-savviness: The AI space is constantly developing, and technologies are changing every single day. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of NLP, but you do need a basic understanding of these technologies, so you can use them in your bot-building.

 

Give it a go yourself!

Want to experience my work as a Conversation Designer in-action? Check out Unread Messages, the chat-documentary that lets you step inside someone else’s text messages.

Or just get started and try building a bot yourself! Sign up for the 30-day free trial of Chatlayer by Sinch and follow the easy step-by-step tutorial to get started with conversation design. We also have a ton of free resources available to help you get started!

 

Written by

Tess Tettelin, Conversation Designer

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