And how much do conversation designers make, anyway?
Hundreds of questions were submitted by attendees of Botmock’s AMA: Getting a Job as a Conversation Designer. Four industry experts with backgrounds in conversation design — for both voice and chatbots — answered as many questions as we could in a live roundtable discussion. To register for future (free!) AMA sessions and watch the full recording of this session, Go HERE
The following conversation design experts joined us to answer your questions:
Allys Parson, Recruiter @ Techire
Michael Hoesten, Senior Director of Accounts @ Skilled Creative
Simonie Wilson, Principal VUI Designer @ Pindrop
Lance Moncrieffe, CXO @ Cognizant
In Part 2, we will cover the following questions:
- How much will the conversational design field grow? Is it a smart career path?
- What are the average salary requirements (both entry-level and senior), for a conversational designer?
- Should there be a difference in pay if a person designs for voice only or chatbots only? Should the pay increase if they design for both?
- How valuable is a successful copywriting (digital + traditional) background for getting hired? What roles migrate well for a conversational design role?
Q1 — How much will the conversation design field grow? Is it a smart career path?
I’ve been working in this space for just about three years. When I joined I didn’t have an Alexa or any voice device. I quickly became very intrigued and when doing workshops, panel, or other events where we would be in contact with the public we would start by asking everyone: “Have you heard of Amazon Alexa?”. Then a year later, we were asking, “Do you have an Amazon Alexa?”. And then months later, the question had transformed into “How many Amazon Alexa or Google assistance devices do you have?”
In the present, the conversation has even extended past consumer-facing perceptions of this technology. Right now, every brand, every organization that we’re working with has either built a portfolio of experiences, is actively working on conversational products as an enterprise strategy, or is actively building products. Right now I would venture to say that any organization that is not actively working in this space might be not one, but a few steps behind.
With that said, I don’t believe that I have spoken to any clients, partners, brands, or prospects in the last six to twelve months that have not voiced a strong interest in working in the space or about creating a voice design task force within their organization.
This is taking a phrase from Amazon. They say that currently, we are at the second inning of a nine-inning game. I believe that we are starting to hit a point of maturity in regards to the understanding by consumers and organizations. And I happen to think that 2020–2021 may be the best time to be getting into space as it is growing faster and taking hold.
What Mike expressed is totally correct and it’s a perfect segway to bring up how COVID is affecting all of us. For example, we are having this AMA session online… before COVID, that was possible, and people were doing it. But now, more and more people are becoming comfortable with this type of remote interaction. I think that the confinement situation brought on by COVID is going to accelerate the level of adoption [of conversational technology] a lot faster than we had anticipated. People are becoming used to doing fewer things in person and more things through devices, apps, or the internet, so this new modality is going to become much more natural.
Because of COVID we are seeing more companies looking at different ways to reach their customers. So yes, this is a great time to get involved and find your place. Now, especially, everyone’s learning together there is no right or wrong way. So it’s a nice time to be able to be part of an industry like that.
The field is not only going to grow but it’s also going to change. When we talk specifically about voice, three years ago it was really a platform for entertainment and basic information like weather or news. Now, we are starting to see it appear as a tool in the workforce. The transactional nature of conversational AI is now driving efficiency in the workforce, in sales, in a factory. Now, when we start integrating conversational AI with edge computing and image recognition, we will open a lot more avenues for workers of this field to spread their wings and go beyond just the voice experience.
The good thing about coming in right now is that folks will be able to mature through the changes happening at this moment so when things get more complex they will be ready. So yes, this is a good time to come into the field so you can start creating the good habits that will provide the platform to do more complex things.
Q2 — What are the average salary requirements (both entry-level and senior), for a conversational designer?
This one is a big question that everyone is always very curious about and I will provide some ballpark figures. The numbers vary depending on the company, your experience level, and the location. For junior and entry-level roles, you’re looking at $40,000 to $60,000 a year. Mid-range, you’re probably looking at around $60,000 to $100,000 a year, and senior positions would be $100,000 to $130,000. For directors and leadership, you’d be looking at $130,000+. Still, there’s not a lot of data out there. Obviously, over time we’ll get more data and it will be a lot more clear. As it stands at the moment, the industry is new and salary ranges have not settled into tight averages.
Q3 — Should there be a difference in pay if a person designs for voice only or chatbots only? Should the pay increase if they design for both?
Companies pay people on the value that they can add. So obviously, if a person can bring more value to a company and be able to work on different types of projects maybe they’ll pay a bit more. Still, there is no hard data there to say for sure. It’s still a bit up in the air. So I think it comes down to the person and what they can bring to the company, which would determine how the company would value them.
The first thing to understand is that there might be a plethora of different platforms that you will be designing for. The channel output is neither here nor there, and really does not require any significant shift in personnel. So the question is: what value are you bringing to the table? Regardless of the niche that you are designing for, what matters is the thinking that you have to put into play so that you can translate what is needed from a business standpoint to what is needed from a consumer standpoint. An example of that would be thinking about the variations of ways people would ask the same question to a conversational system. Another is your ability to work with other people that will use your input to train a bot a certain way.
Ultimately what will create a shift in your salary will be the extent of your leadership role and the experience level that you bring to the team.
Q4 — How valuable is a successful copywriting (digital + traditional) background for getting hired? What roles migrate well for a conversational design role?
By nature, a copywriter is dealing with words, language, and storytelling. So as a baseline, I think a copywriter, in general, is a great starting place for somebody who wants to get into conversational design. Being able to demonstrate how you can transfer experience into a new experience and bringing in that psychology of user focus thinking to the lens of copywriting is very important. As a copywriter, the ability to create different iterations of copy based on different types of users is a skill that will give you a leg up. An example might be a national campaign that must be tailored depending on the geographic location of the different users.
We have had a lot of success with people who have experience in screenwriting or comedy. So, if you can demonstrate that you can cater words and that you can personalize your writing in different ways, you will probably be a successful conversational copywriter in this more dynamic, personalized, and interactive medium.
My perspective is that as a dialog designer you never really get to write. Instead, I get to think about how people communicate. As such, I don’t view the value of the traditional copy background as highly as some others. Unlike the traditional space where you’re writing for someone to read, here we are writing by thinking ahead of time about how someone will ask something, and you don’t get to write a script for that
I’ve not been successful in bringing traditional writers into space because traditional writers tend to think about how someone should say something, and the user usually never says it in the way the writer thought. Dialogue design is about thinking through how a person will ask something, determine what the bot will understand, and in turn answer back to the user. How people will ask something will differ depending on cultural background, geographic location, and many other factors that we can’t script for.
What I have to do is design dialogue that can be trained into a bot so that it can understand what Mike is saying and intelligently respond back. So, we do get to write a script for a specific narrative, but all of that gets broken down to words and phrases in an ad hoc fashion and gets put together by the machine so that someone can understand something coming back.
I’m personally managing marketing brand type of experiences. But to Lance’s point, I totally agree that when it becomes more computational, and when it’s about enterprise AI, then it’s important to know that there is no one script fits all. I do think that traditional copywriters are more successful on the side of marketing type experiences, as opposed to ongoing AI-driven type of experiences.
There are a few different factors and a lot of different ways a conversation can go, so whether it works well from someone that’s from a copywriting background or an audio background, I don’t believe there is one right or wrong answer here. I think a lot of what we are talking about for this question has to be studied on a case by case basis, considering the company and their style and perspective. With that said, someone that is able to design a good conversation does not need to have a copywriting background. As long as someone can bring creativity to a conversation that is a good place to start. Since each brand is different and each scenario is different, every experience we design has its own style, tone, and way of communicating, therefore different minds and skills will play a bigger or lesser role depending on the specific use case.
Whether they’re written on the page, spoken aloud, via chat, or let alone, traditional copy, as long as you can shift and be flexible, you are a good hire.
As far as what roles migrate? One thing we haven’t talked about is the traditional sort of conversational space that has gone a bit stagnant over the years, for example, just basic IVR. As long as you find somebody in that space who is flexible, passionate, and is looking at the way those interfaces are evolving that’s a good place to pull from. IVR writers do a different type of writing since it’s more directed dialogue, but if they expand into copywriting they should be great additions to any team. Linguists are also great people that can migrate to these conversational design roles.