The following conversation design experts joined us to answer your questions about how to switch to a career in chatbot or voice design.
Matt Shuford, Conversation Designer @ Lowe’s Home Improvement
Ben McCulloch, Conversation Designer @ Conch Design
Margareth Jabczynski (Maggie), Conversation Designer @ Vodafone
Ilana Meir, Conversation Designer @ Facebook
Ayesha Saleem, Senior Conversation (UX) Designer @ Quicken Loans
Q1 — What is your advice for making a career switch to VUI design?
I like lists so here is a list of 4 tips:
- I think the first thing is to learn as much as you can. Follow VUX world, voicebot.ai. Check out cocohub.ai and follow Kane Simms. Read Kathy Pearl’s book and get a broad idea of the scene. Participate in events like this one from Botmock.
- Understand the basic working concepts of the field and be aware that conversational design is rapidly developing. If you are following people and you don’t know what they are talking about, investigate and find out what they are talking about.
- After that, start engaging with people. Expect a field full of friendly people that are happy to share information, with that said though, be respectful and don’t waste their time. Be prepared before engaging. It is a small community, be polite, and patient with your possible mentors.
- After that, I would suggest to start building, start making things that you can show off.
At this moment, the community is still fairly small so you can connect with so many experienced people. With that said, keep in mind that a lot of these people are very busy, and it is hard to get one on one time with them.
As Ben said, startby learning a lot. After that, I would suggest to step back and determine if this is the path that you want to travel. Do you see yourself as a VUI designer? Can you get into the specifics of language? Are you a collaborative person? Do a self-evaluation that will provide you with enough information so you can make a decision as important as a career change.
Another thought to consider is that this field has many positions in which you can participate. Therefore, coming in doesn’t have to be a complete career change. There are many roles in on the product team, and you might find a position where instead of a career change, you are just building upon the strengths that you already had. So, even if you have your sights in conversational design specifically, you might be able to come into an adjacent role and start building experience for your CV by just being there and participating in projects alongside designers.
Yes, it takes a whole team to create something great. So if your background is in research, you can find space as a UX researcher. If you like to think strategically, solve problems and think about the experience from the ground up, there is space as a product manager. Those are two examples inside a collaborative space where many roles are needed.
Q2 — Do you think a conversation designer should come from a language background or a technical background?
I don’t believe that the background matters that much. In this field, both backgrounds are essentially two different sides of the same coin and hence you need to be sensitive and curious about both. In conversational design, you need to care about both and be ready to get your hands dirty in both.
In my case in particular I love that I have enough people on the technical side. With that said, the language side is extremely important, and there has to be a balance. Conversational design requires words and sentences, and someone needs to produce them.
Q3 — What roles migrate well to the conversation designer role?
The people who can think both holistically and systematically make for great conversation designers.
Whenever you are scripting out what a flow or what a total experience may feel like, you’re getting down into the weeds very quickly. Ideally, you want to be able to pull back, look at the system as a whole, check the entirety of your scripts, and essentially get a feel for the bot that you just made. You want to be able to determine if the whole design makes sense, if it is easy to navigate, and be able to observe and understand the informational architecture. Having the ability to think big and small is very useful.
One aspect that often gets overlooked is that conversational designers need to have empathy. People who are tutors or teachers, people who have worked in customer service or professions that require them to switch perspectives and experience being in someone else’s shoes; those people bring a skill that is very important for conversational design. Empathy lets you observe the design from the perspective of the user and broadens your ability to have a holistic view of conversational design.
Q4 — What are the first steps to becoming a conversational designer?
The first step should be to build your portfolio. Whether it is using a tool like Botmock or flowcharting, build a conversation, see how it looks, and include it in your portfolio. Attend webinars like this AMAs, get acquainted with the community on LinkedIn, and get to know people who are already working in this field. Hearing about what they do and what is important to them is a good place to start. You will find out that some of them can even help you develop the skills that you need.
When I was starting on this path, connecting with people on LinkedIn was very helpful. LinkedIn is a great place for students to figure out what all these roles are. When I graduated and started to look for opportunities I had no clue what it meant to be a computational linguist or a conversation designer, and if they were the same or different. On LinkedIn, I looked for people and companies that worked on language-related products, and that was how I started learning about all the potential roles and opportunities that were available.
When I started in the conversation design field, I didn’t know “Conversation Design” was a role title. Similar to Brielle, I went on LinkedIn, looked up as many people I could that worked in roles that I was interested in and made it a point to reach out to those people to have 30 minute conversations with them via Zoom. I have been a conversational designer for 2 years and I still do this. It is a great way to meet people and an organic way to learn.
If you plan on doing this be aware of people’s time. Come prepared for the meeting, know the questions you want to ask.
Q5 — What makes a voice user interface or conversation design portfolio stand out?
Think about building a portfolio that has two levels. Like most people, recruiters also don’t have time. So first, make it clear and idiot-proof, make sure that, on a high level, the most relevant information can be found easily and quickly. From there, you can establish the pathways for them to go deeper if they want to find out more details as to what you were thinking.
For example: If you have a conversational flow in your portfolio, make sure the flow can be found easily but then have space where you describe the thought process. Recruiters want to understand your thought process. In my case, because of my field, I had to show a lot of audio samples, and I did. Put as much information as you can but divide it into these two levels when organizing it.
When making a conversational design portfolio, we have to keep in mind that voice is something very different from what we consume visually, and we have to assemble our portfolios with that in mind. If like Ben, you include a lot of audio samples, do as he also does which is to indicate in his portfolio the importance of hearing those samples. This shows the recruiter that you understand the nature of voice conversational design and also precisely tells them what to do when going over your material.