What this article is not going to be:
A list of traits that conversation designers should have or acquire.
What this article will attempt to be:
My input on what a conversation designer thinks about. I will outline which thought processes make a good conversation designer — including what I believe is the most important one.
Some background on CxD as a Discipline
Conversation Design (CxD) is a user experience discipline that aims to ensure the highest possible user adoption for a chatbot or virtual (voice) assistant. Our goal with CxD is to help machines hold useful conversations so that the user can accomplish something. Therefore, even though conversation designers play with words instead of pixels, the same important traits of a Graphical UX (GUX) designer hold true for a conversation designer.
Although there have been pioneers working for decades on designing human-machine conversations, the practice is not nearly as mature as Graphic design yet. This is because of the swift rise in use and need for chatbots and virtual assistants since ~2010 for various business and consumer scenarios.
Without further ado, here are the top 2 mindsets that I have found indispensable in my experience designing conversations.
#1 Avoid Canned Thinking
I recall, back when I was working as an account manager, that I used to tell project managers: “There is no one project like another! Let’s avoid canned thinking from project kick-off till closure.”
Although I am process-oriented myself (which is important for scaling a team’s efforts), I believe that making assumptions is a tendency towards the familiar; it’s easy to want to copy and paste your previous experience for new projects.
While there are commonalities and ways to reuse what you’ve learned with future projects, each company in some way or another differentiates itself among its competitors. Because of this, its brand values and traits will be reflected in almost every aspect of the conversation design process…this involves everything from User Research to writing conversation dialogs.
How fresh thinking helps with conversation design…
Using a designer’s mindset helps to always validate and examine user expectations and behavior. It’s crucial to relentlessly test and tune every artifact in conversation flows.
Furthermore, making assumptions driven from similar previous projects will probably deviate the conversation design from what both the customer and the brand expects of this design. Using fresh thinking is always best!
#2 Enjoy Orchestration
What I wasn’t expecting in this discipline is that most of the ‘meat’ is driven by others! A conversation designer seldom works on his/her own. There are always pieces of information that need to be extracted or interpreted from researches, business owners, customers, and many other stakeholders.
To be clear, as a conversation designer, I own the “customer experience” and am accountable for the quality of the conversation experience (directly) and it’s returning for the business (indirectly). However, it is imperative to realize that my work enables others to contribute to a successful experience.
How orchestration helps in conversation design…
It’s important to involve the right people at the right step and actively listen to stakeholders. During a significant amount of project time you will be running ideation and storyboarding workshops where you will encourage others to conclude what you are aiming to utilize in your design.
Leaning on other teammates also helps set a standard of democracy with your stakeholders. Just because you are the conversation designer doesn’t mean your opinion will always be correct; you will only be able to apply what you think is correct by using information from others. With their input, you’ll be able to reason within the best practices you advocate for.
One last takeaway… make your workshops fun! This greatly helps bring everyone on board to reach alignment.
My Own Foray into Conversation Design
When I first started designing conversations, I began with the process outlined by Google for its Google Assistant third party developers/designers. Their design principles are generic enough to be extrapolated to any other platform.
Take a look at their design process below.
Their process begins with a product question: Is the Conversation User Interface right for this use case?
By starting there, the Google team exposes the underlying mindset that’s required for designing successful conversational experiences.
Capitalizing On the Product and UX Mindset
I dug more into the User-Centric Design (UCD) methodologies, within the context of the CxD process, in order to grasp the most effective techniques during the different design phases.
The beauty of UCD is that it really focuses on the ‘End-User’. It encompasses in-depth techniques that strive to set the user up for success.
By adopting this mindset, a conversation designer is armed with what they need to satisfy for both the end user’s experience and the business objectives (link to the first article). Marrying these objectives is the most crucial factor for the success of a human-like conversation experience. By doing this, you allow a business to succeed by delivering great customer experience. A great CxD builds an emotional connection with the brand and brings the brand to life! ✨
That’s it! I blended what I learned and experienced from both approaches (CxD and UCD) and concluded with this comprehensive blueprint for conversation design. It will probably evolve to augment voice-based conversational experiences, though I believe that this has been a good start for me in my own work so far.
Now let me present a sneak-peak of what I called the Conversation Design “Skeleton of Work”….
This is my own version based on my experience so far and I expect it to evolve over time. Though I recommend designers to compile their own versions derived from their conversation design forays whether during projects or from learning activities.
BTW, if you haven’t read my article “Uncover the Unknown Knowns of your Conversation Design”, I talk about alignment on the project business objectives, which is a kind of pre-stage prior to starting on this Skeleton of Work, SOW.
Conversation Design is a role that requires the creativity to create something that users really want to engage with. As a conversation designer, you wear many hats: Researcher, Interviewer, Analyst, Designer, Leader, Tester, etc. It’s enjoyable to change and learn all the time!
I hope you find these insights helpful. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Check out this article and others about the conversation design on Botmock’s blog!