What is a Conversation Designer?

This post should be titled “The Conversation Designer & Co.”, because we will dive into this role as well as other similar roles that create confusion, among companies and professionals.

When a new profession arises, there tends to be confusion on the job description. The Conversation Designer is no exception, and one can easily observe like it might mean something different to different people.
The lack of an industry standard doesn’t help, so it’s not that uncommon to see job offers from companies looking for a Conversation Designer when they’re actually looking for a writer or an engineer.

Google, in its Design Guidelines has a great definition:

The role of a conversation designer is like that of an architect, mapping out what users can do in a space, while considering both the user’s needs and the technological constraints. They curate the conversation, defining the flow and its underlying logic in a detailed design specification that represents the complete user experience. They partner with stakeholders and developers to iterate on the designs and bring the experience to life.

Among the most renowned organizations engaged in the standardization of conversation design, I want to mention the place where my journey began, The Conversation Design Institute. Their definition of conversation design is:

Conversation design is the practice of making AI assistants more helpful and natural when they talk to humans. It combines an understanding of technology, psychology, and language to create human-centric experiences for chatbots and voice assistants.

There are plenty of other definitions for this that seems the hottest job right now, and I also came up with my own definition:

A conversation designer is an interpreter who facilitates communication between humans and machines

I know this definition comes from my education and background in languages and translation, which makes me see communication from a point of view of a translator/interpreter. As a consequence, when I first got into conversation design, I compared the role to that of an interpreter.
Instead of translating English to an Italian person and vice versa, to facilitate their communication, what we do now is translating “computerish” into human language and vice versa.

In other words, what a conversation designer does is to make the interaction between humans and machines as smooth and pleasant as possible.

What are the skills of a Conversation Designer?

A conversation designer is a sort of wizard or juggler, comfortably switching from natural language and copywriting, to AI training, analytics, not forgetting UI and UX design and writing.

There’s a lot of confusion among companies that are setting extremely high and unrealistic expectations, such as looking for a talented writer who is also a skilled developer, who knows 4 different programming languages, has experience in UX design, knows 3 different design tools, a couple of Machine Learning tools for AI training, has created a couple of training models, and it would help if he/she has also a PhD in Medicine because hey, we are developing a chatbot in the health sector!

Ok, I totally made up the last one, but as for the other requirements, I have proofs! Here are some of the requirements that can be found in job posts of companies looking for conversation designers.

  • Education in UX or related field
  • BA or BS in Journalism, Literature, Technology, Science, Medical, or Healthcare
  • Productivity tools
  • Issue tracking tools
  • Familiarity with HTML/CSS3
  • Experience with marketing automation platforms
  • Excellent oral and written communication and presentation skills
  • Extensive client-facing experience
  • Extremely logical
  • Expertise in creating, conducting, and analyzing usability evaluations. Interactive prototyping skills.
  • Technical writing and communications design. QA / Regression Testing.
  • Fluency in one or more non-English languages
  • Great communications skills
  • Strong familiarity as a consumer of conversational technology

The list could go on and on and on. It is clear that conversation designers are required to have a very rich and varied skill set, but also that, again, some companies are confused and don’t really know what to ask and what to expect.

Benjamin McCulloch did an incredible job in his post “What skills do conversation designers need?”, a valuable resource on the skills required for the role.

Sometimes, as already mentioned, companies are not looking for a Conversation Designer, so let’s see some of the roles that may lead to misunderstanding.

Conversational Copywriter

This is probably the most creative role, usually, writers (copywriters, technical writers, screenwriters, UX writers, etc.) switch to conversational copywriting.
In large companies with big budgets, it makes sense to have developers, writers, and designers, all in charge of crafting a great user experience.

A conversational copywriter is not supposed to know Python, Dialogflow or Rasa, as the person responsible for making sense of this data is usually the Conversation Designer or the AI trainer.

AI Trainer

This is the person who lives among data, who actually trains the virtual agent. They “speak machine learning” and their vocabulary is full of “intents, annotations, training models, etc.”

It is the most technical role, as this is the person who manages (trains) data. It doesn’t sound fun or fancy, but this is crucial in the development and long-term success of a virtual agent.

(Chat)Bot Manager / (Chat)bot Project Manager

They might be two different roles, that maybe intertwine, or they’re just very similar titles.
This is the person who is responsible for the bot, and also manages the relationship with customers to guarantee their satisfaction. This person makes sure that the bot works and that clients are happy.
It’s a key account manager of virtual assistant projects, who ensures a good relationship with clients, the timely delivery of bots, and brings the requirements to the tech team.
So basically a Project Manager who understands technology and also understands people and can make sure that bots are good and people are happy.

Other definitions and conclusions

Some other definitions are chatbot writer, chatbot coordinator, UX designer, UX Strategist. There are also specific roles related to voice, such as Voice User Interface Designer and Voice User Experience Designer.

I’m sure the list will continue and that there will be more jobs related to the design of interactive interfaces, so it’s crucial that we stay updated and focused.

My suggestion to aspiring conversation designers: don’t get scared or overwhelmed by some excessively demanding job descriptions. Don’t let this stop you: if you think you are right for the job, go ahead and apply! Maybe you meet 60% of the qualifications, and that might be enough for an interview, and maybe you will rock the interview and get the job!

My suggestion to companies: if you are confused about the role you are looking for, hire a consultant to make things clearer for you, instead of looking for the latest purple unicorn.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.