Automation Design: The Evolution of Conversation Design

Last year one cold night in Tokyo, Greg Bennet, Director of Conversation Design at Salesforce, and I were discussing our industry after ChatGPT had just launched. We talked about the future of Conversation Design itself, and even questioned if there was a future. "Why are we called 'Conversation Designers in the first place'?" was a question we asked that led to silence. The title of Conversation Designer that had rallied our industry behind a common flag now carried baggage and began to be seen as the practice of building legacy, scripted, deterministic chatbots.

This misunderstanding of Conversation Design’s goal is regrettable but understandable. To an exec thinking through AI strategy, Conversation Design sounds like it focuses on copy alone, yet that job and approach is changing quickly. Conversation Design’s goal is more relevant than ever in this automation-first world - to ensure customers have a delightful, easy experience with automated systems. After all, it’s one thing to build an automated system - it’s another thing for it to be easy to use, and therefore easy to adopt by customers!

I believe Conversation Design needs to evolve as a title and practice (I’m open to ideas, but Automation Design (AxD) is my pick). Automation Design being defined as the application of UX best practices and design-centricity to automated systems that are increasingly powered by AI. As AI models improve, I firmly believe the number of touchpoints we will all have with automated systems everyday is going to increase exponentially, and these automated experiences need great design. Today, customer support is the most obvious use case - but I imagine sales, internal operations, healthcare, and so much more will be improved through AI powered automation. 

This subtle nuance in title change allows conversation designers to free themselves from the stigma that CxD is simply copywriting, and that their role is from a bygone era of manual chatbot creation. Second, this title change allows for the value the role brings to be directly in the title. Automation Design makes it clear that the role helps businesses automate and save costs, whilst maintaining a great user experience. Lastly, Automation Design frees the role from being tied to any one interface. Automated experiences can be so much more than just chatbots or voicebots, and this is already the reality today for conversation designers. We know from working with 200,000 global users now that much of the conversation designer’s work is not just the copy inside the chatbot, but the automation logic and business process logic behind the scenes that powers it. Conversation designers are already doing this work, and it’s time they got recognized for it.

The rise of AI is going to lead to a surge in automation across so many more use cases than just customer support which has traditionally been the core use case of conversational AI. It’s time for Conversation Design to evolve and grow into a wider, more critical function. In 5 years, I predict Automation Designers will be working across every industry and use case, ensuring that the increasinging number of automated experiences we all interact with everyday are increasingly useful, and delightful. At Voiceflow, we’re going to do our part by continuing to build the most collaborative, extensible, and powerful tool to design, test, build and launch AI agents to automate any use case.