Cathy Pearl on all things conversation design

Cathy Pearl is Head of Conversation Design Outreach at Google. She has been a driving force in voice tech and VUI design for over two decades, creating conversational interfaces for voice, text, and multi-modal since 1999.

A world-renown leader in conversation design, Cathy has helped educate thousands in the voice space by spreading her knowledge through a variety of different mediums. She has gained notoriety as an international speaker, having presented at a variety of events, including Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, SXSW, O'Reilly Design, Voice Summit, and Project Voice. She has also penned numerous articles, blogs, and her very own book, Designing Voice User Interfaces, the go-to resource for those interested in exploring VUI design.

We were lucky enough to chat with Cathy about why conversation design is important, the growing role of the conversation designer, and helpful resources for those passionate about joining this field.


0:01 - 0:13 

My name is Cathy Pearl. I work at Google. I'm the Head of Conversation Design Outreach, which means I go out in the world and I give talks and write articles about what conversation design is and how to do it.

0:14 - 1:26 → When did you fall in love with voice tech?

When I was a kid...really uh... I just loved movies like war games and TV shows, like Knight Rider - talking car, talking computer.

And our family got a computer when I was eight and I learned to program and I had a strong affinity with a computer and writing programs and I wrote a chat bot when I was 12 and I was just so into this idea of getting to have a conversation with a computer, not having any idea that someday there would actually be a career in such a thing.

Um, but, uh, yeah, so my fascination started pretty, pretty early. Conversation design is essentially at its heart teaching computers to communicate like humans and not the other way around. So not forcing people to adopt a new language in order to get things done.

It's through this, um, that we've applied a lot of best practices and principles that can enable anyone who wants to create or build these types of conversational experiences to know that we do have patterns. We do have methods to make the conversations effective because the truth is computers are not yet capable of sort of full on regular human to human conversations that we're used to. And so we have to not only write great conversations, but we have to do so in a very technically constrained world and marry those two things together to get an effective user experience.

1:27 - 1:57 → Talk about the growing role of conversation designers

The job role of conversation designer is still quite new, and I think we're starting to see companies realize that if they're going to get into this space, they can't just hire a couple engineers and have the marketing team tell them what to build, but they actually have to invest a little bit in getting a conversation designer. 

I mean conversation designers are thinking about, first of all, should we even build this thing? Is this a good use case for conversation? Who are our users going to be? What are the questions we need to ask? What order of the questions is going to be in? What are the types of things people might say?

It's not just about crafting the words, sort of at the end. It's really the conversation is the structure. So getting a conversation designer involved from the get-go is going to mean the whole thing's going to go a lot more smoothly. But I'm not biased or anything.

1:58 - 2:41 → Where can I learn more about conversation design?

So if you're interested in learning about conversation design, a few things I'd recommend.

One is, um, Google has published a lot of great guidelines that What is conversation design? How to do it, how to get started. Um, and then at a more personal level, I've got a website, There's links to my book, Designing Voice User Interfaces - as well as blog posts I've written.

So that's a great place to check things out. I'm also on Twitter at @cpearl42 tweeting about conversation design and things like that.

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