Conversation design is quickly becoming a skillset many companies are seeking. Throughout this post, I break down what is a conversation designer or copywriter, how to create a conversation design portfolio, and which industries are currently hiring. Let's dive in.
Conversation Designers are becoming an integral role in the digital design community. However, the function itself is still relatively new. Two years ago, Conversation Designers would have likely fallen into one of three roles: Chatbot Designer, Conversational Copywriter, or VUI Designer. In fact, the majority of Conversation Designers still hold these titles.
Flash forward to today – a Conversation Designer's role now embodies a unification of all three previous parts: designer, copywriter, and VUI expert. The consolidation of titles into a unified Conversation Designer role reflects the industry's overall consolidation as traditionally siloed conversational channels are now being pulled into one central conversational AI team (read more about this here).
IVRs, chatbots, and voice assistants are now centrally managed by an in-house team responsible for all conversational channels in the same way that dedicated mobile teams manage both iOS and Android.
However, a notable distinction is that Conversation Designers often also require expertise in copywriting, which plays a distinct and essential purpose in conveying great conversational experiences.
What's tricky here is that while Conversation Designers are expected to wear many hats – a Conversation Copywriter and Conversation Designer to tend to approach design in slightly different manners. Because of this, I do believe there could be further segmentation for role clarity, at least within big companies with multiple Cx Designers.
NOTE: The role is usually referred to as "Conversation Designer," not "Conversational Designer." A Conversational Designer is a chatty designer, a Conversation Designer designs conversations. This small change in wording can be confusing as the platform is Conversational AI, but it's something we'll just have to get used to!
The Conversation Designer is responsible for the flow and overall feel of the conversation. Conversation Designers spend much of their time defining use cases, then designing and testing the conversations' flows to assess objective completion. Conversation Designers identify and design differing conversation states, such as a user's first session or language selection. Conversation Designers often come from a UX background as the workflow can be similar.
Conversation Copywriters are responsible for writing excellent, engaging, and concise prompts/assistant responses. Unlike a traditional Conversation Designer, they are less focused on the conversation flow than what is actually said. Cx Copywriters often come from a linguistics or marketing copy background and hold a firm understanding of conversation best practices, including Grice's maxims.
As with all emerging fields, or even just roles in general, there's ambiguity regarding where some responsibilities fall. Persona design and user testing could squarely fall in one or both role descriptions depending on how a team is structured. Unfortunately, I can only offer guidelines from what I've seen, not answers. And again, for small teams of three designers or less, Cx Designer and Copywriter typically blend.
Today, Cx Design roles can be found across every industry, spread between a few core use cases.
IVRs are the automated phone sequences you call into (e.g., "press 1 for banking, press 2 for credit cards"). Jobs in this space are frequently referred to as "VUI Designer" for companies with dedicated teams who have been in the space for 10+ years. For some companies which focus on vertical integration vs. just the design, Cx roles are often referred to as UX Designers.
When designing for IVRs, optimization is critical. Since many IVRs experience large sums of calls, optimization of existing call flows can lead to material cost savings. The IVR space has seen massive growth over the past few years as companies move from on-premise to cloud IVRs, often leading to complete redesigns and adoption of modern assistant architectures.
Many new Cx Designers have been inspired thanks to the consumer adoption of new voice assistant platforms like Alexa and Google Assistant. However, full-time jobs working on these assistants are less common than other platforms given the voice assistant space's nascency.
Custom voice assistants, however, are becoming increasingly prevalent amongst large companies. Industries such as Finance, Retail, and Automotive manufacturing have seen mass adoption of these custom assistant technologies, leading to many exciting new Conversation Design jobs working with the latest technologies.
Chatbots continue to be one of Cx Designers' most in-demand use cases as the chat medium has become a proven way for businesses to drive more leads and cut support costs by automating customer success and sales conversations.
There exists a robust chatbot ecosystem with most companies employing one or more chat channels, including Facebook Messenger, Webchat, or custom chatbot portals. Many roles in this space remain chatbot specific, such as "Chatbot designer" or "Chat marketer."
One challenging aspect of finding a job as a Conversation Designer is assembling a Conversation Design portfolio. Unlike graphic UI (GUI) design, conversation designs are not as discernable with visuals and, therefore, more challenging to present in a portfolio format. However, there are some tricks you can focus on when creating a Cx Design portfolio:
The magic of a great conversation is best experienced through trial. When sharing your work, it's best to share the end-prototype or product if possible. Flowcharts and scripts are great, but a screenshot is hard to read or focus on without context or focus. Try complementing your flowcharts with markup, callouts, or ideally, a working prototype so that your audience can engage with your design rather than assume it's flow.
Sections and methodology
Apart from sharing prototypes, the best Conversation Design portfolios focus on methodologies and focus on specific sections. Sharing flowchart designs is fine as long as there's enough context and focus for the viewer to quickly understand the structure and its magic.
I saw an excellent portfolio piece shared by a Conversation Designer the other day on Behance, which incorporates both the sharing of a prototype and a focus on methodology. Check it out.
The changing landscape of Conversation Design can be challenging to navigate, let alone find opportunities within. However, I hope that through this post's focus on conversation designer role definition, employable use cases, and portfolio design that you're able to navigate the space more easily.
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