The Role of Conversational Designers

Market Intelligence company IDC, has predicted that by 2023, over 500 million digital apps and services will be developed, the same volume as over the last 40 years combined. With such a high demand for new software, there should be no shortage of work for UX designers. However, many of these applications are incorporating new technology that requires a new skill set. 

As we have more conversations with virtual assistants and chatbots, conversational user experience design plays a critical role. For the technology to interact with humans in a meaningful way, conversational systems need to deliver an excellent experience. Conversational designers wear many hats, copywriting, designing the user interface and training the technology to respond. As such, conversational design is becoming a must-have role for design teams. But, what exactly do conversational designers do and will your business need one?

The Rise in Conversational Platforms and Applications

A few years ago, the only way customers could have a real conversation with a business would be to pick up the phone. Unfortunately, that often meant being stuck with an answerphone message or being on hold for hours. The phone will obviously remain a key point of contact, as it is the only way to speak to a ‘real’ person. However, it is no longer the only way to talk to someone, have a meaningful conversation and get the required answer, information or response.

The volume of contact channels that we can offer to our customers is ever-increasing. This started with the popularity of messenger applications such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, leading customers to expect to be able to contact brands instantly. However, artificial intelligence (AI) technology  has taken that expectation to the next level. AI interfaces such as virtual assistants and chatbots are becoming more mainstream, especially with the growth in low-code development. There are countless examples such as Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa, which are household names. The result is that more companies are starting to invest in these kinds of interfaces and technologies to enable them to connect with their customers. 

Conversational applications are making up a bigger proportion of what we are developing today. In fact, Gartner has predicted that by 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will interact with conversational platforms every day. So, it figures that more organisations are investing in not only chatbot development and deployment. but specific design skills for their AI-based applications and platforms. After all, the success of any conversational application is by the experience it offers. 

The Mindset Shift for Conversational Design

Conversational design isn’t something that can be seen as such; it is the behind-the-scenes work that takes a conversational interface experience from being good to being great. Conversation, however, is something innately human. So, instead of people learning and adapting to how machines work, user experience design, and particularly conversational design, focuses on machines understanding humans. To mimic a real-life two-way conversation, our interfaces need to understand the inner workings of the human language. We need to find ways for our systems to communicate goals, questions, intentions and emotions. These are the basic principles of conversation and, in turn, conversational AI design.

Having UX people with conversational design skills is becoming one of the most important UX jobs in our evolving technological landscape. And it involves a significant shift. As we’ve touched in, the crux of it is helping machines to understand humans. More than just copywriting, it’s about designing experiences. When it comes to conversational design, designers need to understand context of use, interface design, affective engagement and dialogue design.

 

What Does a Conversational Designer Do?

As we’ve already explained, a conversational designer is responsible for designing the user experience for a virtual assistant, chatbot or conversational interface. They need to make sure it’s engaging, impactful and brand-appropriate. That means translating business requirements into natural dialogue flows that use good design practices. To break that down further, a conversational designer needs the following skills:

  • Copywriting – ensuring the conversational interface is well-spoken, using correct grammar and correct sentences, but that it also has a sense of personality. 
  • User experience design – creating a cohesive, user-friendly experience  that looks at the user’s thought process, their problems and the best way to deliver a solution.
  • AI training – providing a framework to identify which words lead to which journeys and explaining the correlation to the developer, thereby improving accuracy.
  • Product design – helping to keep business goals in mind throughout the design process, understanding what the platform can achieve and setting realistic targets. 

As different interfaces support different users in different tasks, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes to conversational design. As part of the design team, conversational designers rely on an understanding of linguistics, psychology, interface design and speech science to help deliver sophisticated interactions.

How Great Conversations Can Generate More Business

As your customers become increasingly used to conversational interfaces, even preferring them in some instances, you may well find yourself considering the technology. Fortunately, whether you have a professional development team or not, the rise in low-code and no-code development is making AI and machine learning both accessible and economical. Conversations can generate business opportunities; you can program them to generate leads and even conduct sales.  However, designing experiences for what appears to be the simple task of conversation shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked. The success of the systems and applications you build will be entirely defined by the experiences they offer, and that is where having the right conversational designers on board will become fundamental. Establishing a meaningful, authentic, natural and interactive conversation with the customer is key. Ultimately, combining a great no code conversational AI platform with conversational designers can give your business a huge springboard.

In summary, a conversational designer will bring a variety of skills to your design team:

  • Translation – converting business requirements into natural dialogue flow
  • Copywriting – ensuring the use of correct grammar and sentences
  • UX design – creating user-friendly experiences that solve problems.
  • AI training- building a framework for user journeys
  • Product design – setting realistic targets for what the platform can achieve
  • Speech science – understanding the links between linguistics and psychology
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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