What is Conversational Design?

conversational design and messaging bubbles

You know how we all use chatbots and voice assistants pretty much every day?

Well, Andrea is one of those behind-the-scenes talented wizards who make those interactions feel so smooth and natural.

A little more about him: Andrea is a seasoned UX Designer with over five years in sales, he’s not your typical designer. His sales background has given him a superpower – the ability to truly understand and connect with customers.

He’s got this unique way of looking at things, making sure our chats with bots feel less like talking to a machine and more like chatting with a friend. It's all about making our digital lives a bit more human, you know?

It is really eye-opening to hear Andrea share how they make these chat interfaces not only smart but also kind and helpful. Plus, he had some cool insights on where this whole conversational design world is heading. It's not just about making things work; it's about making them work for us in a more meaningful way.

We touched on some interesting points about the future of this field, the misconceptions surrounding AI, and the ethical considerations that come into play. It's fascinating to see how much thought goes into designing these everyday digital interactions and how they aim to be more than just functional.

If you are already hooked and excited, keep on reading! You'll find this interview quite informative, especially if you're curious about the inner workings of digital communication or looking into the field yourself. So, let's get into it and explore what Andrea had to share.

Can you explain what “conversational design” is in simple terms?

In very simple terms, I would say that conversational design is the art and science of designing conversations between humans and chatbots (or voice assistants).

How does conversational design play a role in our daily use of chat interfaces?

The interesting thing about conversational design, when done right, it blends seamlessly into our experience. You don't notice it because everything just flows, allowing you to effortlessly complete tasks. However, we can instantly recognize the lack of conversational design. Ever been stuck with an unhelpful chatbot? That's a classic example of poor design, and it can be super frustrating.

With that said, it’s important to acknowledge that when designed properly, chatbots and voice assistants can simply make peoples’ lives better.  (I know, that would basically make me a 9-5 superhero 😉).

What is your design approach?

When it comes to my design approach, I like to break it down into five key steps:

Understanding the Client's Needs: This is about understanding what the client really wants and not just what they think they want. There’s this famous quote, often attributed to Henry Ford, that goes: 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.' While I'm not 100% sure if Ford actually said this, it perfectly portrays the essence of our role as conversational designers at Hubtype. Our goal is to deeply understand our clients, so we can create solutions that deliver maximum value not only for them but also for their customers.

Defining the Chatbot's Personality: Just like people, chatbots have different personalities, and depending on these personalities, they will express themselves in different ways. For example, a shopping assistant does not need to sound like a banking expert. 

Designing the Conversational Flow: Once I have a clear picture, I can go ahead and start creating what in design jargon we call a “conversational flow”. This is a technique we use to map the full experience of a user interacting with the chatbot. My focus here is on pinpointing potential friction points and smoothing them out to create an interaction that’s as intuitive, natural, and helpful as possible.

Validating the Design: Next, it’s time to reconnect with the client to present my solution. This stage often involves fine-tuning and addressing secondary issues. Once the client gives the green light, the developers can start coding the chatbot.

Testing: Once the chatbot is built, we can go ahead and make sure that everything works as specified in the design. If everything is okay, we can deploy it to production, which means it goes live and is ready for real-world interaction.

Monitoring and Iterating: The job doesn’t end with the launch. As the chatbot interacts with users, we closely monitor its performance. This helps us identify areas for improvement, whether it’s minor tweaks or adding new functionalities, to continuously enhance the user experience.

How is conversational design different from other types of user experience design?

I would say that Conversational Design is 100% UX Design, but simply focused on the creation of intuitive, natural, and helpful conversational experiences. 

What are the key skills needed to become a conversational designer?

I believe there can be different profiles depending on what type of conversational experiences need to be designed, but in general, I would say:

Hard Skills: UX Design, UI Design, and Conversational Copywriting.

(Bonus: a good understanding of the language + framework used to develop the bots, to provide the best solution within technical limitations and constraints).

Soft Skills: Empathy, Empathy, and again Empathy.

Sounds like a cliché, but empathy is key, not only to understand our client’s needs but to design conversational experiences that sound natural and make the user feel like they are having a conversation with another person.

Can you tell us about some common misconceptions or myths about AI and conversational design?

I believe that the main misconception surrounding AI is that it can understand context as deeply as humans do or somewhat feel emotions. While AI's capabilities are undoubtedly impressive, it's important to recognize its limitations. 

AI systems no matter how advanced can misinterpret cues, and their portrayal of emotions is just a simulation and not a genuine feeling. Understanding this distinction is crucial for setting realistic expectations and appreciating the true strengths and boundaries of AI in Conversational Design.

What ethical issues need to be considered in conversational design?

The main one would be data privacy. As a Conversational Designer, I have to make sure that data is handled responsibly. Transparency is also really important. For example, I’m always making sure the users know if they are chatting with a human or a chatbot. Generally, conversational experiences should be designed to maximize users' well-being, not just their engagement with a screen. 

In essence, the aim is to design amazing, enjoyable experiences that users genuinely need and appreciate.

With AI technology changing so fast, what do you think conversational design will look like in 2024?

I think conversational design will stay the same. What will change is the way we deliver more natural and helpful conversational experiences.

We will see more AI-driven conversations, and we will also see a greater focus on user experience, with more conversational interfaces designed with the user in mind.

My personal hope is that we will move towards the “Super App” model. Imagine connecting with your favorite brand on WhatsApp for virtually everything.

Imagine connecting with your favourite brand on WhatsApp for virtually everything. Need to check in? Just chat with your Arline’s chatbot. Need to order some food? Have a conversation with your favourite restaurant’s chatbot. Shopping? Your virtual assistant is there to help, all within the same app.

For those interested in conversational design, what advice or resources would you suggest for getting started?

If you already are a UX designer, I think a great start would be reading more about the topic. For example, a good read is “Conversational Design” by Erika Hall. Otherwise, I would start by studying UX Design and/or doing some UX Design projects.

Think about the most inefficient things that your company pays people to do, and try to create a conversational experience that takes that pain away. Even if you don’t end up implementing it, you might have a lot of fun in the process. 

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on this interview with Andrea, we clearly see that the future of user experience is being shaped right here, right now. Thank you, Andrea!

Are you curious about how technology is changing the way we chat? 

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