What is Conversation Designing? — The Basics

The term “conversation designing” sounds intriguing, no? Every single time I tell someone “I’m a conversation designer”, I get the feeling that those outside the industry do not understand what it is, really. (Amusingly, this is something I have experienced as a “psychotherapist” as well!) So for all those who are students, newbies, and those outside the conversational AI industry, I’d like to explain what the subject of conversation designing is all about.

What’s All that Hype About??

The responses from friends and family after I explain to them what I do has been along the lines of “Wow! That’s an interesting position!”, “That’s impressive!”, etc. And that is because people are most likely hearing this term or about such a role for the first time. For those who have still not fully understood what this profession is but have nonetheless heard of this term, it sounds fancy. You open the browser and check out “what does a conversation designer do” or “what is conversational AI”, you’d find a lot many interesting search results. This could be from conversation design tutors, videos from YouTubers, companies’ posts about their tools for their customers and clients, virtual agents, and many more. On job portals and professional websites who are updated with advancements in multiple sectors, such as LinkedIn, you’d find hundreds of thousands of conversation designers. Many of these employees would be working with AI companies or applications. the demand for this profession is increasing.

Chatting with Alexa — Design and Development

The History of Conversation Designing:

It is often misunderstood that many terms in the world of technology are new, recent developments, when that really is not the case. For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning have also been around for decades, but in the recent times, there are many more advancements happening. Something similar applies to conversation designing, aka CxD as well. CxD is not something that is always associated with advanced products like Amazon’s Alexa or Siri by Apple.

What Counts as Conversation in Technology?

Initially, when the first computers were developed, they would just display the result of the code written. There was no ability for the user to interact with the system, so there was no such a thing as user interface, evidently. But the purpose of building computers and gadgets was for mankind to be able to easily, normally interact with these devices to get what they wanted out of them. The purpose of advancement in technology was to simplify life for human beings by making machines do all the grumpy work, so that we humans could focus on more important and sophisticated things and evolve further. That’s how, little by little, machines and the Internet evolved. There were, and there still are, graphical user interface (GUI) applications. These are simple applications that allow the user to do simple tasks like calculations and editing or saving files through buttons and instructions. For example, when you hit the “Send” button on your computer, the mail gets sent.

With smartphones coming in, initially, they were “elitist” and sophisticated as well, but today, we’re all glued to our smart phones. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that smartphones completely rule the lives of most human beings (I’ll leave it to you to judge if that’s a good thing or not! ;) ). A common man in a developed city can buy groceries, order food, pay bills, video chat with friends on the other side of the world, learn lessons, and even make art with a smart phone! (Technology is interesting, right?) We do this during different kinds of user interfaces, such as GUI, voice-based UI, touch-based UI, etc. All these are examples of “conversations” we have with the gadgets.

Train Ticket Booking using a ChatBot — Conversation designing — Design and Development

Where do Chatbots come in?

With more advancements happening, user’s expectations of these technologies go higher, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s why the demand for conversation designers is high now. The goal of conversation designing as part of a business or service is to keep the end user or client or customer happy by responding to their queries, resolving their problems, and keeping them satisfied. This is where chatbots come in high demand because not only are they useful for clients or customers but they also help businesses in saving huge costs spent on customer service executives.

Today, almost every popular website or company or product uses chatbots in some form or another. You might have used many of them yourself. Do you see that little “Help” icon on the corner of the food delivery app? When you hit that, do you see a chat window opening up? That is a chatbot.

The Pandemic’s Contribution to The Rise in Demand for Conversation Designing —

While nobody saw the pandemic coming, the Covid-19 pandemic shook people across the world. It changed the lives of all of us — personally, professionally, socially, and without a doubt, even emotionally. We all know that so many small and medium businesses had to shut down and those businesses who managed to survive were compelled to go digital as much as they could. To both keep their businesses running and to compete with rival brands, several of these had to create websites and if they already had websites, since it was difficult for customer service reps to visit the offices, handling customers also needed to happen online. Machines needed to be trained to deal with customers of all kinds and users in most of the industries.

Not only were new applications built to resolve the pandemic crisis, but all existing businesses also had to adapt to digital communication with customers and clients as much as possible. This resulted in a wide range of brands taking conversation designing seriously. That’s why conversation designing is no longer about just “elitist” products and services, but it’s widely available for the common man today as well.

To conclude, conversation designing is the art of creating conversations to feed to and to thereby train machines to be able to handle customers’ and users’ all by themselves with little to no human intervention. But that of course is a huge ask. Human intervention is needed because technology is still evolving with machine learning research advancements happening. Still, as research progresses and innovations continue to happen, that’s where we are headed, that’s what conversation designers need to understand as well.

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Lakshmi Prakash

A conversation designer and writer interested in technology, mental health, gender equality, behavioral sciences, and more.