“Without a doubt, it’s an exciting time to enter the voice design industry”, enthuses Brooke Hawkins, a conversational designer based in Detroit, Michigan.
“The field is being shaped as it is growing,” she explains. “And a lot of the technology is new and exciting.”
An example is smart speakers, which have proliferated in recent years. With these devices, a user can search the internet for anything they can imagine.
Smart speakers can check home security, turn on lights, or turn up the heat in a home.
Says Brooke: “The decisions that people are making right now in conversational design are really important, not only in terms of shaping our relationships with smart speakers, but our relationships with one another.”
Many projects conversational designers work on are complicated and will appeal to anyone who enjoys a complex challenge.
In addition, conversational design isn’t just about voice anymore. Brooke explains that designers are now making decisions about the types of sonic elements in a conversation, such as a noise effect in the background, or an image played in a smart speaker while a story unfolds. All these elements make more effective storytelling.
With any new project, Brooke’s first task is to explore the audience for whom she is designing. She asks herself: What will the technology be used for, what kind of action does she want the user to take, and why?
Once this is done, she crafts a persona that will speak to the audience. She will make choices about the type of voice and images. The purpose here is to build affinity with the audience.
Brooke then moves into writing the conversation. She scripts out how she wants the conversation to flow between the interface and the target audience. It’s important to design questions so that the interface gets the required responses. But, at the same time, a conversational designer needs to consider all the variety of responses a user may give.
The script is mapped out in a flowchart, indicating where the conversation should go next. At this point you have a conversation. But it's important to test it with colleagues and potential uses, so that a conversational designer can identify anything missed, or any confusing aspects of the conversation.
The approach can change slightly depending on industry and the audience, and where the conversation will take place, such as at home, in a vehicle, or at the office.
Brooke encourages anyone who wants to enter the field to begin by doing some digging online. She says a good start is to get involved in a local Women in Voice, chapter and talk to people about their work and where the industry is at the moment.
“Get plugged in and see how people in the industry are thinking about their work in real time,” she says.
Next, she advises people interested in pursuing conversational design as a career to interact with conversational experiences in their day-to-day life. Critique them and pick them apart. With this kind of experience, an individual’s critical thinking skills about voice technology will grow.
“A keen and critiquing eye is something employers are looking for,” says Brooke.
While looking at data is a part of a conversational designer’s work, they don't necessarily have to be strong at statistics. This is good news for aspiring voice tech designers who have struggled with math.
Brooke notes that a voice interaction designer should be able to analyze data and understand, for example, why users may be dropping off at a certain point in a conversation. However, being curious and tenacious are more important traits for anyone who wants to succeed in conversational design.
Brooke believes that voice technology really matters because it is the human layer on top of a lot of complex algorithms.
“As a voice designer, I am really interested in how voice can educate people and help them take control over the data, and have more healthy and positive interactions with computers.
“It’s the special responsibility of voice to be the steward and the frontline of a lot of this technology, and I think that’s really cool,” says Brooke.