Reflecting on 1 year as a full-time conversation designer

Celebrating my CxD anniversary with another blog post

blog post banner. elaineinthebay logo sits at the bottom. text reads, “CxD anniversary: reflecting on one year.”

What’s changed since month 6

Teach a man how to fish 🐟

I initially joined NLX as the founding designer or more specifically, the only conversation designer at the company. A few months into my role, I was joined by my colleague, Cecilia Bolich, who came to my team with an amazing background in instructional design. A lot the work that came out of the team was a dynamic and evolving collaboration across design disciplines— a solid blend of function and delight. You can listen more about our design thinking perspectives in the coffee chat we recorded last year!

printed note reads, “Buy a man eat fish, He day, Teach fish man, To a lifetime.”
truer words have never been spoken /s
presentation slide for elaine’s conversation design presentation to NLX. at the bottom, a note reads: “What does elaine do all day?”
what does elaine do all day?

It gets lonely at the top 😉

Conversation design is not a lonely role per se. Like any UX role, your work revolves around developing relationships and maintaining alignment with your stakeholders. Designs thrive on feedback, and if you’re a conversation designer, you need to be ready to not only explain your decision making, but to consistently ask for feedback as well. You’re never truly alone in the design process, but for my personal preference, I felt I was too far away from the *action*.

a photo gallery of multiple screenshots of elaine in different google meet calls, spread out over the past year. some photos show elaine with a seasonal virtual background, like for halloween and christmas.
working remote-first be like

Work is work, even if it doesn’t get shipped 🛳

The hardest lesson I had to learn as a designer was to value my work, all of my work, including the designs that didn’t make the light of day.

  • Do I know who to reach out to in order to complete [x] task?
  • How early do I need to loop in [x] team(s) in the design process?
  • Who has access to my work, and what do they have access to? Do I need to accommodate for people outside of the company?
  • What’s the timeline for this project and when am I expected to complete each stage of the design process?
  • What are my stakeholders’ preferred conversational styles and how do I best communicate my design decisions using their language?
  • What do/will I need feedback on and how can I drive the discussion to get more concrete feedback on [x]?

What I’ve accomplished

Being a “public” persona, I’ve found it much more difficult to toot my own horn. I don’t like boasting about myself by nature, and sometimes when I get praised for something at work my gut reaction is to be like, “I just did my job, there’s nothing special about that.” Let me move away from that for a moment. Here are some things people have said about my work in the past year that give me the warm fuzzies:

Elaine is calm and assuring in front of the customer as well as knowledgeable and confident in her subject matter that the client feels at ease learning what has been delivered and why.

[She’s] a great communicator. You don’t become a blog goddess without having some skills in that area, and she excels in it.

She knows her onion, understands her audience, and delivers accordingly. If you ever get to work with her, you will be amazed.

Thanks for all your hard work and contributions to NLX. [Elaine has] made a palpable impact, not just not to the business, but also to our culture.

What I’m still learning

I’ve spoken quite a bit on the topic of what multimodal design means to me, but to be honest, I’ve only really talked about it from the perspective of a solo designer. Multimodal design, in general, is hard to scale. Now that I’m not leading every single design aspect of our Voice Compass journeys, from pixels to voice track, I’ve had to reevaluate how I think about multimodality and how I can support and collaborate with my teammates, in particular, the other designers on these projects. This is actually a really exciting problem for me. Every week brings new learnings and I can’t wait to see what refinements we’ll make to our design process!

What’s next for elaineinthebay

Aside from my full-time job, I frequently share my day to day struggles and adventures as a conversation designer online. It started out as a diary of sorts, with no expectation that anyone would actually be interested in reading what I was sharing. It’s now grown into something much bigger than that. In the past year, I’ve: led 1 public workshop, given 6 live talks, done 3 video interviews, and been featured in 2 podcasts. Every other week I’m surprised by someone I haven’t met before dropping me a note saying they know who I am and like what I’m doing. It’s fun, it’s daunting, and everything in between.

One last thought

It’s been a whirlwind of a year and honestly, I’m extremely grateful to be where I am today. In any other job, I would be celebrating my 1 year work anniversary feeling relieved I hadn’t been terminated (that contract life though). I’m happy to finally be at a point in my career where I can put in my best absolute effort, not my best minimum effort. To anyone considering conversation design as a career, let me tell you: it may be be a lonely journey at first (especially if you’re working at a startup), but it’s so worth it.



Conversation designer | CxD mentor

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