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Career Journey from a Filmmaker to a Conversational Designer (CxD)

a man sitting in a chair

For anyone who wants to work as a conversation designer, the first step would be to understand how human-computer interactions (HCI) work.

By Azfar Rizvi, the Conversational Designer  

If you look at my current role at ADP, you might be surprised with my professional background. For a decade, I was a journalist and a screenwriter traveling and producing films for global news and media networks. In collaboration with World Wildlife Fund and the British Council, my last films toured across Europe and the UK, garnering a mention from editors at Rolling Stone Magazine.  

Who would’ve thought I’d be a good fit at ADP? 

It wasn’t until 2015, when I was asked to consult as a screenwriter for an Amazon Prime Video project, I realized how transferable my skills were from screenwriting. Being part of a writers’ room at a significant streaming network pushed me to explore my fictional dialogue and screenwriting chops! And I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.  

What Is a Writers’ Room? 

 A writers’ room is a workspace where TV writers brainstorm 

each element of a TV series including episode breakdowns, 

 the series arc, the season arc, character development, and  

various substories within each episode or each season. A writers’  

room is where the direction of the season is determined and refined, 

 & where all the creative minds—the showrunner, producers, and writers 

—brainstorm the ways in which they can help create an excellent show. 

   – MasterClass

As I emerged from my journey through Hollywood, I consulted on a year-long Conversational AI project for Google Assistant. This was a daunting undertaking. My Conversational Design work surfaced in front of over two billion users worldwide overnight. The new GA experience combined text and voice interaction ranging from songs and jokes to easter eggs and riddles. We pioneered an interface to bridge the gap between human conversational intelligence and artificial intelligence. Millions of these users were migrants from diverse backgrounds – so embedding grace in the experience to produce content that resonated with everyone took a significant amount of self-reflection and research. When we launched, we hit it out of the park. That was the day I truly understood what it meant for content to converge in the sweet spot between AI tech and storytelling.  

I fell in love with this new universe and this journey eventually culminated at ADP!

Q: Why did you come to ADP and why do you stay?  

This is a great question, and the answer constantly evolves for me. Arriving at ADP during the pandemic, I saw the team’s efficacy in the work of Conversational AI. Thousands of users and clients were trying to access accurate financial information using our existing platforms, and I saw an opportunity to be a part of these exciting acts of service – to be able to make lives easier by serving the best possible solutions in the most empathetic manner.  

I continue to stay and grow at ADP because I love the learning opportunities provided by our UX leadership. The people-centric open-door policy here is unlike anywhere I’ve worked. I collaborate with an amazing team where people and culture triumph in service to overcome personal challenges every day. What more can one ask for! 

Q: Let’s talk about using your creative and technical skills at ADP!  

My role at ADP is a combination of conversation design and process ideation. From a CxD perspective, I collaborate with Product Owners and Managers. At this stage, we dive into what use cases we need on our roadmap and the tradeoffs. Internally, with the User Experience team, it becomes more hands-on as I design the conversational experiences and mockup the technical and functional base of what a multimodal experience could look like.  

For the conversation design process, I leverage skills acquired across my previous work: UX writing, VUI design, interaction design, and audio/visual design. I like to think of my role as that of a bricklayer – understand the user needs, embrace the tech constraints, figure out the underlying logic (APIs, etc.), and design a detailed specification document that represents the complete user experience. The last step is to curate this experience and work with the developers to produce it. This journey forces me to leverage a combination of both industry chatbot standards, and the direction our ADP UX leadership wants our virtual assistant, A.V.A, to take. 

Q: What is a piece of advice for candidates looking for jobs in Conversation Design (CxD)?  

For the past decade, Conversational AI has been incorporated into a diverse collection of form factors empowering users to interact more organically with automated systems. This is when A.V.A, ADP’s virtual assistant comes in place. A.V.A combines digital concierges and AI-powered chat solutions, extending our users’ significant level of intelligent service automation and personalization.  

Conversation Design (CxD) at its core is the craft of delivering a comprehensive experience users might engage in to arrive at a pre-determined automated outcome. It is the discipline of producing a series of detailed design flows/outcomes leveraging the businesses’ purpose and underlying logic to curate a holistic user experience. 

CxD is a new field so there are quite a few pathways into the industry. For anyone who wants to work as a conversation designer, the first step would be to understand how human-computer interactions (HCI) work.  

A good place to start would be to get comfortable with ambiguity. Begin with diving into UI (User Interface) and UX design. Understand the basics of a storytelling arc. Read, write, and analyze dialogues and screenplays. Utilize existing CxD platforms where you can design interactions, preview prototypes, and implement the final experience. Both Google and Amazon have detailed design tutorials for their Assistants. Use these resources to create experiences for your portfolio and start sharing these with peers on LinkedIn. 

Q: What is some overlapping, essential skills required in both filmmaking and designing?  

Before ADP, I produced conversational experiences for virtual assistants at Google and Verizon. A significant part of my skills is a continuation of my learnings from screenwriting and storytelling  understanding the user journey, how can we use context to create an empathetic user experience, and how can we continue to iterate on the results. Take a feature-length documentary as an example: you start with a core narrative, shoot the right visual, and edit to create a final product. The same logic applies to conversational AI chatbot. Before coming to ADP, I spent a lot of time poking holes in my own work – showing it to friends and family and asking them what works and does not work for them.  

Q: What are leaders like at ADP? What is your team’s dynamic?  

The UX leadership at ADP is unlike none other I’ve worked with in the past. These are some of the most empathetic and seasoned professionals in the industry who continue to push the envelope. The conversational AI technological roadmap is constantly being iterated upon and is just one of the hallmarks of ADP’s current work. We have a Design Guild where we show up to support each other’s work, experiment with emerging CxD and UX use cases, and future-proof ADP’s brand. Our leadership is committed to uplifting all of us through weekly 1-on-1 sessions and biweekly feedback walkthroughs.  

Q: What inspires you outside of work?  

My curiosity and passion for storytelling inspire my day-to-day outside of work. Before we were plunged into the Covid world order, I was working with emerging entrepreneurs to empower them to share their stories outside of their communities. ‘Life of I’ is my passion project that has fueled live storytelling events across cities in Canada, the US, Afghanistan, Australia, and Pakistan. I personally work with a select few storytellers who narrate a personal story of their choice in front of a live audience. We’re currently pioneering a new remote storytelling format in collaboration with a local NYC-based co-working space!  

In addition, I am still involved with my original screenwriting team. We’re putting together a spec script for Netflix about a girl who travels across different magical worlds through a portal in her bedroom’s closet. The team’s super excited about this story of resilience and empowerment, and we start shooting in September. Fingers crossed!  

Q: What do you look forward to the most in the future? 

Deep down, I identify as a storyteller. I started my career as a radio producer around 20 years ago. Back in the day, it took me over two hours to line up the right theme music and queue up the correct songs for a 45-minute radio show. Today, the same can be accomplished in less than 5 minutes. The days of DATs are gone!  

Behind all this evolution is the power of AI and automation. 

AI’s technological development has constantly been transforming the way businesses nay the world operates. Developments in VR/AR space, the Metaverse, and the haptics have proven humanity’s desire to continue to push the proverbial boundaries. Over a decade ago, the first smartphone was launched, and it rendered keypads on mobile phones redundant. With this change in the traditional user interface, it was evident that technology will continue to evolve, reducing the size of our devices. Every ten years, human-computer interaction completely changes – Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby, and other AI-powered virtual assistants are a testament to this change. And A.V.A. our virtual assistant is a step in that direction.  

Interested in a Conversational Design career at ADP?       

We are hiring! Click here to see what we have available. 

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