This chapter introduces theoretical and historical groundwork for understanding conversation design as an emerging field of research and practice. Over the last forty years, a growing multidisciplinary body of work has focused on conversation and design in a broad range of contexts. This chapter provides a selective overview of this diverse body of work within its various specialty areas. A skeletal description of the historical background, theoretical roots and main approaches is offered to help situate the reader within this emerging field. The chapter concludes with a look at practical applications in conversation design for the 21st century.