You don't have to be an Oracle to understand that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will transform our future lives. Basically, mankind has been dreaming of robots and androids for decades that are our equal and of omnipresent virtual assistants who accompany us through life with their soft off-screen voices. These dreams are gradually becoming reality thanks to rapidly growing technical progress.
Big tech companies like Google, IBM, or Facebook have already grabbed the topic and are passionately tinkering with it. Google’s corporate motto has even been "AI First" since 2016. So now at the latest, it is high time for UX designers to also deal with AI in order to ensure that something useful comes out of it in the end.
After understanding all the power of the AI we are also very interested in the topic of UX design around AI and have since dealt with the following questions:
- How can an even better user experience in products and services be created using AI?
- Which design principles apply to AI-driven products and services?
- What role do we have as a UX designer in this technology development?
- How can we ensure a future worth living with AI?
Well then, let's get started.
New possibilities for a better user experience
At first glance, when you think of AI you might think of the omniscient “superpower” of outer space, but AI works relatively simply and we can currently find it everywhere in our daily lives.
It's in smartphones, in watches, in houses, in cars, and in our voice-controlled friends Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. Like an autopilot, it guides us through the air on a plane or across the sea on a sailboat.
For the creative parts of ourselves, it manages design systems, automatically creates interfaces including code from sketches or retouches images in Photoshop. It gives completely uncreative people the opportunity to become creative.
What was initially just automation, now in combination with sophisticated machine learning enables new, incredibly practicable advantages for us humans?
This is exactly where the greatest opportunities and possibilities for us UX and now more product and service designers lie – namely predictive & anticipatory design.
By definition, Anticipatory is a design discipline that aims to create automated, predictive, and anticipatory systems that are no longer just reactive, but primarily proactive, and on a large scale. Anticipatory Design combines the Internet of Things, machine learning, and UX design.
The aim of this design discipline is to be able to learn and understand the behavior of users to the extent that they can anticipate their needs and trigger appropriate actions. This holds great opportunities to offer us, humans, an incredibly useful user experience. It has been proven that humans have to deal with an average of 35,000 decisions in our heads every day. The mental stress that affects us on a daily basis negatively impacts our ability to make good decisions and ultimately leaves us overwhelmed.
Now with AI, we can design products and services in the sense of anticipatory design that relieves us of decisions and thus mental burdens in our interest and free time for personally more important things.
- The right outfit for the day has been put together.
- The coffee is prepared the way I like it.
- Meetings are automatically scheduled in my calendar so that they do not disrupt my workflow.
- An appointment at another department at 4:30 p.m. I am acquainted with the optimal public transport route plan in a good time.
- If I do prefer my car, the navigation system is already configured for the destination as soon as I get into the car.
- I don't wander around haphazardly in the supermarket, thinking which food I should buy has already been written down for me based on the dishes I cook regularly.
- My training plan adapts to my daily condition.
- Netflix knows what to watch in the evening based on my mood.
- Tomorrow at noon my flight goes to Hong Kong and the next day to Bangkok. Check-in happens without my intervention.
- When you land at the destination airport, a taxi is automatically ready to take you to the ferry.
Develop anticipatory design use cases with experience mapping
A great way to discover possible use cases that offer the potential for anticipatory design is experience mapping. Simply map a user journey for a scenario, try to get into the individual steps, and identify those points where frustration prevails and decisions have to be made. This is where the starting points for the implementation of anticipatory experiences arise.
Current Examples and Adaptive UI
Currently, some applications of Anticipatory UX can already be found in our everyday life. Spotify knows what we want to hear. Netflix – what we want to see. Google and Whatsapp suggest automatic responses to messages or serve us with recommendations for action. In this context, the term "Adaptive UI" will come back into fashion again, as AI makes it possible to adapt interfaces even better and finely granulated to the most varied contexts and needs in order to generate maximum outcome with minimal input from the user. Adaptive UI’s again become fire and flame through AI.
The role of the UX designer in the AI age
As utopian as a future with AI sounds to their proponents, the opponents of such a future see it just as dystopian. While those who create it have a great passion for what is feasible with it, many others perceive the technology as a threat.
The UX designers are exactly in between. It is our job to ensure that people and their needs are always the focus in all these developments and that technology is not advanced for the sake of technology.
For this reason, a set of UX design principles has already been drawn up that apply to the design of AI-based products and services.
UX design principles for AI experiences
Don't create an "experience bubble"
Imagine that you hear, read, and only see what you like – only what exactly corresponds to your opinion. You live in a reality created especially for you. Everything is optimized for you. You live in a loop. In a kind of "Truman Show". This is an experience bubble and the creation of one must be avoided at all costs.
Design for a purpose
We know that good and successful products and services create significant added value for us. Otherwise, we wouldn't use it. The same applies, of course, to AI applications. Here the intelligence in AI does not protect against stupid ideas and junk products too. Instead of focusing on making machines even smarter, focus on people and their needs.
Design for trust
AI works by analyzing amounts of data. Users find it pleasant when something is recommended, suggested, or acted in your interest, but they also want to understand why. Therefore, design trustworthy and transparent applications. Current cases of data abuse make this point a particular challenge and lead to people's reluctance to disclose data about themselves. And if there is no data, we cannot create useful AI experiences. It is also important to pay attention to well-thought-out and sophisticated data training for machine applications. Face recognition software that does not recognize people of color because it has only been trained with white people or recruiting software that does not consider female applicants for certain positions because it has no corresponding role models are an absolute no-no. Such applications cast strong doubts about a future worth living with AI.
Design for loyalty of users
AI applications will not be perfect at the beginning. Btw, nothing is generally perfect. Nevertheless, design applications in such a way that users can feedback misinterpretations on the part of AI in order to improve machine learning and AI. As a very banal example, the typical “Was this tip helpful?” Questions would be very helpful.
Create human experiences
AI experiences must have a personality. It's not about copying human behavior, but about giving applications a certain human touch. This enormously contributes to better user experience and intuitive interaction. Using Alexa as an example, it was found out that users even treat her to “thank you” and “sorry”. So, you give a sense of respect to our digital friends. So, the interaction is not only intuitive but also respectful. More of it for our future, please.
The user is always in control
The users should be able to decide on the degree of automation. Especially at the beginning, when there are still reservations and doubts, it should be important to offer different modes here.
In addition to the duty to ensure that people and their needs remain at the center of developments, it is also the task of UX designers to look further into the future and anticipate the social impact. For this, we use the "speculative design".
Actively shape the future with speculative design
It is clear that AI is a transforming technology. What comes with it will have a decisive influence on our lives, our everyday behavior, and what needs we will develop in the future and thus bring about far-reaching changes for our social system.
What futures do we want? And if so, how many?
We are currently still in the early stages in which we can shape our future life with AI in the way we want it to be for our best. However, there is of course the possibility that we could screw it up and start something that could cause us problems later.
Therefore, it is now essential to ask yourself what kind of future do we want? How should our life with AI work? And what do we definitely not want? AI may currently do smaller tasks for us, but we have to look even further ahead in order to be able to weigh up what effects different developments will have on politics, the social system, healthcare, financial and legal systems. Where can disruptions happen and what will change with them? What does that mean for me as a person? What does this mean for me as a company and for my future success?
With "Speculative Design" we are offered the best tool for researching possible future scenarios and visions, answering these questions, and deriving appropriate measures. First, you think through a wide variety of future scenarios, the degree of which can range from very likely to sometime possible, and then you design artifacts that make it possible to feel, experience, and understand the individual visions. Only when we understand the long-term changes that are possible we can take the right steps to achieve our desired future or to counteract the undesired futures.
We can see from the current development of Uber and Airbnb that systems that were primarily created to offer people more convenience are very complex and their interactions can have an impact on politics, economy, and society. Effects that could have been foreseen with speculative design. So, something that has gotten out of control has to be reacted to in retrospect.
UX Designer - Sheriffs in Town
Legal security, compliance with values, and personal rights, data security, promotion of business and research - all topics that must be considered and kept in mind for the further course of AI technology development. The UX designer has a massive duty here.
UX designers are therefore responsible for shaping how AI encounters us humans and to ensure that we travel towards a future worth living in.