6 Ways Designers Need to Adapt in the Age of AI

October 5, 2016 Ramy Nassar

Did you noticed anything interesting the last time you uploaded a picture to Facebook? Perhaps you picked up on the fact that, sometimes, Facebook tries to tag your friends and family for you.

Welcome to DeepFace, Facebook’s facial recognition system. If you’re wondering why it’s called DeepFace, it’s because at its core, the system is based on a type of Artificial Intelligence (AI) called Deep Learning.

AI is here, and it’s changing the way that we interact with technology on a daily basis. Most of the time, we don’t even realize when it’s happening. As designers, it’s going to become increasingly important to not only understand the fundamentals of AI, but also to adapt our process and mindsets accordingly. Below are six important changes that designers will need to consider.

1) First and foremost, it’s time to learn what AI is. While designers don’t need to create their own HAL 9000s just yet, a basic understanding of AI (in particular, the areas of Machine Learning and Deep Learning) will give you a huge advantage.

2) Once you’ve learned some of the fundamentals, it’s time to buddy up with your favourite data scientist. Similar to how digital designers collaborate continuously with front-end developers today, similar collaboration with AI specialists & data scientists will be the relationships of the future.

3) Design feedback loops are going to get shorter. As methods such as machine learning start providing designers with deeper and more precise insights, designs will need to respond and adapt more quickly. In the long run, this will also help speed up the time required, for example, to find the right product-market fit.

4) Designers will need to focus (even more) on asking “why?” The quantitative analytics & insights that come out of machine learning algorithms will help point designers in the right direction, but will rarely uncover underlying human behaviours or motivations. For example, imagine building a travel platform where predictive analytics can help inform the system of the most likely country that the user is looking to book a trip in. While there is of course value in this type of insight, the really interesting piece happens when we can understand why users (or user segments) make the choices that they do so that we can design dynamic experiences.

5) The world of AI just starting to open up new modes of interaction, and as designers, we need to catch up. Siri, Cortana, and Alexa are all personified AI-based digital assistants. Since Apple opened up the Siri API, application designers can now use voice-based commands to interact with their apps. So far, for most applications, this simply allows us to do the same things that we could with a touch interface, using our vocal chords. However, over the coming months and years, designers will start to find unique modes of interaction based on voice that allow us to interface with digital systems in completely new ways.

6) Finally, no article about AI would be complete without considering privacy. Privacy by design will continue to be more and more important as we create more immersive, dynamic, and personalized digital systems and applications. I’ve long considered how online learning courses could be improved if we enabled the cameras on users’ devices to detect a student’s current state of understanding and level of interest. If a student starts to tune out during a video lecture (there are plenty of well-documented facial cues that can be used to detect this), perhaps the lecture pauses, repeats a section or tries to explain the concept in a different manner. In a world where the microphones & cameras on our devices are on by default (in order to have the best user experience), a user’s privacy, and how we communicate that privacy, will become increasingly important.

It’s been about 10 years since the last major revolution in digital design took hold — mobile devices. Over the next 10 years, AI -- and the insight it can deliver -- will again radically change the role of designers in creating meaningful, engaging digital tools and systems.

About the Author

Ramy Nassar

As Managing Director, Ramy focuses on promoting Service Design -- working with internal teams and clients to create innovative and differentiated customer experiences. Operating at the intersection of Service Design and the Internet of Things, Ramy pushes the boundaries of how technology can integrate with everyday experiences.

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