Are UX designers unprepared to design for a world powered by artificial intelligence? The interaction designer and Carnegie Mellon professor John Zimmerman argued in a story last week that there is a deep split between UX and AI.
We asked readers to share whether they share Zimmerman’s stance and what might be done about it. Here are some of their responses.
AI is just the latest in a long line of technical developments–and designers should treat it as such.
“The state of the design community’s AI preparedness and savvy is, in many ways, a reflection on the immaturity of the AI field in general. As it is, I don’t think consumers themselves have a strong grasp on how AI affects their lives and the products they engage with on a daily basis. For the most part, it’s mysterious and you only notice it when things go wrong.
“Some of this is beginning to penetrate the consumer consciousness, evidenced by Apple’s new emphasis on machine learning and communicating that as a benefit in its products and services. Think of the new camera/portrait features and the introduction of the A11 Bionic chip found with neural network optimizations found in the iPhone 8 and X.
“The general complexity and opacity to machine learning makes it difficult to be harnessed by someone outside the rarified community of AI experts. Even the engineers themselves on occasion find it difficult to explain why a piece of software is behaving the way it does. This makes deliberate, practical application of the technology difficult to accurately envision and plan around—a serious challenge to the traditional design process. But is AI truly different from the last several waves of technology/interactive paradigms that required us to rethink assumptions, and have historically relied on a closer relationship between design and development?
“It seems that as long as AI offers a perceivable, consumer-oriented experience, that experience stands to benefit from visionary design and careful craft.
“Are these questions that brands and agencies are asking? Often not. And that may have more to do with the traditional corporate silos of marketing, design, and engineering. The organic, nuanced nature of AI requires strong integration between these disciplines and that’s something many people have not yet gotten used to. This is a very exciting space partly because it’s not yet clear where some of the best thinking is going to come from. In that sense, we’re all in charge of AI’s future and potential.”—Sam Becker, Brand Union
It’s not UX designers’ job to know how AI works.
“I agree that designers aren’t quite getting up to speed on how AI is evolving, but would argue that it’s wrong to look at it in a very individual, idealistic point of view, making the assumption that UX designers work alone. In fact, in the ‘real world,’ the best UX designers do not work alone, and they collectively understand that AI evolution very well.
“The technology of AI itself is very complex, but to most UX designers, that complexity is no different a challenge than understanding any other programming languages or technologies that they’re not immediately familiar with. Truthfully, I think they shouldn’t need to understand how it works. They have technologists, developers, engineers to rely on to understand the scope and limitations of that technology.
“UX designers are unique because the job itself forces the designer to exercise both their right brain and left brain, combining empathy with logic, evoking emotion yet creating usable patterns. To close the gap between AI and UX isn’t the job of UX designers, but the job of the team behind whatever solutions they are designing and building.”–Ming Chan, The1stMovement
AI will be a welcome challenge for designers.
“All digital designers think in versions. ‘Versioning’ is the parlance we use for admitting that even with all the research, testing and gut checking we can do, nothing we make is 100% perfect. Over time, the ‘real’ world (of people, habits, quirks, and behaviors) will determine the success of our interfaces, our content, and our user experiences.
“Design schools and industries teach the idea of launching in beta, of testing and observation post-launch, of revising and altering to optimize performance and experience. We build in invisible tools, levers to control and steer the experience over time. We reserve the right to retool, simplify, curate down, augment here, delete there, in an ongoing relationship with our work. We version. We update. We improve.
“AI is complex, by anyone’s standards. It’s far more than versioning. But I think AI has more mystique and mystery than anything, close to a real Escher-like landscape for designers to unpack. AI is real-time behavioral learning, and the ability to change our front-end experience in kind. But it’s simply robots doing what designers have done for years–just exponentially faster, and with a lot more quantifiable user data behind them.
“Will designers need to utilize the power of AI much earlier in their process? Absolutely. But is AI just another tool in an ever-expanding design toolkit? For sure. As it happens, I’ve never met a designer who has shied away from harnessing the power of new tools, processes, techniques and technology. That eager, open-mindedness is the practice of design.”—David Schwarz, HUSH
Designers are ready; AI is just hard to build.
I don’t agree that designers aren’t prepared to design for AI. If you ask a designer to think how AI/ML can make their project better, I am sure most will be able to come up with examples very quickly. I think the problem is still that AI/ML is just a new field and we haven’t seen them implemented easily in smaller companies. In my opinion, we don’t see more solutions powered by AI because they are harder to build even if a design comes up with a feasible concept.—Sanchit Gupta
AI isn’t ready for designers.
“I would like to flip the conversation. I don’t think AI is ready for designers. AI needs to adapt to a design age, not the other way around.
Designers need to experience solutions that embed AI/ML for sure. They need to interact with Siri, Alexa, smart home appliances, self-driving cars, intelligent lighting systems, robots, personalization engines, etc. These are all end-user solutions that rely on AI/ML. Gaining an understanding of what’s possible with AI/ML based on experiencing solutions will better serve designers than understanding any underlying computing concepts or algorithms.
Consumer-oriented AI research needs to progress alongside advances in end-user design practice.”—Zach Johnson, Xandra