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Back to the value – what does AI mean for UX?

Back to the value – what does AI mean for UX?

Artificial Intelligence is to UX designers what the DJ 3000 was to KBBL 102.5FM radio presenters Bill and Marty in the famous Bart gets an Elephant episode of the Simpsons. In the episode, the radio station ran a competition where contestants could win an elephant, with the twist being that when given the choice of an elephant or a cash prize equivalent, everyone selected the latter.  Everyone that is, except Bart Simpson, who insisted he preferred the elephant.

This caused pandemonium at the radio station, who hadn’t prepared for anyone actually wanting the elephant. In the midst of the chaos the radio station manager threatened the DJs that unless they sorted the problem they are to be replaced by a machine – the DJ 3000.  The machine had, and I quote, “three distinct varieties of inane chatter” with which to fill the airwaves.

  • Hey hey how about that weather out there?
  • Woah that was the caller from hell!
  • Well hot dog, we have a wiener.

When DJ Bill punched the machine in frustration, he found a fourth inane variety when the machine commented “Looks like those clowns in congress did it again – what a bunch of clowns” causing his colleague Marty to ask “How does it keep up with the news like that?”  Bill replied with a response which will resonate with everyone trying to work out if AI is going to take their job – DON’T PRAISE THE MACHINE!

Bringing matters up to the present day, the UX 4000 (the 2023 descendent of the DJ 3000) similarly provides many varieties of inane and vanilla experiences.

  • The FAQ dumping ground of confusion
  • The hamburger menu of doom
  • The stock photography lake of mediocrity

While the world is at the start of its AI journey and we don’t know exactly how it is going to impact the discipline of UX, early direction of travel suggests that AI can help with some of the more mundane areas of UX. Where areas of interface best practise or effective design patterns have been established, AI can shortcut their implementation.

  • Auto–generation of user interfaces using effective design patterns for common challenges, based on criteria such as type of industry, type of functionality being offered or type of product being promoted
  • Data analysis, joining up the capturing of data with the analysis of its findings and the subsequent implementation of an improved user experience, leading to conversion optimisation and other commercial benefits
  • Faster prototyping, effectively using the data analysis as described to power more rapid and iterative prototyping earlier in a design process, directly connecting user insight and preference with interface design decision–making

Of equal interest to this author are the areas where we need to resist AI and where its lazy use or inappropriate implementation can only lead to bad outcomes. In other words, there remain things which humans can do uniquely well, or can only do.  These reflect the simple truth that the machine’s intelligence is artificial whereas the human’s intelligence is genuine. And this genuineness – realness is perhaps a better word – allows us to uniquely identify and deliver real solutions for the real world.

  • Expressing empathy, acutely understanding the needs of another human with a level of depth which allows us to design with them and for them
  • Overcoming bias, including systemic bias and our own personal bias, by research and understanding our users intimately (while AI “knows” everything which is available on the internet and uses it as its source of truth, that information itself codifies and reinforces the human biases which put it there in the first place)
  • Promoting fairness and learning from past mistakes such as racial bias in facial recognition programmes and gender and ageist bias baked into voice recognition algorithms

Douglas Adams famously defined a set of rules to describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty–five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty–five is against the natural order of things

Reuters reports that ChatGPT is the fastest–growing computer application in history, reaching 100 million active users in two–months. Its dizzying growth and apparent intelligence can make it feel unnatural, sentient almost.  In assessing its usefulness for UX as with other endeavours, it’s good to be coldly analytical.

There is no doubt that human exceptionalism has led to what can euphemistically be called overreach in terms of our impact on the earth’s resources. Equally, human over–stimulation from the world around us makes it challenging to think and act independently and mindfully (as we’re reminded in The Matrix as in many other books and movies). However, notwithstanding our ongoing need for humility and self–awareness, when we’re at our best, our self–awareness, deliberateness of action and human empathy can’t and shouldn’t be outsourced to machines or anything else.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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