Mark Bünger is the VP of Research at Lux Research, a company that specializes in intelligence for emerging technologies. Our CEO Raffaela Rein interviewed him to find out how he connects the dots of UX design and artificial intelligence (AI) and to explore the ways in which emerging technologies will change the tech landscape.
Read on to find out how he ended up in such a niche field, and get his top tips to be prepared for future interfaces.
How did you end up learning about the UX of artificial intelligence?
I left university in the early 90s, just as graphical user interface (GUI) was just starting to take over from text-line screens. I already knew GUI well, even Windows was still the main player, because my dad worked at Xerox, where it was invented. So I had access to advanced computer interfaces, and stayed with it as multimedia and the web came along, working in management consulting.
Then, in the noughties, mobile interfaces emerged, and interface design became more important with devices like the iPod and then iPhone revolutionizing hardware. Next up was the Internet of Things (IoT), and there again, UI was a key differentiator.
But something else was new: artificial intelligence (AI), and people were already starting to talk about it as a game changer. A friend of mine has a startup that uses AI and voice interface for companies. I found it really interesting - working with very complex data.
I realized that we really needed to strengthen the connection between artificial intelligence and user experience design.
It felt to me like they weren’t speaking to each other as much as they should have been - so I set out to change that. I gave a workshop at Stanford and several other places to help to bring AI and UX together.
It’s definitely improved, but I’m still building bridges through giving workshops, as well as doing consulting work and industry research. I’m fascinated by who is designing what, and which new interfaces have big commercial potential, like virtual reality (VR).
The challenge is that many people think of interface design as graphical user interfaces, or some variation of a traditional interface, just with new features such as voice interaction.
Modern interfaces, such as chatbots, virtual assistants, or virtual therapists are really more like people in the way you interact with them. And until now the UX has generally been pretty terrible. I think we need to be creating a story structure, a narrative.
The way we interpret news, relationships and so on is like a story progressing, not an isolated interaction.
Chatbots should be more like this - we should employ the Hollywood formula - creating meaningful stories. I saw someone from Disney talk about how Disney characters create a relationship with the ‘user.’ They manage to successfully create close relationships on a huge scale. Millions and millions of people feel like they know Ariel, or they know Goofy the dog. They have unique personalities, which come across in different mediums - apps, films, books and so on. They are experts in creating this consistent narrative across different interfaces.
What advice would you give to someone designing AI products?
The most important pieces of advice I would give are:
- Choose the right channel
- See new interfaces as an experiment
- As with all design - spend time with users
So to choose the right channel, it is important to consider what information needs to be conveyed. If you want to explain something technical or very complex, a graph or video with visual demonstrations may be more suitable than voice or text.
When I say we should be prepared to experiment, I mean that we live in an age where there are many possibilities but we can’t predict which ones will take off.
The desktop interface hasn’t really changed much in 30 years, and while there has been new hardware inventions, such as Google Glass, these alternatives have yet to really shake up the market. But one of them will, and whoever wins will learn that first via experimentation.
And finally, spending time with users is crucial (as always). I see a lot of AI interfaces which try to show off rather than focusing on functionality, or others which simply need a lot more user testing and improvement. It’s so important to understand how users see the world.
How do you think UX designers can train for artificial intelligence specifically?
I think the main thing is to think beyond the devices and interfaces that we currently use. Don’t become limited to these.
Look for inspiration in everything - think of the world as an interface. Look at art, science fiction, computer-generated design, data rich interfaces. Go to makerspaces and print out designs in 3D. Anything can be an interface.
How can you get involved?
If you’re interested in user experience, it’s good to keep in mind that over the next few years this field is going to drastically change - with new and increasingly complex applications.
Whether it’s the UX of self-driving cars, the UX of augmented reality or virtual reality, or the UX of voice recognition; artificial intelligence and machine learning is set to create exciting challenges for designers.
Because we know UX design will change, our Certified UX Designer program includes optional specializations in emerging technologies like voice recognition (VR). And because students have lifetime course access - you can always be ready for the next chapter. Sign up for our FREE short course to learn more!