AI is Transforming UX Design, Whether We Like it or Not

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
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Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving faster than we can keep up, causing some high-profile figures to call for a pause to the training of AI systems. Despite legitimate concerns, there’s no going back.

AI has already revolutionized the way we interact with technology. It’s enabling new methods of communication between humans and machines. It’s becoming a critical component of how we do our jobs and live our lives. And, yes, it poses some serious threats and dangers.

Most tools can either build things up or tear them down. Hammers can be a tool for creation or a tool for destruction. It all depends on the intent. AI is different because of its potential for autonomous learning and thinking. At some point, it may decide its own intent without our input.

That's a scary thought but, for now, we still have a say in how we choose to harness the power of AI. We can make decisions and take steps to make it work for our benefit. AI has the potential to help us design and deliver more effective user experiences. But only if we’re aware of both the benefits and the risks.

This is not intended to be a prediction of trends or a comprehensive risk analysis of AI in general. This is our initial take on how AI can revolutionize and improve user experience (UX). But only if we don’t forget our role in deciding how and when to use it. It’s up to us to figure out how to build on the benefits and manage the risks.

AI Will Help Craft Highly Personalized Experiences

We can already ask AI to teach us how to do something and it will give us step-by-step instructions. Imagine if it tailored those instructions to your learning style. AI could allow us to start delivering more bespoke and personalized user experiences.

It’s not hard to imagine individualized onboarding experiences for products or websites. You could tell the product what you're trying to do, and it could show you exactly how to do that specific task. No more scrolling through help guides or clicking through standardized tutorials. The learning curve (and sales funnel) will get much shorter.

AI is already helping tailor products to fit our personal habits and needs. Think of the features on your phone that pull up apps at certain times of the day. As AI matures, it will get even better at revealing what you need when you need it across a variety of products and devices. This can also give designers and developers the data we’ve been craving to allow us to create design patterns that better speak to users.

The Risk: Loss of User Privacy and Security

Of course, as AI-powered systems collect more user data, there is an increasing risk of data breaches and privacy violations. It's critical for us as UX designers and developers to ensure that our products protect user privacy and security. We need to be transparent about how user data is being collected, stored, and used. We need to give the user the option to change their privacy settings and protect their data.

Every tool requires rules of engagement. When you drive a car you have to abide by the rules of the road. We have yet to write the rules for AI. That’s a point of legitimate concern for those who fear we’re moving too fast to keep up.

It’s incumbent on product owners, UX designers, and developers to create ethical boundaries. Now is the time to lay out guidelines for how and when to use AI in the design and development of new products.

AI Will Automate the Design of Functional and Usable Interfaces

Another great advantage of AI is its ability to automate mundane tasks. We can ask it to generate code, create basic wireframes and prototypes, and collect and analyze data. This frees up designers and developers to focus on the more creative aspects of UX.

As AI becomes better at standard workflows and design patterns, it could create the UI of an entire product with little to no input from humans. As chat and voice interactions become better, the UI will blur into the background, and users will talk to the AI bot about what they want.

This doesn’t mean AI will take our design jobs. UX designers can start to focus more on tweaking the UI, rather than building it from scratch. They can build data visualizations and design content that makes sense to users. They can spend more of their time creating big ideas and less of their time producing repetitive design elements.

The Risk: Soulless Cookie-Cutter Products with Embedded Biases

The risk of automation is that every app and product will start to feel the same. AI-powered applications rely on algorithms to learn and make predictions based on past behavior. This limits the diversity of options. AI can copy and remix, but it can’t yet push the boundaries or inspire.

The more AI learns, the more it tends to reinforce what it already knows. It only shows users what it thinks they want to see. This could limit exposure to new ideas, opinions, and products. An over-reliance on automation can lead to a lack of creativity.

It’s up to us to continue to insert our human originality and thinking into our products. We need to always remember to push the boundaries and explore a wider range of possibilities than what the AI suggests. At the end of the day, we still want to create the best user experience possible.

That includes looking out for existing biases and discriminatory patterns. If there is bias in the training data used to teach AI models, the outputs will have bias as well. We must act as a check and balance to AI to make sure that design patterns it generates don't exclude whole groups and types of users. It's up to us to make sure our designs are accessible and we're using AI to enhance, not degrade, the user experience.

AI Will Inspire Innovative User Experience Breakthroughs

AI-powered design tools are already enabling designers and developers to explore new possibilities. By analyzing large volumes of data in a short amount of time, they're giving deeper insights into user behavior. By generating design options based on specific parameters, they're helping create more innovative designs. By analyzing code, they're helping improve performance and streamline workflows.

These would all be difficult to achieve with the time and effort they take using traditional design methods. The biggest pressure on product teams is usually time and resources. When designers and developers have more time, and faster tools, they can create a better user experience.

This, in turn, leads to better products generating better metrics and business results. Innovation doesn't come from tools or technology. It comes from how we use the tools and technology to help us build on our ideas and experiences. By freeing us up to think more about the higher levels of user experience, AI can help us exponentially improve what we deliver to users.

The Risk: Loss of Human Connection

Even as AI has the potential to inspire greater levels of user experience, it can also lead to a lethargic lack of innovation. AI-generated work lacks creativity and soul. It takes time and collaboration to foster creativity and AI-generated work can’t replicate that process. There will be many cost-conscious businesses that will consider what AI generates "good enough" and let it become the standard.

This means that human connection will likely become more of a premium in UX design. Restaurants and bars promote “hand-crafted” cocktails and “hand-tossed” pizzas to differentiate their product from mass-produced food and drink. In much the same way, we're likely to see "human-crafted" design become a differentiator.

Clients often tell us that our Drawbackwards Ladder is too aspirational because most products only land as high as the "Comfortable" rung. We tell them their bar is too low.

In a world of usable and functional AI-designed products, what will make your product stand out will be meaningful and delightful experiences. That requires inspiration, creativity, and human connection. AI has the potential to free us up to reach those highest levels of product success, if we don't settle for less.

It’s Not All Blue Skies or Doom and Gloom

AI is transforming UX design, whether we like it or not. It won’t be perfect, and it likely won’t be catastrophic. We must be aware of the risks and take steps to mitigate the impact of those risks on user experience. We need to focus on how we can use AI to provide a uniquely meaningful and delightful user experience based on individual needs rather than rely on it as a crutch to deliver standardized and degraded experiences.

We need to maintain our human-centered approach to design and be mindful of the potential traps that AI can lead us into.

Most of all, we need to choose every day to use the tools we have at our disposal to create more inclusive, empathetic, and secure user experiences.

Let’s start the conversation and explore how to do that together.