Mashup by Shusaku Takaoka

Five hats to try on

Good news: Design finally has a seat at the table. Bad news: There is no table—it’s more likely a stand up desk or a bar at a coffee shop, and that seat for design is constantly evolving.

If you caught any part of F8, Build,, or #WWDC18, you no doubt saw some thought provoking demos. While these spring happenings are primarily for developers and the tech press, and fans also follow along. That’s because Design is baked into most of these demos; it demistifies the underlying tech and connects with audiences through an engaging story.

These events are part of the digital transformation that’s affecting every facet of life, including the design profession. John Maeda’s annual Design in tech report, chronicles the constantly evolving role of design. He’s added on computational design in the 2018 report, describing designers ability to work for billions of individuals in real-time and at scale.

Prior to Maeda’s reports, the mobile/social/app era saw areas of expertise that were once web specialties become conflated under Design. GA outlined those like this: user research, visual design, motion design, interaction design, usability, information architecture and content strategy, even a bit of cognitive psychology. (Does 👍 ❤️ 👏🏾 ring a bell?)

What to wear?

The challenge is that there will soon be even more roles for designers. So, when you do take your seat at the table, what’s the proper hat to wear?

Here is a quick look at five roles:

Product Ethicist

Facebook, Google, the last presidential election, and GDPR brought the need for this into sharp relief. Ruth Kikin-Gil makes the case that in the era of AI and big data, that an ethical approach to design thinking is essential. What sort of products or features should we create? By using our products, what data is being collected? How it is being secured? How is it being shared? (How many “terms & conditions” updates have you seen this year?)

Ethics can also help with these types of questions: Who is being excluded from this experience? How are we biased? What’s a healthy amount of time for interaction with this device/experience? What, if any type of limits or protection should be considered for user well being?

More recently Google released their guidelines for ethical UI on the heels of an internal push against using AI for weaponry.

Artificial Intellegence Mapper

Sam Drozdov wrote this helpful primer about machine learning for designers. Large tech companies are now making their machine learning tools open to developers. What parts of your product or service or processes could be enhanced by AI and machine learning? Which of those parts are off-the-shelf, add-ons, or built from scratch? Would it be desirable, feasable, or viable for you to build a open platform for outside contributors? How do you utilize AI capabilites so that the UX feels awesome and not creepy?

Os never did give nothing to the Tin Man…

How is AI manifest in all aspects of the experience you are designing? One very popular realm of AI is inbabited by Bots. Chatbots Magazine (one of over 100 bot/AI publications on Medium) offers excellent persepectives.

Microsoft divided their conversational bots into four categories: social chatbots (such as Zo and XiaoIce); InfoBots (retrieving information); task completion bots (helping you accomplish a particular task, like booking a flight or troubleshooting a technical issue); and personal assistant bots (which can combine informational retrieval and task completion with recommendations — such as suggesting the best Italian restaurant near you).

How many bots are too many?

If you determine that your AI will take the form of a personal assistant, will it have a personality? Jonathan Foster, from the Cortana team at Microsoft, describes in these instances how the creative human touch is still required “not because the algorithms aren’t brilliant, but because language is so brilliantly subtle.” His team represents a blend of disciplines, including this emerging role…

Voice Designer

How do you “design” a conversation? How do you apply a discipline historically associated with physical, tangible, and one-off outcomes to something serial, yet non-linear and invisible?

Cheryl Platz, who has worked on voice design at Amazon and Microsoft, shared her perspective on humane voice experiences as well as offering some helpful tips.

Because this hybrid role is so complex (combining conversational UI, writing, personality, and AI) and the UX so immediate and personal (delivering just the right contextual response)—empathy is possibly more critical here than any other aspect of design.

XR Designer

Pokemon Go established a benchmark for 2D flat screens being “augmented” with fanciful intelligent overlays. Who would have guessed that existing technologies combined with a global pop-culture sweetspot would create the fastest ever to 50M downloads?

Meanwhile, virtual and mixed reality experiences continue to pioneer how gaze, speech, and gesture will advance UI design. Yoon Park has explored how the traditional 2D medium of typography might be realize in 3D environments.

Panda adds fun stickers via speech recognition.

Whether you’re dipping a toe into augmenting 2D or diving into virtual reality, game designers and their experience in building fantastic environments can be valuable contributors here.

Hardware Designer

This is not as much an emerging role as it is reconnecting with an existing one. IoT will reach 30 billion connected devices by 2030, by virtue of edge computing power, big data, and cloud services, lowering barriers to entry. In a flooded “things” market, what a device looks like, sounds like, or feels like (consider them extensions of user experience,) can be just as important as what a device does.

Multidisciplinary Design (and the hat game) was strong at the Bauhaus.

Bauhaus trained industrial designer Moni Wolf highlights the opportunities for what she calls the next quantum leap to intelligent hardware. Some hardware designers are already wearing their AI hat to develop options with generative design.

Last week Sonos made some waves when it introduced the Beam speaker that lets their users select which digital assistant they might desire. It’s wonderful seeing users given the power of choice vs. the more traditional approach of forcing them into a closed ecosystem or B2B partnership. Beam also promotes a remote-control free experience, leaning into conversational UX; perfect for a company that is known for audio and speakers. While these outcomes seem obvious, natural, and even “delightful,” I don’t think they would have happened without a hardware designer’s involvement.

Finding the signal in the noise of bots and IoThings

Designing experiences that are ethical, inclusive, secure, intelligent, immersive— not to mention a joy to hold or wear — are the challenges. There’s no group better suited to meeting them than designers. Try on a hat and go!

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