On Thursday, 23rd March 2023, we hosted our first UX meetup event, ‘How AI is changing the world of UX’ with Experience Haus. We collaborated with two industry leaders from Orange and Natwest to learn about emerging trends and potential challenges in AI (artificial intelligence) and digital accessibility.
The first speaker of the evening, Akshay Garigiparthy, Design Lead & UX Advocate at Orange, shared five valuable lessons that encapsulate the delicate dance and intersection between UX and technology, which can create magical and humane experiences.
Lesson 1: Understand human behaviour
First, Akshay shed light on the fact that users do not want to think or learn their way around technology. They have a growing desire for interactions to feel more and more natural (for example with the use of natural language). As a result, he talked about how it is easy to “forget the ‘A’ in AI” as interactions created by AI are becoming more seemingly natural to us. From when we go outside and ask Google Maps to suggest the fastest route to when we ask smart assistants such as Siri and Alexa to add washing-up liquid to our shopping list, these seemingly natural interactions have become characteristic of our day-to-day lives and are examples of AI that we might overlook as ‘normal’. For this reason, expectations of AI are now higher, which designers should keep in mind.
Lesson 2: Design and Technology go hand-in-hand
Next, Akshay discussed the importance of designers being aware of technical abilities and limitations. For assistive technologies to work, every functionality engineered in the design process must work. For example, smart assistants must first pick up on sound waves when a user has spoken aloud, understand the meaning of what the user has said, reason with this, and finally input text to speech in a verbal response. While AI provides digital potential, it is important to consider that every intricate functionality is required to work, and this can sometimes be challenging to achieve.
Lesson 3: Magic makes AI more delightful
In this lesson, Akshay expanded on the ambivalence of AI: on the one hand, we are drawn to the supernatural – the magic of AI makes it fun, and we are intrigued and excited by the prospect of being able to communicate through our thoughts one day. This ultimately helps AI make interactions fun and a joy to experience for users. However, it also calls into question the possibility of relying on this magic and what happens when we can’t get enough of it? These questions guide Akshay’s next lesson: design with human care.
Lesson 4: Design with human care
Akshay began the fourth lesson by highlighting the increasingly fine line that separates AI that makes us efficient and productive, versus AI that makes us lazy, over-dependent and careless. For instance, whilst having AI draft tedious documents and emails can make us more time efficient, it can equally be used in areas that really deserve a human touch. Akshay used the example of a mother using AI to generate a letter for her daughter to express her pride in her graduation from university. While a helpful, swift solution, this equally removes the natural and genuine edge from human interactions. With power, designers bear ever greater responsibility for its use and must ask themselves if this is what they want for humans and consider how we can carefully consider the emotions central to the human experience when working with AI.
Lesson 5: Gain trust through human efforts
Lastly, Akshay emphasised the importance of gaining users’ trust through disclosure. Humans have little confidence in AI as our data is monetised without our consent, and we often feel we are being exploited without our understanding. For this reason, it is imperative that users are aware of how AI reaches specific outcomes and how AI affects their lives. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Privacy means people know what they are signing up for”, a message delivered in 2010 that still holds even more relevance today.
Akshay ended his insightful presentation with a final thought: AI is not necessarily ‘bad’, and we will always be surrounded by it. AI might help us enjoy life more, but the role of designers is to incorporate our humanity into its production.
Becks Brindley, a Digital Accessibility Lead at Natwest, shared insights on the opportunity AI brings to accessible experiences and how we can all play a part.
Becks began her presentation by defining digital accessibility as “the outcome of making digitally accessible everywhere”. Digital accessibility means that digital products and services, such as websites and apps, are:
- Designed in a way that considers the needs of people with disabilities
- Compliant with accessibility laws and regulations
- Personalisable to meet specific users’ needs
- Compatible with assistive technologies
Becks highlighted the importance of embedding accessibility at every stage of the design process. Some instances where designers and researchers might consider accessibility in the discovery stage of a project include:
- UX Researchers might conduct user research (e.g. interviews, surveys and usability testing) with participants who have disabilities
- Designers and researchers become familiarised with accessibility laws and guidelines, e.g. WCAG 2.1 (however, it should be noted that adhering to WCAG does not always necessitate usable experiences)
Becks explained that digital accessibility is everyone’s job, and using inclusive design thinking will make the most out of technological advances such as AI because AI has an opportunity to be the enabler for all people.
Becks also discussed why the inclusion and productivity that digital accessibility promotes are so important. Digital accessibility gives everyone equal access to the opportunities that technology offers and ensures that designs are usable for everyone. When digital accessibility is considered in the workplace, for example, all employees are included. Some examples of digital accessibility in the workplace include audio descriptions for visually impaired employees, closed captions and transcription turned on in meetings for employees who might be hard of hearing, and speech recognition software to support employees with dyslexia. Therefore, implementing these resources and assistive technologies provides employees with a digital work environment that fosters productivity and confidence.
Akshay’s discussion of humane design and Becks’ presentation on digital accessibility provided valuable insights that designers might consider when working on a digital product. The event inspired attendees to look forward to the possibilities of the intersection between design and technology.