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How do designers be impactful when working on emerging technical products?

Designers' role and impact in emerging tech field such as Machine Learning, AI or AR/VR is yet to be defined. But the change is unstoppable and AI will be prevalent in every product. Products like recommendations or task automation, conversational chatbot, voice solution and predictions will be applied to a wide range of use cases. If AI is as good as the data you put in there, designers can help hold it accountable and create an experience where the emerging tech feels like a copilot to humans. Here are a few things designers can do to be successful.

1) Apply the same rigor of user testing and feedback gathering to emerging tech. Utilize conferences and focus groups for usability sessions with a hybrid research method combining exploratory and evaluative user research to collect trending data and gather new desires. If you just apply known patterns, you might make design vulnerable. In testing, always ask for specific things that are good or bad to train the system.

2) Approach emerging tech such from user centric perspective and question if the solution is really solving users’ pain points. When working with Engineering team, be aware of potential issues by starting to think in algorithms and speaking in engineer’s language. Pick a subdomain such as computer vision or style transfer that you’re interested in and start to unpack it. You will then enter the conversation with confidence because you are familiar with the vernacular. In the immature stage where '<' and '>' are being written, designers can and should step in and interfere with decisions that can impact millions of users and humanity. Just like working on other types of products, constantly negotiate with other departments and become partners that work towards the same vision and goal.

3) Brainstorm negative outcomes should be part of the design process in AI. Designers have responsibilities to address users’ needs and how technology impacts them. Designers should also build in consequence scanning into agile development process to cover intended and unintended consequences so we brainstorm mitigation methods beforehand.

4) Standardize and document! In the case of VR, immersive design guidelines and nuances between VR, AR and MR should be documented to make products understandable for people. In the case of AI, you only have 10 seconds of attention span from users to explain the ambiguous side or failures of AI to them. The intelligent solutions as to how to do it should be carefully documented.

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