We’re on the cusp of a tech revolution. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, the blockchain and smart cities are going to drastically change all of our lives. Using that technology in an intuitive and seamless way begins with the user experience (UX).
An exciting time for UX
So, it’s an exciting time for UX designers. But it’s completely unexplored territory and this puts UX designers in a slightly uncomfortable position. They cannot fully rely on existing standards and there isn’t a wealth of research to fall back on. User behaviour with emerging tech isn’t defined. In some cases, the audience isn’t even known yet. The tech is still in its infancy, so user needs and habits are still developing. Plus, some devices such as the IoT, are waiting on industry-wide standards. This leaves UX with very basic foundations to build upon.
But it’s going to have such a huge impact on user lives, that UX needs to work with what it’s got so far. How can it go about this? A potential answer was explored at a recent #ProductTalks by Akil Benjamin, Head of Research at Comuzi.
A chatbot to understand the AI experience
He shared insights from a recent chatbot project that the company did to better understand AI and how people interact with it. Akil emphasised that the design approach for emerging tech went beyond UX. Instead, he introduced HX – the human experience.
Because emerging tech like AI and the blockchain will have potentially life-changing impacts, UX designers must consider the entire human experience in design. Poor design could lead to mistaken user behaviour or misunderstanding. In some cases, this will have drastic consequences. A mortgage application could be refused, a judicial sentence mistakenly issued or an autonomous vehicle could fail.
Human experience, beyond UX
Designing for HX was explored by Akil with the chatbot, called MoodJar, and its teenage audience. He began by consulting with the group about their needs from a mental health chatbot. Uncovering some surprising and challenging findings.
Akil found that teenagers see chatbots as tools, not friends. So, designing a chatbot to ‘hide’ its inner workings and appear more ‘human’ was the wrong route for MoodJar. Instead, the team developed the tool to be upfront about being a chatbot and to not use an overly friendly tone.
The teens had a relatively superficial understanding of AI and how it worked. As one user stated, “I could explain Alexa superficially… that’s fine as I could always go and find out more if I wanted”. They were happy to have this level of understanding, except in cases where the AI influenced their finances, health, employment or security. Then, they wanted a deeper understanding of what the AI tool would do.
The need for privacy
For the purposes of MoodJar, keeping conversation non-biased and steering away from humanlike behaviour was enough for users. They also wanted it to be private and hidden on their smartphones so friends and family wouldn’t see it.
Sensitivity around certain topics, like mental health, is vital for UX designers to understand. Users won’t engage with a tool if they feel uncomfortable or exposed by it. The same applies to the use of data and how an AI interacts with them. Any UX designer working with AI and personal data must relay the privacy and security of such tools to set users’ minds at ease. Especially in today’s post-Facebook/Cambridge Analytica world, where consumers are generally less trusting about how companies collect and use their data. Because of this, MoodJar was designed to forget user data immediately after the app is deleted from a device.
Building trust through UX
Building trust in emerging tech is critical to its adoption, so must be a priority for UX. Part of this is communicating limitations. The reality is that emerging tech is still under development and users should be aware of that. Especially with technology that requires a lot of trust.
Self-driving cars, for example, are evolving quickly but risk being undermined by a series of accidents and falling user trust. Uber came under fire for a fatal accident involving an autonomous vehicle that it was testing. Although the reasons behind the accident were later revealed (the victim was walking outside of a pedestrian crossing and wasn’t detected in time) the incident caused public trust in the tech to waver. One solution proposed by UX designers is to make the car’s decision-making clearer to passengers. Showing a screen that highlights a car’s understanding of its location, surroundings and proposed route is a step in the right direction. Passengers of autonomous vehicles must feel in control of the experience.
Differing needs based on trust
There is a significant contrast between chatbots and self-driving cars in user perceptions. The MoodJar users were happy with a superficial understanding of the AI’s inner workings because the stakes were relatively low. As the potential impact and consequences rose, however, the need to know more about AI increased. When designing for AI-powered tools, it’s vital to consider the wider implications of such devices and how this influences user trust.
A human-centric approach
Putting humans at the centre of all emerging tech is key. People won’t use new tools if they don’t feel confident or safe. Improving user understanding in emerging tech will help them navigate those tools and integrate them in society. It empowers users to engage more confidently with emerging tech, by designing it in ways that matter to them.
For UX designers, know that the foundations of emerging tech and its UX are still under development. The approach must be more of a collaborative effort, between UX and users. To help shape understanding around technology and its wider impacts on human lives. Not just when using a tool, but considering the after effects as well. That’s the new standard for UX design. To move beyond users and recognise the whole human.