V2 Digital: Accelerating the Digital Next

Human-Centred Design Meets Generative AI: The New Era

Daniel Scow
Daniel Scow
November 1, 2023
Human-Centred Design Meets Generative AI

It’s increasingly rare to have a conversation these days without AI, including Generative AI (GenAI), being mentioned and ultimately taking over part of or the entirety of a discussion. 

Whether seen as a threat to job security, a force for gentrifying products, an accelerator of productivity, or an enhancer of digital experiences, GenAI is reshaping industries. However, amidst discussions of technical implementation and efficiency gains, one crucial aspect often remains in the shadows: how to seamlessly integrate GenAI into the design process while keeping human-centred principles at the forefront. After all, humans will continue to be the primary consumers of AI-enhanced content and solutions, making the principles of human-centred product design more relevant than ever.

What is Human-Centred Design? 

Human-Centred Design (HCD) is an approach to problem-solving and product development that prioritises the needs and preferences of the end consumers. It involves designing products, services, or systems with a deep understanding of the people who will use them. The key principles include; empathy, problem definition, ideation, prototyping and testing. 

What is Generative AI?

Generative AI, often referred to as GenAI, is a subset of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that focuses on enabling machines to generate content autonomously. This content can range from text and images to music and code. Unlike traditional AI, which relies on predefined rules and structured data, Generative AI leverages deep learning techniques, particularly neural networks, to create original content. It does this by learning patterns and styles from extensive datasets. The remarkable aspect of GenAI is its ability to generate content often indistinguishable from that created by humans.

Integrating GenAI into the design process requires a thoughtful and human-centred approach. Here are three fundamental steps you should consider to ensure you best maximise this integration of people, process and tech.

1. Understand The Technologies 

Just like any technology, in order for you to maximise the benefits it will provide, you need to develop a deep and solid understanding of its capabilities, use cases and application. 

Below are a few examples of GenAI use cases in Software Development that directly improve the customer experience;

  • Automated Testing to Identify Bugs: Testing tools powered by GenAI can automatically generate test cases, helping identify software bugs and vulnerabilities more efficiently than manual testing, helping to provide higher software quality and reliability.

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) to Improve Experience: GenAI is widely used in NLP tasks, such as chatbots, sentiment analysis, and language translation. These applications enhance the end customer’s interactions and communication within the software.

  • Personalisation to Elevate Customer Experience: To analyse user behaviour and preferences to automatically personalise software experiences, GenAI algorithms can be invaluable. Remembering that human-centred personalisation significantly enhances user engagement and satisfaction. 

These examples illustrate how Generative AI can empower developers to create better, more efficient, and user-centric applications. However, as with any technology, ethical considerations and responsible use should remain at the forefront of its implementation. 

Furthermore, before you look to introduce anything into a proven process, you should conduct adequate due diligence and research before committing to change. 

To get you started, resources like Microsoft’s ethical pillars to AI offer easily digestible introductions on integrating it into your existing processes. As you progress, explore advanced sources and engage with online communities to enrich your knowledge.

Here are some short-form training courses;

Join online communities, forums, YouTube and AI groups to share your own experiences, creations and learn from others.

Engage in discussions, offer feedback and collaborate with fellow enthusiasts. These communities will likely supplement and enrich your learning and inspire new thinking. Here are a few active communities to contribute to:

2. Stay Human 

Once you have developed a decent foundation and working knowledge on GenAI, start thinking about a few simple ‘steps’ or ‘checks’ you can use to ensure you remain human-centred throughout the solutioning process.

Here are five simple guiding principles to kickstart your thinking,

Principle 1. Be Inclusive

GenAI can be used to optimise designs and cater for sets of users with particular requirements e.g. accessibility. Sometimes the ‘optimisation output’ is heavily biased towards or against certain groups of users. 

Ensure that you are optimising the proposed digital solution against criteria that would be considered fair and inclusive. Continually check that there are no groups of users that have been unintendedly excluded.

Principle 2. Embrace Empathy

Empathy and the ability to empathise with someone is one of many superpowers that we as humans have at our disposal. At this point, there is a noticeable gap between what we are capable of doing (humans) and what AI and bleeding-edge technologies out in the market or research labs are capable of.

Continue to embrace and use empathy in your end-to-end human-centred design process. It is after all the not-so-secret ingredient in Human-Centred Design. Actively listen. Be compassionate. Consider all options. Recognise the feelings of others. Keep walking in the shoes of those you are attempting to solve for.

Principle 3. Compare & Contrast

GenAI can rapidly produce a wide variety of content in such a short amount of time. But the content and output will only be as good as the data and input that it has been ‘fed’.

Leverage the technologies to amplify the variance and output of ideas and solutions but always continuously co-create, test and validate with real people to ensure it is creating value, meeting their needs or solving the problem at hand.

Principle 4. Fact Check

GenAI can produce content that seems very realistic, current and factual, but this isn’t the case 100% of the time.

Ensure you use your design and critical thinking skills to evaluate and fact-check all content influenced or produced by the tooling. Embed this as a mandatory check immediately post output, before you proceed further.  

Principle 5. Minimise Bias / Mandate Diversity 

Sometimes content generated by GenAI is generic in nature (as well as potentially false). It can also be prone to strong biases or certain agendas, which means you won’t get the full perspective.

Carefully consider the data you use to train or inform the tooling. Ensure, as much as possible and when relevant, that the information and data are representative of a diverse range of users.

Embrace different perspectives from other team members, departments and customers within the ideation and research activities. Ensure your user recruitment and testing is targeted whilst still catering for varying backgrounds. 

By following these principles and making ethical considerations an integral part of the GenAI development process, individuals can help ensure that AI technologies remain human-centred and responsible in their applications.

3. Experiment & Co-Create

Experimenting, collaborating, and co-creating with GenAI while maintaining a human-centred approach involves engaging with AI technologies and learning about its capabilities to improve user experience. In saying this, as always getting the right balance between technology-led and human-led is essential. 

For any human-centred design process, co-creation and collaboration with real people, ideally the users, have always been a core mandatory principle and are critical to ensure you’re seeing things from someone else's perspective and catering to their unique needs and circumstances.

When it comes to digital product design, there has always been some underlying technology supporting the process, this time around technologies like GenAI can potentially become too centre stage. You must get the balance right. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind based on experience.

Commit & Embed

Stop talking about possibly doing it and commit to experimenting with the technologies. Depending on the project, identify a few key activities from your master design process preferably with a lower risk profile and more conducive to leveraging the tech e.g. Ideation. Make it real and visible. Commit these changes in writing (update your framework and plan).

Experiment & Iterate

There are no right or wrong answers here. Experiment with different tools, input parameters and datasets. Observe and learn from the suggestions and outputs. Take a few risks, what's the harm? Establish boundaries then push them. Conduct experiments and trial the tech within key stages of your process, particularly around the co-creation and research phases. Establish a continuous improvement board. Create test cards and frame them accordingly. Run and monitor these as separate internal experiments. Reflect on the findings. Keep refining the processes based on your experiences. Repeat. 

Create & Contrast Methods / Plays

Look at updating your methods or playbook and create a set of ‘Option B’s’ that leverage these sorts of technologies. Over time, you will be able to compare and contrast how each approach fared - the ‘standard way’ vs the ‘GenAI augmented way’. Reflect and update accordingly. 

Open Mindset

Be open-minded and embrace the potential of the collaboration and don’t be too dismissive of the tech. To truly harness and maximise GenAI, it's essential to adopt an open and playful mindset. Remember, co-creation with this sort of technology is about combining your unique human lens and creativity with the computational power of the tooling. 

Recognise As A ‘Contributor’

Rather than seeing the technology as a ‘tool’, recognise it as one of many active ‘creative participants’. Weave and contrast the ideas and outputs from the technologies with the creations, insights and learnings from ‘real humans’. You will likely generate way more unique ideas and have more available time to refocus on higher value-producing tasks. A win-win. 

By experimenting and collaborating in these ways, individuals and teams can harness the capabilities of GenAI while ensuring that the outcomes remain user-centric and aligned with ethical considerations. This approach promotes innovation and creativity while delivering meaningful solutions to users.

In Summary

GenAI tools are not here to replace human creativity but to amplify it. They can streamline parts of the design process, allowing more time for critical thinking and thoughtful solutions. However, as always, it's crucial to have the end user’s experience at the forefront. It’s important to continuously assess any GenAI outputs and recommendations to ensure they enhance and enrich your human-centred processes and solutions.

It's essential to recognise that the integration of GenAI, while promising, raises ethical concerns. There's the potential for AI to generate misleading or harmful content. Therefore, as you embark on this journey, adhere to ethical guidelines and safeguards to ensure responsible and considerate use of these powerful technologies.

In the words of John Maeda, Vice President of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft, "The route of greatest efficiency is rarely the most impactful." While leveraging technology for efficiency gains, always remember the meaningful outcomes that human-centred design can deliver.

As GenAI evolves, there continues to be room for improvement and endless opportunities with these technologies and V2’s design process. It's an exciting journey with transformative potential and I look forward to continually exploring. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn if you'd like to delve deeper into this conversation.

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