Designing A.I. first Products

There’s a guideline in UX that says a machine should never ask a question to which it can work out the answer on its own. Alan Cooper and his partners, authors of About Face, widely considered the Bible of interaction design, claimed that such a machine would be like a considerate person -- one that takes an interest in us, is forthcoming, conscientious, perceptive, anticipates needs, and displays many other attributes besides.


Today, as artificial intelligence develops at an accelerating clip, these attributes of a considerate person are increasingly attainable through machine learning technologies, and it is no longer crucial for elements of UX to carefully create the illusion of such a person. Instead, a new set of questions arise:

  1. What should the relationship be between human and machine?
  2. How do we make A.I. accessible to, and inclusive of, everybody?
  3. Given that current A.I. technologies rely on large amounts of data to learn, how should A.I.-first products treat data and privacy?

At Clarifai, we believe A.I. is the next platform for our digital interactions. We see an opportunity to revisit many user needs with an A.I.-first approach, just as web needs - such as communications, media (photos, videos), and even business directories - were revisited with a mobile-first mindset. Beyond this, we are also confident that a new set of possibilities will emerge, just as geolocation-driven products emerged with the mobile platform.

augmented reality ui

As with the transition to mobile, there will be attempts to “cross the chasm in two small steps,” so to speak. That is, some will attempt to sprinkle A.I. into their products in the same way that many sprinkled mobile into their products, creating A.I.-enabled systems just as people created mobile versions of their websites. There are probably many instances in which this sprinkling approach is sufficient, as was the case with mobile (mobile sites are good enough for restaurants), but here at Clarifai we’re interested in the set of experiences that will be transformed with an A.I.-first approach.

To begin, one of the fundamental questions when thinking about A.I.-first design concerns the relationship between the machine and the person. There have already been a few stances taken:

The Oracle

The Oracle will know what a person needs before they know it themselves. In this relationship, the machine is superior to the person as it is infinitely more intelligent. This is what Google wants to build.

The Henchman

The Henchman exists to serve the person’s whims. If the person wants to leave 15 minutes late for a meeting, it isn’t going to object because it assumes the person knows best. In this relationship, the machine is subservient to the person, much like the Genie to Aladdin; its intelligence and power is solely used to fulfill its master’s wishes. This is what Apple wants to build.

The Partner

We see a third path here, where machine and person work side by side. The machine’s goal is never to replace the person, but rather to augment them, allowing the two to work in concert.

But what does this mean? For the foreseeable future, there are many things that people can do better than machines, such as empathy, metacognition, and efficiently sensing and encoding new information. Machines, on the other hand, are very good at other tasks, such as organizing information, interpreting data, and deriving insights from situations too complex for people to fully comprehend. We believe this relationship will continue to evolve, but there will always be something both parties bring to the table.

augmented reality interface

With this belief in mind, the design team at Clarifai works hand in glove with the engineering team. There isn’t a bias towards a user-centered approach or a tech-centered approach. Instead, we aim to meet in the middle. One side of the room considers the capabilities of our tech, and asks, “what is possible now that this exists in the world?” The other side of the room looks at what people want, and asks, “how can A.I. best help serve these needs?”

We leave you, then, with three of the top challenges on our minds as we think about designing for an A.I.-first world.

Building human-friendly A.I.

New technology is always scary; especially new technology at the magnitude of intelligent machines. Making our products relatable and approachable is always a central priority for our design team. This is particularly relevant for our iOS photo app, Forevery.

Making teaching A.I. accessible to, and inclusive, of everyone

Right now, people code in order to tell machines what to do. We believe that as A.I. advances people will instead teach machines what to do directly, and it is important for the teaching to come from a diverse array of viewpoints. It is our design team’s goal to make this teaching experience enjoyable, inclusive, and human.

Protecting data and privacy

In the current paradigm of A.I., machines need a lot of data to learn. We think carefully about how best to design our products to obtain the data needed to make machines smarter. That said, we are also deeply aware that the acquisition of data needs to be done respectfully, and so we constantly challenge each other to think creatively about what privacy looks like in an A.I.-first world.

We’re excited to tackle these questions and more as they arise, and we look forward to sharing our learning with you! In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on A.I.-first design!

About the Author

Jason Culler

Jason Culler, Senior Designer and Chief Coffee Enthusiast, has experience spanning multiple design disciplines, Jason focuses on creating products that are usable, meaningful, and filled with delight. And delicious. When he's not tinkering with an Aeropress or seeking the city’s best chocolate babka, you can find him obsessively working to improve his penmanship and trying hard not to break two kids. Check out Clarifai’s A.I.-first products