Why Human-Centered Design is Critical to AI-Driven Services

Pontus Wärnestål

Artificial Intelligence, AI, is continuing to advance. But in many AI initiatives, a critical component is missing. Read about why Human-Centered Design is critical to succeeding in the AI space, and how you can get started.

The excitement of artificial intelligence continues. We keep hearing grand promises of a complete re-shaping of organizations and society thanks to big data and AI-powered projects. Media reports on new technical advances, and it’s easy to get the feeling that new “artificial minds” are outperforming humans in more and more domains, ranging from healthcare, transportation, logistics, and financial investment, to games and even creativity.

At the same time, recent studies estimate that 60 percent of data-driven and AI projects fail to even launch. And we also hear many concerns about the risks with AI, such as robots taking people’s jobs and how negative bias can spread fake information that can amplify and distort public opinion. These problems require us to think about AI as “augmentation” or “extension” of human intelligence, rather than AI being self-contained “artificial minds” for automation. 

In other words, success in this space is not only about data and algorithms. Value is not in the algorithm itself. Value is instead derived from algorithms that have been designed for the context where they should operate. This means that you need to start from the desired impact and base your AI-driven services in human behavior. You have to realize that the paradox of automation states that humans operating within an AI-augmented context need more skill – not less – to be successful since the ability to manage hand-off and take-over between human and system is complex.

Read that again.

I’m claiming that successful AI should not aim at replacing human intelligence, or that AI is de-skilling workers. The future of successful AI instead lies in the ability to design for human-machine collaboration. It was concluded by chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov, several years after having been beaten by IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer, that the best performing chess player is a combination of human, machine and method. The interesting thing is that in freestyle chess competitions – where any arrangement of humans and computers are allowed – winners are often a team of human players that use the input from several computers. Amateur human teams use their strategic guidance combined with the computation power to consistently beat single human chess grandmasters and chess computers. This is known as Kasparov’s Law and it states that “Weak human + machine + better process” is superior to “Strong human + machine + inferior process”.

Human Behavior and Process Perspective

In the business context, this means that the value lies in implementing AI technology from human behavior and process perspective. An AI project that only concerns itself with data and algorithms will miss the overall environment where value and impact are created and derived. I argue that this environment needs to be designed from a human-centered perspective. And that requires us to qualitatively assess human behavior, decision architectures, information flows, and culture, as well as aligning business strategy with outputs, outcomes, and ultimately impact. Only by contextualizing AI, humans, and process can we achieve the desired impact.

This is what human-centered design is about. By taking a holistic perspective of the service platform, you can strategically reason how such a platform can augment humans – both internal workers and end-users – and provide magical user experiences.

Do you want to learn how to work with augmented service platforms, and understand how to contextualize AI technology to create value and impact? One way to start is to join us in our open course on Human-Centered AI in December.

AI – why designers are still in the game

Dan Wikström

Our Daniel Wikström joined one of the workshops during the FBTB19 conference. Here are some of his thoughts about Christopher Noessel's workshop "Designing for AI".

As a full-time Trekkie, I find myself constantly daydreaming about cool sci-fi-like technologies of the future. Longing to be apart of a future where the extent of AI in my daily life is beyond Siri or Google assistant. Yet all around me, I see how the development and promise of “cool” future technologies such as AI and machine learning, solely being associated, and more importantly accredited to developers. 

As a designer I have felt compartmentalized, my occupation being forever condemned and restricted to one day perhaps, at best, designing the user interface of a replicator. I have essentially been shut-off from the innovation.


Picture of replicator:

However, after attending Chris Noessel’s workshop “Designing AI for People” my hopes are back.

Furthermore, I found myself inspired more than ever to help other future technology enthusiastic designers like myself to realize how our practice is very relevant to the field of AI, and that it is about to become even more relevant.

Here are just a few takeaways from Chris Noessel’s workshop at From Business to Buttons 2019. I recommend attending one of his workshops, because there are much more to learn than what I will list here. In case you can’t right at this moment, start to get to know him and his ideas by watching his talk at FBTB19

Anyways, back to it, the Chris Noessel workshop in Stockholm 2019.

The workshop essentially entailed an introduction to types and different levels of AI, as well as exercises on how to create scenarios with these types of AI. At the core of the workshop, two AI terms were defined, Assistant and Agentive technology, which essentially entails any narrow AI that either assists us in our tasks or that is able to make decisions on our behalf, respectively. Get a full explanation by Chris here.

Here are three gems I was able to retain from the workshop

  1. Designing AI for people means many things, but in order to design something that will be in use, we must first start by “designing the right things”. Chris used the double diamond to illustrate how we are the initial stages of discovering and defining what actually is “the right thing to design” before we “design things right”. Essentially making designers the visionaries of this quest. 




  1. Since the workshop entailed designing AI for people, we looked at an embodied model that allowed us to see how the tech enables the user to be better at what they do, as Chris put it - “A good assistant helps, a great assistant helps you get better”.



  1. Finally, Scenarios, Storyboards, and lo-fi prototypes are powerful! These tools lend the non-coder the ability to explore user stories, make strategic decisions, and most importantly to communicate with important stakeholders.

See all the talks from FBTB19 here!

Take a course in AI for designers, at inUse Academy!

A Formula for Getting Creative Stuff Done

David de Léon

I have hit on a formula for getting creative things done. It consists of two simple ideas and it has done wonders for getting things out of my notebooks and into the world. Most recently I used the formula to write a short book on creativity in about a week. What will you do with it?

In talking with people it seems as if one of the main barriers to getting creative things done is self-censoring: the fear that what we are doing is not good enough or original enough, and concerns about what other people may think of us.

Our creative urge is also often quenched by ambitions set too high. Mix all of that doubt together with social anxiety, high ambitions, and the limited time that most of us have available, and most projects never get off the ground.

The two-part formula that I have hit upon circumvents these mental barriers, as well as our limited time for side projects. It goes like this. 

Part One

Figure out the smallest version of your idea. What is the smallest, quickest, simplest embodiment of your idea that you can come up with? And don’t worry if this is a version that people will care for, or pay for.

Let me give you an example. I have accumulated a long list of ideas for books that I might write. Not long ago that list included over 30 different titles. Clearly, I am never going to write those books, but is seems a shame for them to exist only as ideas hidden away in a list. I reviewed my list and put aside about five titles that I might conceivably want to write one day. I then took the remaining titles and started making fake ads for them. Ads, that was the smallest version of my book ideas that I could come up with. These ads are a bit like one-panel cartoons, where each one captures some provocative and often humorous thought. Making funny ads for non-existent books is a significantly smaller task than actually writing, editing and publishing those books. I created a channel for them on Instagram and shared them with my friends.

Now for the second part of the formula:

Part Two

Make the smallest version of your idea that is easy for you to create with the particular resources and skills that you have available.

What does this mean? It means that if your idea requires you to draw, and you are not very good at drawing, then find a form for your idea that matches your ability, or which replaces the need for drawings with something else (e.g. collages or photos). If you still need drawings, then consider ways of generating them that match your ability. Or, perhaps ask a bunch of children to make the drawings for you, or program an AI, or make use of public domain art, or substitute written descriptions of the drawings for actual drawings.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or exchange favours. The people you know are part of the resources that you have at your disposal.

For my Instagram channel, I made simple book covers in a vector graphic program. This is something that I have done before and knew how to do. Instead of taking nice pictures of people reading and holding books, I simply purchased some stock photographs. At first I used a different image for each ad, but then simplified this further and reused the same photograph, only varying the colour of the book cover.

Here is the first one that I made:

The advantage of this approach is that it is doable with the time and skills that you have. You don’t have to make the most developed and ambitious version of your idea. Having something out there in the world, I would argue, is worth so much more than having something stuck in your head or in a notebook. It is also incredibly rewarding and motivating. The minimal versions of your ideas become prototypes which you can test on an audience, and revisit and develop later should you feel like it.

Here’s another cover:

It might be obvious by now that I like books. I also have a YouTube channel where I talk about books. I used the same approach for the channel as outlined here. Rather than faithfully reviewing books, which would require careful and nuanced reading, I decided to simply talk about whatever struck me as noteworthy in a book or, if I had an interesting angle, to talk about that. Sometimes I even talk about books that I haven’t finished reading.

I started with a simple process for making the videos, and have since worked to make it even simpler. The simpler I make the process — and the more stripped-down I make the idea for a video — the more likely it is that I actually make a video.

A lot of creative formats

Sometimes the easiest thing might simply be to blog your idea, or to post it on social media. There are also a lot of creative formats, as well as games, that have a kind of simplicity and low demand built-in. Why not try your hand at blackout poetry (blocking out text on a printed page and leaving words that form a poem or aphorism), microfiction (stories with 300 words or less), or any of the art and party games that the surrealists used to indulge in (just google “surrealist games”)?

Also, don’t worry that someone will steal your idea. There is more to be gained by launching your idea into the world. Things will start happening, people will notice you, and by making things you will refine your style and purpose. Instead of fearing theft, give your ideas away. This is another of the methods I use to bring ideas out of storage and into the world. I have, for example, sent an idea for a TV show to National Geographic, interface solutions to Amazon Kindle, and a special design for a baby crib to a local manufacturer. I don’t expect much to result from this, but at least gain the satisfaction of completing small projects, and clearing my mind for new ideas.

So, what is the smallest version of your idea that you can easily make with the skills and resources that you have available?

Now go and make it!

This piece is adapted from one of the essays in my forthcoming book The shortest book on creativity I could write. The book already is written and is in the process of being formatted and illustrated. If you would like to be notified when I have it for sale, send me an email.

David is also a teacher at inUse Academy, have a look at one of his courses!