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Bringing AI and Design Thinking together: Interview with Ben O’Hear

Ben O’Hear is co-founder of revelate, which helps companies with the human centered aspects of AI. Recently, he joined our AI lunch to show us how to identify AI opportunities with Design Thinking. We sat down with him to talk about how the two fields can benefit from each other and what the next trends are.

You’ve been in the Design Thinking business for a long time now. What do you think how AI and Design Thinking fit together and how they can benefit from each other? 

Ben: Like any technology, it is essential that AI be driven by users’ needs and take further human centered considerations into account, such as ethics. Design Thinking (and other user centered practises like UX and Lean Startup) are great starting points. However, AI will require changes to our toolkit, in particular how we approach ideation, prototyping and evaluating the feasibility of our ideas.

In many cases, risks can also be found where opportunities are. What do you think are the risks when talking about AI opportunities and how can we minimise them?

Ben: The two broad categories of risk are customer acceptance and technical. The key change in both cases is in the uncertainty inherent to AI. The best way to minimise this is to make early prototypes, both design driven and technical, and work closely with our users throughout the project. Designers also need to be aware of the fact that AI systems will occasionally be wrong or uncertain and integrate that in their designs. 

There are further risks, such as privacy, data security and ethical use of AI. In my view these fall more in the category of governance than design, but many people are afraid of the impact of AI and designers need to take these fears into account.

Could you name some best practices where Design Thinking and AI work well together? 

Ben: User Journey Mapping is a really good tool to understand what our users’ needs are and going through those with an “AI lens” is a very effective way to discover AI use cases, in particular for optimisation.

Building a deep understanding of our users’ goals and pain points is also invaluable to know where to apply AI to improve the performance of our products and when looking for disruptive opportunities.

Last but not least: Prototyping. In many cases we can simulate AI products by replacing the AI component with a human and test the acceptance with very little investment.

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Let’s take a look at the future, what do you see as the next trends in Design Thinking especially in connection to AI? 

Ben: I think the next big trend in Design Thinking is actually AI. As mentioned in the first answer, this will demand adaptations to our toolbox. But it is still very early days and we are just now seeing the first frameworks for Human Centered AI from the likes of Google and Microsoft. 

The other aspect which is still little explored is how AI and data science might support the Design Thinking process itself. One example is Microsoft’s Sketch2code, which converts scribbles into HTML prototypes, greatly speeding up that task. I expect many such products to emerge to support all phases of the Design Thinking process.
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