Design Leader Insights - Jason Giles on the Wild West of AI in UX

February 27, 2024


Alex Smith:  Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a leading UX research, strategy, and design consultancy. Hey, Jason. Thanks so much for joining the show today.

Jason Giles: Thanks, Alex. It's a pleasure to be here. 

Alex Smith: To get started, can you give the audience a bit of context into your journey in UX? 

Jason Giles: Let's see. I started at Microsoft. That's kind of where I grew up professionally. And got to work on some cool products like Office 365 and Xbox which was super dope. After about 15 years there, I went down to California where I led design teams at DirectTV and then Ticketmaster, so more in the consumer entertainment space. And then more recently, four years ago, I joined UserTesting which if you're not familiar with it, it's software to basically remove the friction from businesses, talking to their customers and getting feedback directly from them, which is pretty dope because that happens to align a lot with what I do and what I care about. So yeah, here I manage a team of about 30 product designers, writers, researchers. I'm within the product organization, so. it's pretty nice, but I think, like I say, it aligns really well with what I care about because I probably like you, I'm experiencing products and services all the time that It just feels like they haven't kind of really considered me as a human using them. And so anything that I can do to be a part of making some products better, some experiences better. 

Alex Smith: I think the trend that I see throughout that and definitely UserTesting, user zones and company now, definitely a product we use is talking to customers. So how do you tell a design team or research team? How do you, I guess, delegate that or, or allow teams to talk to customers in an effective way?

Jason Giles: Yeah. Well, I think, I mean, traditionally, right, it was only trained researchers that primarily talk directly to customers on behalf of the company, which I think was great. They build like all these methodologies and these tools and ways to really get, take out the bias, really synthesize like what's important. But they were predominantly a pretty small. audience, not typically very a loud voice in the company. And so I kind of feel like there's an opportunity for folks who are actually making decisions about the experiences that we create, the designers, the product managers. I think it's really important for them to like, have that direct feedback and now with the tools that are available it's so much easier just to, to get that. But at the same time, you also want to make sure that you're getting the right type of feedback. You know, I think that once you set up the right kind of guardrails. Do a little bit of training you can really empower those, the rest in your team to really to really get that direct customer connection.

Alex Smith: Let's talk about something, it's 2024 now, something that's definitely going to stay, AI, ML, you know, robots doing our research, robots doing our design, what does it all mean? Do you have, do you have the answer?

Jason Giles: I don't have the definitive answer. I'm pretty excited. I mean what we're seeing, you know, we've, we've talked about this. We waved our hands around this for, for many years. Like imagine if and last year was kind of like, it was making it real. Right.? And I see that kind of impacting all of us in, in, in a few different ways. For me on the product side that creates this research tool, right, like we can apply it now to save time doing some of the repetitive tasks, right, like automatically summarizing tests and automatically suggesting test plans and all that. So it's exciting to apply it to a real world scenario where you're saving folks time. On the team it's really cool too because I mean every week there's like another new plugin or app that's coming out there. I mean it's kind of the wild west right now. So we're doing lots of exploring around how to like, what actually is helping us. I think the other piece too is that as we apply it to our product, I think there's a mind shift change that we've really been trying to work with the team of thinking about like, where does that make sense? Could we automate this? And you know, it's like if you go back in the days pre internet, right? Like if you wanted to do something, you'd think, oh, I got to like dig out the encyclopedia or go to the library or something like that. And it took a shift in the way that we behaved in the way that we thought. And similarly with this, which I think is a similar paradigm shift, we need to shift the way that we think of like, well, wait a minute, couldn't we automate this? How can we make this more efficient? How can we augment the system so that it's that much more fluid? And so we've been spending a lot of time with the team trying to expose them to the capabilities as well as to kind of educate them on best practices of, of how to apply the technology. Like I said, it's going to be the wild west out there for a while. And there's smart ways to apply the new tech and there's, there are ways that it's going to be, you know, a little bit questionable. And so I want my team at least to be versed in kind of the basic ground rules, right? How do you ensure that you're not, you know, providing a biased result. How are you thinking about when something goes wrong, how do you recover from that? How do you ensure that users still feel in control? 

Alex Smith: Agreed, and I think there's a huge onus on UX, specifically this year, next year, to figure out that trust component. Because there's, as you mentioned, it's the wild west and users are like, what's going on here? Like, this one seems cool. Is this valid? Is this usable? Like, should I trust these results? So yeah, I think, I think there's going to be a ton of opportunity for Research and design teams to build that trust component with users within products. I quickly want to ask you about something cool that I did in the past and want to do it again. You moved across the world almost like digital nomad style. How does that affect, maybe like your approach to design or like your view on, on work, I guess?

Jason Giles: Probably in two ways. One, I took for granted how lonely it can be. When you up and move, you know, I had such a strong network and community in the U.S. and in Canada. And now that I'm abroad, I'm here in Scotland. I'm realizing I didn't proactively think like, wait a minute, you need to supplement that with local and so that's something in hindsight, now I'm getting much more involved in the community and, and that helps. And then the other piece, and even though, you know, like I'm in the UK here the subtle nuances between the cultural differences. I didn't have appreciation for, I think, particularly in being a leadership role with large teams, right? The relationship between like the employee and the companies, so different, you know, I've been in like West Coast, Silicon Valley for a long time, at will employment and the nuance of the relationship there, it's just, and it's tough because it's subtle, and if you're not here sometimes, you kind of, you wouldn't pick up on it, and there's just a ton of little things like that where you start to like, just have a better appreciation and kind of a humbling to be honest, it's like, oh, I realize I've been in a bubble and now you're like kind of getting this like reality check. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Not everybody thinks or has that mindset that you do. So it's super rewarding and refreshing, but like I say, it's also a little bit humbling. 

Alex Smith: Jason, last question here is what advice do you have for new researchers and designers that are entering the field today.

Jason Giles:  Don't panic. Like, this past couple years, we've seen the economic headwinds. It's been really challenging. These waves happen. The challenges of getting your foot in the door is, you know, it's, it's getting better. And already, right? Like, we're starting to see the headwinds turn. And so I'm feeling much more optimistic. I think I saw a post by Jacob Nielsen this week. He was like, in 1993, there was a thousand UX professionals in 2023, there are 3 million, and he's predicting by 2035, that that'll increase to 10 million. So, you know, I mean, just have a little perspective. I know that like, you know, teams are downsizing. It seems like there's not quite the opportunity, the boom that we've been having, but don't, don't worry. Like it's going to bounce back. Like I've seen it before. And then the last thing is just like we were talking about, there is a ton of disruption going on with particularly the AI and ML stuff and just embrace it, you know, like the, it's when all this disruption happens, that all the opportunities happen and just lean into it.

Alex Smith: I absolutely love all of it. Thanks so much for joining the show, Jason. 

Jason Giles: Oh, I appreciate it, Alex. Anytime. Thanks so much for having me.