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In November 2017, Austin Beer came to lead a workshop at Orange on user experience design applied to chatbots. Helping everyone with design, from cancer scientists to TV watchers, Austin loves solving the hard kind of problems that matter. He employs a highly collaborative, user-centric approach and asks how we can design trust in artificial intelligence. I had the pleasure to interview him during his visit in Paris.
Austin Beer: So firstly, I love working with people. I love working on teams. I love working with people who know about lot of different topics, this makes for very collaborative diverse team. That’s why I show up. Next, I like to help people in a very concrete way with the small things, even the big things, that they really care about. The everyday stuff that defines their lives. I love working in that medium, making it just a little more delightful, a little weirder, a little easier… The perfect expression of who I am: crazy and tactical at the same time.
Austin Beer: I am a designer. I solve problems every day. Sometimes I’ll say I’m a web designer. This is what I say to people who don’t really understand what it means to be a designer. I also see myself as facilitator of design, helping other people how to solve problems. It’s to give them tools and ideas of how they can approach the problem in a very different way.
Problems of people, problems of working with other people, problems of designing for other people, problems of designing with systems they don’t quite understand… relationship problems, I even use these same design methods to solve family conflicts. Mostly my own family conflicts, sometimes other people’s. Even figuring out what I want to do with my life next or helping other people, to figure out what they want… every kind of problem.
Austin Beer: By guessing along the way. I feel like I was born to do what I do now, but I definitely had no idea that what I’m doing now even existed… four years ago. I guess I was noticing what was making me excited at that moment. And I followed my instinct, each time just making a slightly risky choice and … it became my job.
I did but I didn’t know that I needed to study that at University. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go to a big art school but I was unsure if that was what I wanted. I went to college and chose to study International Environmental Law because I care about the environment. I didn’t stick to that and wanted to surf for a while, and a fellow surfer recommended I get a job so I ended up at a video game company. The video game company took me to a music video company; the music video company bumped me into technology where I heard people talk me about UX and it took me to Hyper Island where I learned about empathy, I didn’t even know empathy was a thing you can learn. Somehow this took me to Artificial Intelligence… in sequence none of it made sense. But it all makes sense now.
Austin Beer: Two things, I want to become a really good rock climber, so I’m going to try and focus myself on training for that. The other is that I really want to understand how our roles and responsibilities are shifting with artificial intelligence. Question what skills I should be learning now? And also, think of ways to practice those skills, and of course share what I learn with other people.
Austin Beer: Some deal with things we design for now like personalization, or recommendation systems. But it’s more about data design, we need to figure out what’s the data we need to accomplish experience design. Adjusting how we collect information so the experience become even better at the end. Being able to communicate those needs throughout the organization and unto other designers. We understand data in a general sense but we are going to have to become a little more exact with how we work with data. I think it’s a more exact vocabulary that I need to learn so that technological people and data scientists can understand what it is I am making a hypothesis about. It reminds me of speaking a new language. When you visit another country, the better you are with the language, the better you can order your coffee.
Austin Beer: I sometime talk about the fact that we need to make little experiments for the future we want to have. We often don’t think about what we envisage as a great future. To really think about that, imagining this whole world around us, visualizing it, and think about how it becomes concrete. How I got into design and virtual intelligence wasn’t because I was excited about artificial intelligence (AI). It was because I was trying to figure out how users will actually touch AI. Where does AI show up in the world? Leading me to explore deeply where it becomes real. The same comes with the future. Think about the future: what would be incredible about it? What makes it real? And then try to make that now. That would be really interesting for people who design the future to think about what they love, and how they could make it real now.
Austin Beer: I think my biggest opportunity is teaching people that it’s not that complicated to work with or to get started at. For a long time, people have been really scared of programming technology, which can be difficult a language and syntax to understand. As a result, people feel a little disempowered because it feels complex. But really it’s not that complex as you get into it. There is a real computer science to understand, when working with it or designing with it. It’s just like another piece of media we can learn to work with and understand. I think dispelling the fear around it is my biggest opportunity.
Austin Beer: As my mentor at Hyper Island would say: What are you working on, and how can I help?
Updated Nov. 2020
Updated Jun. 2020
Updated Jun. 2021
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