We’ve Got Generative AI. Now What?

Conscious Experience Design

Designing for the evolving human+machine relationship

A column by Ken Olewiler
October 23, 2023

Generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) has inspired action on many fronts! It seems that virtually every organization with a technology product has jumped on board and added assistive intelligence to their product. In the first half of 2023, investors have poured $14.1 billion into generative AI companies, across 86 deals. [1] AI, in general, is big business. According to Failory, there were 126 AI unicorn companies globally as of August 2023. [2] The industry domains receiving the most Gen AI investment include transportation, science and engineering, cyber security, health and wellness, and sales and marketing. Even the education, retail, agriculture, and sustainability marketplaces have received funding.

The Gen AI race is on! Because of the widespread zeal for the adoption of Gen AI, many companies have rushed new products and functionality to market—often without answering essential questions such as the following:

  • How can we ensure that Gen AI augments workers rather than replaces them?
  • How can we ensure that we train AI on accurate, unbiased data?
  • How can companies and individuals protect data privacy—especially for sensitive data such as healthcare or financial information—once products have become ubiquitous in virtually every interaction and transaction.
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Rapid innovation in AI will continue to change our world in profound ways. So, for UX designers, it’s time to reflect on our true objectives for the AI race. Conducting primary user research to inform design is still necessary to ensure that products meet users’ specific needs and deliver measurable business value. The biggest challenge ahead well might be ensuring that AI is benevolent, cooperative, and works in the service of human beings. As I’ve said before, generative AI’s highest value is in achieving a realistic balance of user assistance and autonomy—both in the design process and the resulting products. The key goal for the next generation of innovative Gen AI should be to create products that both assist people and cooperatively augment their human capabilities. Only then can AI fulfill the dream of cooperative intelligence.

Fundamental Cooperative-Intelligence Design Questions

Throughout human history, cooperation has been a key driver of success for various entities, whether they are living organisms, businesses, families, or even countries. Cooperative relationships, despite their being quite basic, offer significant benefits in comparison to individual efforts. These partnerships have played a crucial role in major human accomplishments such as the establishment of democracies, the United Nations, and the Human Genome Project. Key characteristics of cooperative relationships include supporting each other, trusting one another, showing respect, listening attentively, and having a commitment to learning.

When we apply these qualities to the world of AI and machine learning, UX designers can nurture partnerships between human beings and machines. I call this cooperative intelligence and define these cooperative relationships based on three core qualities: they are assistive, affective, and adaptive.

To be successful in creating products that exhibit cooperative intelligence, you must first answer some fundamental questions about what this would mean for the particular type of product you’re designing.

1. How can your new product, service, or feature balance assistance and autonomy?

Long-term competitive advantage derives from products that provide real value to users. Our research shows that people want to experience seamless, natural assistance without losing control of machine-human interactions. Users need interactions to align with their intentions and values—interactions that actually make their tasks easier. Plus, people want products that are intelligent enough to understand when and how they can support users, by complementing users’ intelligence, while preserving their personal sense of agency, rather than by trying to replace them.

Once a UX team conducts user research, UX designers can determine when, where, and why people favor autonomy, control, assistance, and convenience across the product experience. In our design practice at Punchcut, we have been using Autonomy Service Blueprints to gain insights regarding how to build more effective and cooperative AI experiences. Figure 1 shows an example.

Figure 1—An AI autonomy service blueprint
An AI autonomy service blueprint

2. Can adding AI to your product create positive human-machine connections?

While AI augments products by adding cognitive-intelligence capabilities, it lacks the emotional intelligence of a human being, so can fall short in its ability to understand user intent or needs. UX designers are uniquely positioned to leverage AI to create more relatable, natural, trustworthy human-machine interactions. The key is to strive for affective—that is, emotional—human-machine connections and avoid awkward, unnatural, or sterile interactions.

To make products more relatable, we need to incorporate natural language, tone, and sensory features that better respond to the user’s needs, state of mind, and objectives. Take care not to mimic human characteristics too literally within products. Instead, reduce human-machine barriers by making product interactions feel more human rather than by making them act more human. Finally, employ ethical design principles to ensure that your product’s intelligent systems avoid bias and protect the user while engendering a sense of trust and privacy.

3. Can your product adapt to users’ needs, guide them within different contexts, and meet their preferences?

The power of AI is its dynamic ability to learn, adapt, and generate new outputs and responses. Products can use neural networks to continuously build pathways for recall and reuse, adapting the AI’s responses by giving them the right tone and timing for a particular task or outcome. Each successive interaction can create and reinforce shared intentions between machines and human beings.

UX designers should provide flexible user-interface controls and use consultative language to guide users cooperatively. Creating richer user interfaces that help users to visualize and activate the power of AI within a product can engage the user by generating interest and achieve higher levels of user satisfaction. Move beyond the obvious and strive to discover or innovate new features that use AI to provide hyper-personalized interactions that adapt across various contexts.

Creating Cooperative Human-Machine Partnerships

Now that we’ve incorporated Gen AI, we must create cooperative human-machine partnerships—both in the UX design process and the resulting products.

The challenge for UX designers is shaping AI for both UX designers and consumers. I am enthralled as I watch our designers build tools and experiences whose goal is to get the most value out of AI. As UX designers, we are at the forefront of envisioning new products, seamless user interfaces, and more natural processes.

AI enables UX designers to conceive of and realize designs for incredible new product experiences that dramatically improve human-machine interactions. The goal now is to do so thoughtfully by informing our designs through user research to learn about the user’s reality and remembering that Gen AI is most valuable when it serves the aspirations and ideals of human beings.

To learn more about approaches to designing powerful new human-machine interactions with Gen AI, read Punchcut’s perspective on Humanizing Gen AI. 


CB Insights. “The State of Generative AI in 7 Charts.” CB Insights, August 2, 2023.

Failory. “Top 126 Artificial Intelligence Unicorn Companies in 2023.” Failory, August 24, 2023.

Managing Partner at Punchcut

San Francisco, California, USA

Ken OlewilerKen was a co-founder of Punchcut and has driven the company’s vision, strategy, and creative direction for over 20 years—from the company’s inception as the first mobile-design consultancy to its position today as a design accelerator for business growth and transformation. Punchcut works with many of the world’s top companies—including Samsung, LG, Disney, Nissan, and Google—to envision and design transformative product experiences in wearables, smart home Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, and extended reality (XR). As a UX leader and entrepreneur, Ken is a passionate advocate for a human-centered approach to design and business. He believes that design is all about shaping human’s relationships with products in ways that create sustainable value for people and businesses. He studied communication design at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.  Read More

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