As we created our AI assistants – Amy & Andrew – to help people book meetings painlessly, we encountered quite a few product design challenges which were, quite frankly, completely novel. When designing an artificially intelligent agent that humans would enjoy interactive with via conversation, the factors you need to consider and the hoops you have to jump through can be quite unexpected.
Defining the Universe in Which Your Intelligent Agent (Product) Exists
x.ai’s AI assistant, Amy Ingram, does one thing only – schedule meetings. We wanted to design an agent that could take over the entire task of scheduling the meeting start to finish. Once you define the universe in which your agent exists, you have to go about figuring out what data you need to collect and annotate. x.ai had to teach AI to understand a phrase like “Do you have time to meet up later today, tomorrow or perhaps early next week? I am free most days after 1PM.” It took the team over a year just to define “time” as a concept in the language of meeting scheduling!
Adrian Franks is a design director and creative strategist at IBM, where he worked to design and develop the Creative Toolbox, helping designers and product managers familiarize themselves with the various tools available to prototype and create new products.
Adrian spent about 20 years as a creative professional, and 15 years in the digital space. He was the first in the nation to be awarded the Graphic Design Journeyman and has worked on various Fortune 500 and 100 brands and companies.
What is design?
Adrian explains that IBM has recently taken the initiative to expand their creative team, because the world is heading more and more towards digital experiences. He defines design as the art & practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. He quotes Thomas J. Watson, saying that “good design is good business.” This is still very true today. Design solves problems; if something is designed very well at the start, it won’t require redesigning in the future, and therefore won’t lead to resources being wasted.
Adrian states that the overall notion of design thinking is to understand and have deep empathy for the end user, which leads to powerful outcomes. When designers develop that empathy, they typically start to explore ideas, then prototype those ideas, and finally reevaluate whether or not the ideas actually work for their end users.
Vivek Bedi is the Head of Product at LearnVest. He has over 15 years’ product management experience, working for companies like Goldman Sachs, Sterling Backcheck, and now LearnVest. In his presentation, talks about LearnVest, the role of a product manager, and what he’s learned from his years as a product manager.
A Great Product Manager
Vivek believes a huge part of being a product manager is being a strategic thinker. A product manager, he says, needs to have a vision and roadmap. He also likes to refer to product managers as storytellers. Telling your product’s story is a great way to sell it to potential clients.
An Awesome Product Manager
Creating a great product means understanding and keeping up with the changing tech industry. It means understanding the details of your product, and appreciating how those details came together to form your product. It also means treating your internal tech team as key partners, just as the rest of your team is.
Vivek has learned that while being technical empowers you as a product manager, you are not responsible for building the technology. You are a partner and voice for the people who dobuild it. You need to make yourself relatable and available to them, but you can’t forget about your other responsibilities. You need to understand the technology, but you need to let your technology team build the product.
My journey to product management was not what you might expect, but then again, maybe you would. I studied accounting and computers in high school. At 19 I got a job as a computer technician and by 21 I was a computer science major. I then got a job on campus as a network administrator.
Three years later I became a web application engineer at a startup that built software for military and private industries. I redesigned the internal and public web properties and was promoted into my first “product leadership” role. I became director of communications, leading the development of intranets and web applications.