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Meet the community: Alexandra Gurita

Member Highlight — Introducing the Content Manager @AIxDesign

On a rainy day in October, Alexandra and I met for a virtual coffee. She answered some questions about herself, her career, and her thoughts about AIxDesign. She believes understanding keywords is a fundamental step for being in this intersection and communicating around it. Grab a cup of coffee and join us for getting to know her better.

Hi Alexandra! Nice to meet you! Tell us, what are you doing at the moment?

Currently, I’m a user experience designer at UiPath, and I’m responsible for the content at the AIxDesign community — those are my two main activities at the moment. However, I do a lot of multitasking in general, which means that besides those, I’m also taking a course in Sweden on typography, reviewing some articles I want to publish on my Medium account, and preparing to organize a mentoring program.

I know that you were with this community from the start, so please tell us what directed you towards AI and then AIxDesign?

My background with AI started around four years ago. I was doing computational design and I was experimenting a lot with new technologies to develop new products. By that time, I was working with UNSense (which is a branch of UNStudio, an architecture company in Amsterdam), which is doing many experimental projects, some of which involved adaptable environments — so let’s say that was the first moment that I got in touch with AI. The projects they were doing opened a new world for me, to be honest.

In the beginning, I didn’t work that much with AI, but it was a recurring subject I was hearing about. I was interested in making my work and my workflow better by making use of new technologies. I was researching, talking to different people to find out how they are using it in their practice, and so on — and one of the people I found myself talking to was actually Nadia.

We always talked about things we have in common and projects we’d like to do together, but we never actually started one. In 2019 I returned to Romania after living in Amsterdam for five years, and long story short, I started hosting events to raise awareness about various topics around innovation through Innovating Society, and I invited Nadia to talk about her expertise.

(part of) The event we’ve hosted with Nadia in Cluj-Napoca back in 2019

So there she was, giving a talk about the intersection of AI and Design, in Cluj-Napoca. After the event, we realized we finally have the opportunity to work on a project together, and she asked me if I would like to join her and the community. And here we are.

Are there any particular reasons you joined this community other than your own curiosity?

Yep. At that time, I was working in a local startup called TeleportHQ that does a lot of research in the direction of building AI-driven interfaces. I was contributing to their work as well, so I was surrounded by this domain for a while. Therefore, I decided to go deeper and learn about related fields too. I have a very strong interest in subjects as the UX of AI and adaptable interfaces.

What’s the 1 thing designers should understand/know about AI?

I believe everyone should start with a dictionary, words are critical. Establishing a base would be an excellent start. For example, taking the course “Elements of AI” can help understand the basics while doing some exercises — I did it too, proudly “graduated”. Having this base helps you conduct discussions with more technical people like engineers, data scientists; it makes conversations more comfortable. It is also helpful when you want to run your own project: it’s easier to know what resources you need, how to start, what questions to ask.

So, going back to the question, I would say to start with compiling a dictionary of your own, start understanding some essential words — and I can include here even “deep learning” because it’s challenging for some people to understand what it actually means. Even the definition of AI can go in here. I know from some people who work intensively in this domain that is very difficult to give a precise definition. It’s just easier to say what AI is not.

What’s the 1 thing AI/ML engineers should understand/know about design?

Somehow, I’m tempted to say the same: the vocabulary. The basics are very important. While working with engineers, I’ve realized that we often have to explain jargon.

What’s something you’ve learned recently that you think would be valuable for anyone working at the intersection of AI x Design?

I’m inspired by the No-Code ML activities that we’ve had at AIxDesign in October and something I’ve recently learned it’s that the output quality is very much connected to attitude. It’s good to be curious, to ask questions, to explore, and understand that you don’t have to do everything yourself. It’s okay to ask for help or find alternatives for hard skills you don’t have. I believe that’s also one of the AIxDesign community's mission— we are encouraging people to ask questions.

How can you incorporate ethics into the design process?

I think that the process of designing AI products brings up many considerations to discuss, especially around ethics.

We, as the people who build those products, are directly responsible for the work that we put out into the world.

A good practice is to have a reflection moment and step back during the design process and think twice about important decisions. Consider the direct and (especially) the indirect factors/stakeholders and see where you can improve. That’s kind of one piece of advice that I could give on this subject.

Who do you follow for inspiring content around AI x Design?

To be honest, one important source of inspiration for me is Nadia. I think she’s so creative and full of energy, and what I really like about her is that she is taking that step further. I really encourage people to check up on her because she’s always posting interesting articles, jobs, funds, events — all AIxDesign related.

Another source of inspiration for me is Amber Case. Not directly related to AI, but more to technology. She’s known for her work on calm tech, and I encourage everyone to read her book about it because many of those principles can be applied in AI. She’s an advocate for making technology more approachable for humans, and in this context where we are super-connected to all sorts of devices, she’s that person to remind us to take a step back and to take alternatives, healthy decisions when designing products.

“Calm Technology” written by Amber Case

Other people that I follow around AI and design topics are Andrew Ng, Kriti Sharma, and Caroline Sinders. I’m also keeping an eye on researchers and early experiments from the market.

What’s your favorite day-to-day AI feature (product/service/tool/ interaction)?

The one that I use the most is the Spotify recommendation feature — it is also the reason why I actually started using Spotify. I think some other tools that I use day-to-day are quite simple: such as Google Lens, which I use when I want to remind myself of the Latin-name-which-I-always-forget for the plants I have in my house.

What’s your favorite application of AI for good?

I really like what’s happening now in healthcare. I know this student startup in Romania was advertised a lot lately, XVision, which is analyzing x-rays using AI and helps give an accurate diagnosis, which is difficult now with the Covid situation.

And I think that as we speak, many countries might already use similar software. This is a brief example; there are so many others worth mentioning, especially in this medical field, because they have a great global impact. We are just lucky that we are living in those times where we have those solutions so accessible to us.

What’s your biggest/main fear about AI?

The first one is that some products might get in the hands of people that don’t have very good intentions. Unfortunately, that’s not easy to control as individuals — but we can choose, and that’s something we can do.

The second one is that breakthroughs won’t happen or won’t be adopted fast, and it might be because people don’t see the value upfront.

What do you wish you knew about AI when you got started in this field?

I wish I had a list called “Things to get started with” for when you don’t know anything about this intersection. And now that I’m saying this, it might be a very good idea to start one. I wish I had someone to explain to me the basics because I understood them very late, when I found myself already designing products which involved AI, so I had to learn it “the hard way”.

I also wished I could discuss with more people who work in this field to better understand their thoughts on this subject. For example, I was curious about their design process—what kind of problems do they encounter in the process of building a product, or how can I help as a designer.

What’s your dream company to work for?

I’m not that much interested in a particular company, as I am about my creative output. If I can do what I like, that makes me happy.

Although it sounds very idealistic, I’m very ambitious and I want to leave a mark on the world by building meaningful products — and for me, meaningful means that it has a positive impact on someone’s life.

For me, it’s important to be in a place where you are supported, you can be yourself and have control of the output of your work.

What do we not talk about enough around AI x Design?

Ethics. I think here, we still lack advocates for it, and that’s an opportunity. I would like to hear more about ethics in real use cases and to take the learnings to do better. I would also like to see more practical events around it, maybe workshops of people from the community.

Another one is the collaboration between designers and engineers. And I know that’s such a big topic in general, not only regards AI. Multiple people are exploring this subject right now (Avantika M being one of them), so I think we’re on the right track. I would like to see more facilitation materials around this subject.

How is designing for AI different than other formats?

I’m a UX designer, so I design a lot for the 2D environment. But.. when working with AI, it feels so complex that it is impossible to say how many dimensions contains. What’s important here to remember is that designing for AI without taking into account all possible considerations can have consequences which are much greater than just putting up a website. Here we need to talk more about ethics (again), stakeholders, and the output of the product put in context.

What’s one of your favorite examples of a well-deserved AI product?

When I’m thinking of well-deserved products, it triggers some of my values: it has to be meaningful. Really worth mentioning is the research done at Nvidia AI Playground and all the use cases they open up to the public. More specifically, I’m impressed by the Nvidia GauGan, where you can generate new landscapes by drawing new semantics.

What’s one of your favorite use cases to look into?

It’s hard to pick one! I have a list of use cases that serve as inspiration. Here are some of the most recent ones that I’ve been reading:

What are you most anxious/concerned about? What are you most excited/hopeful about?

Well, as I’ve mentioned previously, I believe that is an opportunity to live in this century in which technology is so accessible. I’m happy to see many cross-domain collaborations; they can only bring up new innovations. There are still so many problems to solve that could have a lot of impact — many of them mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goals. I’m quite positive that by coming together and using technology in a good way, we can solve a lot of those problems.

However, although I’m positive, I am concerned that we can miss this opportunity. Time is passing by, and not all consequences are reversible. I just hope that we, as people who are involved in the process of building products, can make good use of new technologies and create products that solve real needs.

If you could bring one book to a deserted island, which would it be?

One book I am always coming back to is “Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman. Not sure why, but for me, it’s a lecture that I like to re-read. And I think it’s a good book for anyone, not only for designers. It gives you a new perspective on how products are and can be built. And I keep carrying this book with me for a couple of years throughout some countries, so I would take it to an island as well.

“Design of Everyday Things” written by Don Norman

Favorite podcast?

My favorite non-tech podcast is “Mind Architect” — but it is in Romanian, so not everyone can listen to it. Although it’s not connected to the domain I work in, I like to use it as inspiration. This podcast feels like a conversation with a friend. They explain a lot of facts about us as neuroscience and applied use-cases of such processes.

The other one I recommend is called “Typeradio”, where one of the hosts is Lisa Enebeis, one of my favorite designers, and this one is about typography. But again, although I don’t do type design, what’s interesting to me is to listen to the story of the people behind the work, thee process, and how they ended up working in design.

Where can we find you?

I’m quite active on LinkedIn — where I post about my recent projects, on Medium — where I’m actively contributing to design publications, and on my website — where you can find more about who I am and my design process in detail.

This interview was conducted by Boshra Javaheri.

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