Meet the community: Avantika Mohapatra
Member Highlight — Introducing the Events Lead @AIxDesign
On yet another cold autumn evening in Stockholm, Avantika and Srishti sat down and talked about Avantika’s foray into AIxDesign, her passion for all things design, and her ambition to bridge the gap between designers and data scientists! Keep reading and get to know Avantika more.
What are you doing at the moment?
I just got my master’s degree! Yay! After several long months of doing my thesis during a global pandemic, it is finally done and dusted. I can now say I have an MS in Integrated Product Design, and currently, I am looking for a job.
Apart from AIxDesign, I am also a part of the Peace Innovation Network, a collaboration between the Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University and the City of The Hague that works at the intersection of behavioral psychology, technology, innovation, and business.
Outside of all this, I am finally diving into my pile of books that I had to read a year ago and attempting to learn more about Data Science and UX Research.
What’s your background, and how did it lead you to AIxDesign? How did you end up working at this intersection?
I was a very traditional mechanical engineer who loved cars. I ended up getting my dream job at BMW when I was 19 and was a part of it until I realized I wanted to do something more creative, engaging, and fast-paced. This is when I switched over to the design world and decided to get my masters.
In one of my classes, we were asked to predict technological and societal trends in 2040. Nearly everyone in the class was incorporating AI-infused trends and scenarios as their predictions. Everyone literally spoke about it as if it was going to take over the world. That’s when it hit me that I know nothing about AI, and I have no idea what it even does at the moment. But at the same, I was so curious to learn more about AI. This was when I started to research how design engineers, like me, could learn more about AI and add value to the realm of AI and Design.
As a result of my curiosity, I ended up doing my master thesis on the topic “Designing for AI: A collaborative framework to bridge the gap between designers and data scientists and enable designers to create human-centered AI products and services”.
You can find out more about it at designingforai.co
Why are you drawn to AIxDesign? Why do you care about it?
When I first started familiarizing myself with AI, I realized it is not just a buzzword anymore; instead, it is being used in a myriad of products and services around us already. Despite the advancements made, there is still a cloud of misconceptions and mystery around it. It must be demystified so that it can be used to create user-centric products and services. People fear what they don’t usually understand.
This is where designers can help clear some amount of ambiguity. Designing for AI involves building a relationship with AI, where you are making sure you build trust and a mutually beneficial relationship between the user and the machine. In other words, AIxDesign plays a key role when you want to design for the future and social good. Imagine using AI for crisis responses or tackling environmental and health-related challenges.
Who do you follow for inspiring content around AI x Design?
Apart from our newsletter, which we curate so selectively, I love everything Jennifer Sukis creates and puts out there. Her podcast AI Zen with Andrew and Jen is very helpful for those who are starting to explore this intersection. I like blogs by Design Voices by Fjord, Spotify Design, and PAIR Research. I have a few favorites when it comes to podcasts as well — The Design of Business, 99% Invisible, and Data Stories. Lastly, McKinsey & Co. shares brilliant content around design and AI separately. I would love to see reports around this intersection too.
AI Zen with Andrew and Jen on Apple Podcasts
A podcast where a designer and a data scientist break down how to create awesome AI experiences. Twitter: @AIZenPodcast…
What’s your favorite day-to-day AI feature?
Spotify’s Discover Weekly is my favorite day-to-day AI feature for sure! I need music for everything I do. Somehow, the weekly playlists fit my mood — it’s brilliant. I’m a huge fan of all things design at Spotify.
Another favorite is Fontjoy. As a branding fiend, I admire aesthetic font pairings and honestly spent hours trying to match fonts. This tool really helps me out.
What do we not talk about enough around AI x Design?
The business aspect of AI & Design and how it impacts a workplace and society is definitely something that isn’t talked about much.
When technology related to AI is continually changing, it is hard to set boundaries for business goals.
Any use cases that involve a specific AI capability can pose challenges while being developed as the target can be seen as ever-changing. In other words, when you look at AI and design from a business point of view, decision-makers need to understand not just where AI can boost innovation, revenue growth, and so on — but also where AI can’t add significant value yet.
What’s one of your favorite use cases to look into?
My favorite one is definitely this project being developed by MIT called AlterEgo. It follows the principle of silent speech, where you’re having an entire conversation or interaction with AI in your mind via bone conduction. Isn’t that crazy?!
Apart from that, anything gesture-oriented always intrigues me. BMW’s gesture-controlled dashboards caught my eye ever since it first came out. More recently, how gesture-related AI spills over into AR/ VR is very interesting.
What’s the one thing AI/ML engineers should understand or know about design?
Dealing with ever-evolving AI tech is not the biggest challenge. The more challenging thing to do is to identify ethical and meaningful ways to use the vast potential AI offers. This is something design can aid with. Just like AI/ML engineers, designers have experience with rapidly building and testing new ideas and concepts, too. Both are equally comfortable with ambiguity and understand when to proceed with a particular thought or shut down a line of exploration.
Designers are very good at taming complexity and simplifying complex technology for users.
They aren’t just there to make technology look pretty. When it comes to designing AI products and services, designers can help humanely harness AI capabilities and bridge the gap between user needs and said AI capabilities. This is why I believe in a collaborative environment that facilitates interactions between AI and design, where AI practitioners can combine their respective skill sets and knowledge to create human-centered solutions.
And finally, where can we find you?
Our hour-long conversation ends with a cup of hot chocolate as she tells me about her endless list of ideas to organically grow the AIxDesign community while keeping members engaged with an exciting line-up of events that she has planned months into the future.
This interview was conducted by Srishti Lal.
AIxDesign is a place to unite practitioners and evolve practices at the intersection of AI/ML and design. We are currently organizing monthly virtual events, sharing content, exploring collaborative projects, and developing fruitful partnerships.