From art direction to designing for bots and humans.

Elaine Lee
Designing for Bots and Humans
3 min readDec 1, 2015


When I joined Assembly as a product designer, we were working on a platform that brought designers, engineers, product managers, and whoever together to build digital products. Design was in the form of interfaces for writing, posting, showing appreciation, commenting, and displaying data. Then, shift happened.

I started my design career as an art director in interactive advertising. I was designing websites, utilities, social media posts, and everything visual that’s strategically created to increase conversion and awareness. When I left advertising, I went deeper into product design and user experience. I was creating interfaces in fast-paced, iterative environments where I had to let go of perfection. There was a lot of trial and error, with immediate feedback from data and customers. I picked up some front-end skills, and… I had to write copy. Who, me? The designer? Ok, sure.

It soon became apparent to me that copy, especially user interface copy, is user experience and interaction design.

Going back to the shift. We went from Assembly to Large, a personal bot that gets you and your team anything. It’s 90% copy based. There’s barely a consumer-facing interface. Teams will message Large in Slack with their requests and Large will fulfill them. Simple… for the customer. The day we pre-pre-launched I asked Austin, “Are you ready for this?” But, it never occurred to me to ask myself that question.

People are asking me, “So… what do you do now?”

“It’s a lot more user experience than visual design.”

“I figure out how our bot responds to a client, what happens when the client responds to our bot, and…”

“I create workflows.”


Large currently lives inside Slack. And intentionally, we want to keep all user interaction within the chat app if possible. Copy is now the user interface.

Large also started as human-powered. Our fast and creative human agents were responding to every request within seconds. How do we have more of them? We figured artificial intelligence will provide quick and consistent experiences for everyone. We need a bot, even if it’s a baby.

Now, I spend the majority of my time observing behaviors, creating workflows with our engineers, figuring out hacks around our constraints, and designing for the unknown. Visual design is still impactful with this product that leans towards a lack of user interface. Branding, marketing initiatives, and parts of the product are still very reliant on visual design to be successful.

A very generic snippet of a workflow

We want to minimize the orange boxes where humans are talking to humans. 😁

A year ago, I reached out to Leigh Taylor about designing for the unknown. Leigh is currently the creative director at The Grid, a personal AI web developer. And, previously he was designing for Medium. This is what he said:

Fundamentally, understanding the psychology of human interaction you start to unravel that preference and subjectivity, in design at least, gives way to pattern recognition, predictability and subconscious associations built up over individual/collective/cultural experiences.

I believe Leigh is telling us to observe and analyze how people are using our product and what they want to achieve. What patterns do we see? How can we use that information to respond to our users and predict their next move?

No one ever knows how someone or something will respond. We can guess to a point based on our understanding of our users and what we know about human behavior.

Designing for bots, humans, and the unknown has been the most interesting design challenge for me today. If there’s interest in seeing real workflows and following along in the design process, let me know.



Elaine Lee
Designing for Bots and Humans

Designing for AI at Twilio. Product designer with experience in psychology, advertising, marketplaces, edtech, and hacking at whatevs. 🦁