Designing Clear Handoffs

Clarify each moment in a person’s relationship with an intelligent system

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Oct 12, 2018 · 2 min read

This is part of a series to provoke dialogue and provide concrete ways to help people ethically design intelligent systems. Read our introduction.

In an intelligent system, a “seamless experience” for users may not be appropriate. People who use the system need to know when they are about to cross a critical threshold — for example, when the system is transitioning from an autonomous decision-making state to one requiring human intervention. As designers, we need to identify these critical moments and provide visible seams to help users navigate the transitions, build trust, and maintain appropriate expectations.

Activities to try

_Create a journey map of the intelligent system, highlighting what the system is “doing” and how it “understands” why it should take an action based on external context. Explore how this map intersects with a human-centered map of the user experience, and prototype ways to minimize any ambiguity between human and machine agency.

For each moment, list all of the ways in which the intelligent system can take action on behalf of users (direct and indirect). Have a team discussion about where each action falls on this spectrum:

_Play out an experiential scenario with one team member in the role of the AI interface (role-playing a “Human API”) and someone else as the user, perhaps with an audience to observe. As you go through the scenario, what feels right and wrong? Explore why those feelings might exist. Try to channel the skills of a writer, a psychologist, or a behavioral economist to help fine-tune the interactions.

Project vignette

In semi-autonomous vehicles, there are moments when the car can safely be in control, but also moments when the human driver must take the wheel. How might we best convey the vehicle’s capabilities and limitations to drivers? The design team decided to prototype ways of communicating the moments of “hand off” between car and driver and so set up a driving simulation to explore a variety of channels including voice, sound, and lights. Observing how drivers reacted to these signals, and probing to understand why, revealed critical moments in which they wanted to take control, even though the vehicle was capable of driving autonomously.

Explore the other posts in this series:

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