Ally, not enemy: Talking AI with Siili's lead designer Aino Makkonen

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Ally, not enemy: Talking AI with Siili's lead designer Aino Makkonen

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Meet Aino Makkonen, Lead Service & Business Designer at Siili Solutions, who blends business and human insight, and adores the creative use of both.

Aino looks at the world with one eye that's strategic and one that's empathetic. In a rapid-fire interview, we picked her brains on the role of AI in the design and consulting industry, and what it means for the future of creative and strategic work. 

In the interview, Aino shares her insights on:  

  • How AI has impacted the industry
  • What behavioral and cultural changes AI brings to interactions between people and companies
  • How customer experiences will transform with AI
  • How AI can boost productivity in design
  • Which aspects of design still require a human touch

Q: With the current AI hype, how is AI impacting your work and your clients? 

Aino: The change has been incredibly rapid, especially in the past year. I think the discussion is currently circling a lot around tools and technology, but personally I find it more interesting to talk about the behavioral and cultural change AI is going to bring to how people and companies interact in the future. This will transform how we design, run, and manage customer experiences. For example, customer journeys will make a shift from current mode of interactions to more multimodal and agent-based experiences. Hence, strategic design and sensemaking are an increasingly important skillset to have already now. Designers will be in a central role transforming businesses towards GenAI-powered future.  

Q: Are clients pushing for AI in their projects, or do you have to encourage them? 

Aino: It's a bit of both. Clients are interested, which pushes us in consulting to be ahead of the curve. To be able to help our clients navigate AI effectively, we need to be on top of the possibilities, responsibly. 

Many of the clients are cautious too, which is understandable. They don't want to be the first to make an ethical or regulatory mistake. But all in all, clients are open for new ideas on how to create new value or boost productivity. 

Q: Can AI genuinely boost productivity in design, and if so, how? 

Aino: Absolutely. AI allows us to offload mundane tasks and focus on creative aspects. It's liberating. AI isn't taking jobs, but it's transforming them. AI tools augment us as designers, rather than replace us. For example, AI can handle repetitive analysis work or initial ideation, freeing designers’ capacity to concentrate on empathy and human understanding, which are crucial in design and strategy work. And that’s just for design process, the real productivity gains happen through AI powered services, products, and operations we design.  

Q: Have you seen any AI tools recently that truly changed the game for you? 

Aino: Again, the tools. But jokes aside - yes. For me, the release of ChatGPT-4o with its multimodal capabilities was a game-changer. It made us at Siili rethink user interfaces. Traditionally, UIs are visual, but multimodal AI could mean interacting with services through speech or other means. We're now considering how to design for these new interaction modes. The whole digital design community needs a bit of a perspective shift from visual UIs to multimodal. Also, we need to readapt the boundaries and opportunities of technology and unlearn some old mindsets. 

Q: What aspects of design still require a human touch? 

Aino: AI struggles with interpreting human emotions and cultural contexts, which are vital for qualitative research. For instance, understanding customer loyalty varies greatly between regions and cultures and AI isn't yet capable of grasping these nuances. Human designers excel at this, providing insights and strategic thinking that AI can't yet match. Humans are also needed for facilitation, storytelling and building the big picture.  

Q: Looking ahead, do you see AI taking over more of your role? 

Aino: Surely, in some aspects. But for me, AI is definitely an ally rather than an enemy. AI is a tool that augments our designer capabilities. It allows us to focus on more important tasks, like empathy and human-centered design. So yeah, I’m actually fine with my powerful little ally taking more of my tasks. 

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