This article in FastCo Design speaks to me; I will always call it “the cereal aisle effect.” I had just returned to the states after being in Nicaragua for two weeks, and stood dumb in the cereal aisle, completely paralyzed by all the choices. Don’t get me wrong—I was eager for a little variety after weeks of rice and beans, but this—this was too much.

The Tyranny of Choice

It is our privilege as Americans, now more than ever, to have access to whatever we want, practically whenever we want it. And it’s also increasingly (at least to me) a “tyranny of choice,” as Aaron Shapiro aptly puts it. Well, technology has an answer for these woes: anticipatory design. Design that learns you and your habits, and makes the decisions for you. As Shapiro states, “Anticipatory design is fundamentally different: decisions are made and executed on behalf of the user. The goal is not to help the user make a decision, but to create an ecosystem where a decision is never made—it happens automatically and without user input. The design goal becomes one where we eliminate as many steps as possible and find ways to use data, prior behaviors and business logic to have things happen automatically, or as close to automatic as we can get.” We already see it in action in our Netflix and Amazon accounts, but it’s going to go deeper and broader than movie choices and sock selection. It’s convenient at best, creepy at worst.

Artificial Intelligence in Web Design

It’s already happening in website design, too. The Grid will automatically build your website, without human designers or coders (aside from those who built the substructure and algorithms). According to the website, “The Grid harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to take everything you throw at it – videos, images, text, urls and more – and automatically shape them into a custom website unique to you. As your needs grow, it evolves with you, effortlessly adapting to your needs.” I am very curious to see this approach in action. Will the resulting sites be creative, interesting and authentic, or do they risk becoming too cookie-cutter?

Robots vs. Relationships

I think anticipatory design will have its place. But I also wonder what we will miss out on by removing human decision-making, especially in website or brand design. Part of what is so wonderful about long-standing client-provider relationships is that there is a personal history that allows for work tailored on a level that no artificial intelligence could touch. For many of my clients, I know their brand and material well enough that they trust me to make the right design choices for them. I help remove some of the time-consuming design decision-making, plus I can often provide some uniquely human insight into their design problem, even if it’s just knowing what to avoid based on a client’s personal preferences (hey, she confided over coffee that she HATES “burnt sienna.” Does the algorithm know that?)

What do you think? Are you willing to relinquish control to an algorithm, in order to eliminate the chore of decision-making? It could be a fun experiment, and I anticipate the technology will only get better and better.

But if you change your mind, I’ll be here for you.