What is genuinely universal, and what is not?

In this Experience Designed newsletter, I’ll share some recent fascinating finds that capture scientific, human-centred, past and future thinking views regarding conceptual and real universality.


I

What happens when a neurosurgeon and an astrophysicist compare notes?

A mind-blowing comparison between our brain neuron network and the universe:

Despite the substantial difference in scale between the two networks (more than 27 orders of magnitude), their quantitative analysis, which sits at the crossroads of cosmology and neurosurgery, suggests that diverse physical processes can build structures characterised by similar levels of complexity and self-organisation.” – Università di Bologna statement

In other words, our innate drive to make things and seek to scale small patterns into grand structures can be attributed to the universe. Humans being smaller building blocks trying to make even smaller systems. Quite literally.

You can’t help but see atomic design following a particular pattern. Perhaps it resonates so much with me because it’s also how my experience designer mind works. The only thing that I’m not too sure where our efforts to replicate and make self-sufficient neural networks (AI) stand.

You can find the actual Phys. research paper here.


II

This next exciting piece that left me pondering was Nikolay Ironov – a famous Russian designer that has shaken the international design scene with bold and somewhat very different design work:

Designs by AI

Big caveat: Nikolay is an AI.

Nikolay is a neural network developed in the creative studio to work relentlessly on real client projects. He doesn’t get ill, doesn’t take holidays, doesn’t ask for a salary and can churn thousands of creative work variants in seconds. What’s intriguing is the specific personal style or universality in his work. Just take a look at some of the logos he produces. They have a unique signature to them:

Oh… and if you haven’t seen my review of Nikolay’s work, make sure to do so here.


III

When I covered the news on Nikolay, I received a few interesting responses. One of them touched perfectly on the trail of thoughts that I have been brewing on for a good few years now: What the future of the design looks like and what are we as experience and product designers ought to prepare for:

“Have you ever thought about a scenario where all designers become obsolete due to AI (not just UI/UX Designers). If so what will you do in that case?” – Evelmaa

While there are many takes on this, what’s clear is that our remit and scope of design will shift, but we will still need to apply the human-centred lens:

  • We will be responsible for designing how the AIs like Nikolay design things. Think of it as a design by proxy, but infinitely better, because…
  • We will scale our creativity that is currently bound to the limits of time
  • We will create flawless human decision support mechanisms that will provide enough evidence to make better calls

IV

And talking about human centricity: I’ve published this walkthrough of some of the key human experiences that can be deemed universal.

From the UX perspective, you already know that people’s current unique experiences shape their behaviours and attitudes. However, from the underlying human psychology perspective, we are also deeply primed to respond to things in highly predictable ways.

While not entirely conclusive, we have enough data to draw universality for emotions, senses, critical part the language plays in our behaviours, human values and many more: