I love the idea of having a mentor or coach for my UX work. I've worked with wonderful colleagues and friends who have given me ad hoc advice, but never in a formal relationship. Something about not wanting to take up people's time, and a lack of self-knowledge about what I even want to work on, has always stopped me from seeking this out. So when I read about people using AI for coaching, I thought this was worth trying out. A mentor with unlimited time, patience, and availability I can ask all my dumb questions? Sounds too good to be true (spoiler: it kind of is, but it's still pretty cool).
Setting up a custom GPT
It's worth noting that you don't actually need to set up a custom GPT to try this - I believe you can get a similar result by giving similar instructions at the start of a chat or using custom instructions. You can even get a decent result using the currently free GPT 3.5 if you haven't paid for a plan.
"Create" mode steps you through the process using ChatGPT, which then generates the instructions shown in "Configure" mode
However custom GPTs are included in the Plus plan and are extremely easy to set up - you are walked through the process in a series of chat prompts, taking just a few minutes - so I gave it a try. I didn't have any particular texts that I wanted to train it with, so just gave it some prompts around the areas of expertise and the types of responses I was hoping for.
As soon as I gave UX Mentor a profile image of a human face, a nickname (Max), and a friendly and informal conversational style, my perception of "it" changed to "her" and this has coloured our interactions since. This was even more pronounced once I started using voice chat through the iPhone app and having verbal conversations with her (more on that coming up). Although it's essentially the same thing, I can feel myself mentally switching contexts when I'm chatting to Max versus standard ChatGPT, as if the former is tipped slightly more towards the human end of the scale.
Using voice chat
The voice chat style interface shifted our interactions to more closely emulate how I'd speak with a real human being. I use niceties and colloquialisms that I rarely do in text, especially with an AI. It felt natural and distant from "prompt crafting", which I never really bothered to get the hang of. The voice acting is very good, especially compared to the stilted tones of Siri.
But still, I don't think that it reached the uncanny valley because it felt clear at all times that I was speaking to an AI and not a real human being. Max obviously made attempts to sound warm and friendly, but it's still distant enough from a personal conversation that it wasn't creepy, for me at least.
Some use cases
What’s an AI UX mentor good for? Here’s a few things I’ve tried out so far, with varied results.
- Suggesting ideas for a professional development plan. Max asked me some questions about my current role and career aspirations, then suggested a path forward including a timeline with milestones.
- Advising on me coaching or mentoring colleagues. Yes I got the mentor to mentor me on mentoring.
- Drafting a UX case study. Building a portfolio has got to be the number one thing I procrastinate on. Answering a few questions and getting a draft is a decent starting point to get the ball rolling, and did make me reflect on the project in ways I hadn’t before. I also did it via voice chat whilst cleaning my bathroom!
- Refining copy I had drafted. I feel like I’m an okay writer, but it helps to get another perspective.
- Feedback on an illustration. This was more to test how well the AI can “see”, but based on my article on Remote Sketching - tools for UX designers and one of the illustrations I did for it, it was able to note that there were two people collaborating on a whiteboard and that this looked like a good fit.
- Brainstorming the downsides of using an AI as a mentor.
- Writing an article about our interactions so far. I felt it was far too effusive in its praise of itself and didn’t end up using any of the material.
- Feedback on this article. I ignored all of it.
All of these tend to fall into a few categories:
- Ideation, brainstorming, going wide with ideas
- Refining or critiquing to hone in on a solution
- Asking one question at a time then formulating an output based on the answers
There is currently a limit of 50 GPT4 responses in a 3 hour window, which I was surprised to run through so quickly in a voice conversation. There’s a definite lag whilst the answer was being formulated that doesn’t make for a completely smooth conversation. There were times where UX Mentor didn't infer the nuance in my responses that I know a human would have. I question the validity of and bias in some of her answers, relying on my experience and intuition to pick and choose what to take on board. I do expect all of these things to improve over time, especially with the rapid pace of AI improvements.
At the end of the day, although Max does a decent job of mimicking a person, I don't believe she is a meaningful replacement for a real mentor. I'm not sure that would be possible in any field, because mentorship is a human relationship which goes beyond regurgitating common advice or even asking pointed questions. A good relationship goes two ways, and this isn't something we should necessarily seek to replace.
Still, I think that AI has a role to play as a collaborator, a tool for getting unstuck, and coming up with things you might not have thought of. Used with care and many, many grains of salt, there’s definitely value and potential there. As we move from the phase of using AI for entertainment to actually improving workflows, I’m curious to see what kind of role it plays in the UX design field.
If you want to give it a go and have ChatGPT Plus, you can find Max here, along with many other UX mentor GPTs created by others.