In 2016, two VCU Brandcenter students, Xia Du and Yanci Wu, won a Cannes Future Lion award for their concept Amazon Emma, an artificial intelligence application for Amazon Echo to combat dementia in seniors.
Using natural language processing and machine learning algorithms, Amazon Emma could have personalized conversations with seniors to stimulate their minds and reduce feelings of social isolation. The project won at Cannes because it used new technology to address users’ needs — something agencies and brands constantly strive to do.
As agencies and brands continue looking toward AI to reach consumers in increasingly customized ways, there is a greater need for marketers who can create experiences like Amazon Emma. In response, ad schools across the U.S. are introducing new degree programs, boot camps and classes on how to prepare students to use AI, and some brands have started advising schools on their approach.
Ad schools that have long had interactive design curricula, like General Assembly and VCU’s Brandcenter business program are adding new courses or revamping old ones to include AI into the overall user experience. Meanwhile, new experience design schools like Center Centre have opened with mainstay AI classes.
AI courses typically fall under user experience design degree programs, where students are taught to design experiences across multiple channels, often using other technology like augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as how to improve the user experience across those channels.
Du and Wu graduated in 2017 from VCU Brandcenter as part of the school’s first class of user experience designers. VCU Brandcenter was ahead of the marketing industry when it began offering user-focused design classes as part of its creative technology track nearly 10 years ago. Three years ago, the school revamped its creative technology program, referring to it as user experience design and launching classes around data tracking and how to engage users. But the program remains in a state of flux as new technologies emerge in the marketing industry.
For the fall 2018 semester, for instance, VCU Brandcenter aims to add more classes on human-machine interaction and AI. “Those are burgeoning areas where we have to be thinking ahead,” said Andrew LeVasseur, professor of experience design at VCU Brandcenter.