Toby Li Receives Google Research Scholar Award

Toby Li

Toby Li, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame, has received a Google Research Scholar Award for his project “Effective Human-AI Collaboration with Data-Driven Models in UX Design.”

The project’s goal is to create software that facilitates human-AI collaboration in designing user experiences, or UX.

UX design aims to create user experiences that are coherent, consistent and meaningful. Companies developing apps and websites often rely on UX professionals to design the efficient, uncomplicated user interfaces that customers have come to expect.

However, smaller organizations and individual app developers often lack the resources necessary to design and deliver optimal user experiences, putting them at a disadvantage.

Li intends to help democratize access to good UX design. “Our tool will allow people without formal UX training to design easy-to-use interfaces with the assistance of AI and learn useful design strategies and best practices along the way,” said Li. 

“The approach we are taking is known as Human-AI collaboration,” he said. “The AI tool contributes its expertise in common design patterns and constraints—plus it ensures consistency in user experiences. Human designers contribute their knowledge of specific usage scenarios, task domains and user needs.” 

A key goal of this research is to allow each party to leverage their complementary strengths while ensuring the sense of control and agency to human designers. “We want to develop AI tools that empower human designers, not displace them,” said Li. 

In the future, Li plans to partner with local organizations to deploy the AI tool in K-12 computer science education and workforce retraining. “Promoting design literacy is as important as promoting code literacy if we want to develop a future workforce that can create useful digital products,” he said. 

Li joined the Notre Dame faculty in 2021 after receiving a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. His research focuses on human-AI collaborative systems that empower users to perform data-intensive tasks more easily, efficiently, and effectively. 

Google’s Research Scholar Program supports research conducted by early-career professors at institutions around the world, particularly those exploring the ways technology affects individuals and society. The award comes with $60,000 in unrestricted funds to support  research.

— Karla Cruise, College of Engineering