The skills required of a modern designer are empathy, creative problem-solving, critical thought, persuasion and technical competence. As we travel from the analogue world ever deeper into a digital universe, designers are needing to embrace coding, data analysis, voice technology and beyond to create interactions and experiences that were inconceivable a decade ago.
As designers learn and adapt, machines also increase in capability. Companies such as Autodesk, the global architectural software company, use AI-based algorithms with data to rapidly design functional parts for things consumer’s trust, like airplanes and cars. The shapes are often organic-looking, high-performing and weight-/energy-reducing. The kind of streamlining it would take human designers a generation to realize. In advertising, AI and machine learning are being employed in computational creativity to automate content and delivery. Automating design seems a short logical step. Early attempts such as The Grid have failed, but AI’s ability to relentlessly replicate patterns and logic, something heavily relied upon in design systems, is only a line of code away.
As human designers find it difficult to meet the demand and deadlines of large-scale multiplatform, multilingual, time-sensitive rollouts while also finding room for reflection and creativity, AI can and will take the strain. This frees designers to enjoy the uniquely human brew of art, math and psychology to conceive new and better work as AI systematizes and scales their application. Whatever the question to be answered by design, AI is likely to play a role in the answer.
Below are four ways AI will rewrite some of the lore of design.
AI, the artistic apostle
AI will become an artistic collaborator rather than an opponent or replacement. Collaboration in the arts is the norm for inspiration, for contribution, for reaction and for creating something greater than the sum of the parts. If a designer can create a human-machine duet with the machine applying the rules of a good design system and the human bringing the bolt from the blue, we could create a new design language. This will distill the essence of the designer’s vision, and through the machine interpretation of the message, create new forms of expression.
AI will influence a new design cult
The modernist graphic movement of the 20th century is still a major influence on today’s graphic designers. Design systems such as the International Typographic Style still form the backbone of what we consider good design. If we embrace AI as a design partner, we will begin to accept its aesthetic and interpretation of the world as unique. AI will inspire and influence new thinking from designers and a reappraisal of what good design is.
It will become unethical not to use AI in design
Global companies like Autodesk have shown how using machine learning in the design process creates structures and products that are stronger, lighter and safer. Is there an ethical consideration in not using AI and machine learning in designing products that directly relate to human safety?
Designers will influence AI design tools through preference
Individual designers’ ability to frame problems, be empathic, persuade and think creatively are unique. While we may use the same methods, our individual experiences influence our application. As the AI-powered tools that assist designers develop, their inputs will be based on the preferences of the designers using, and therefore teaching, those tools. As a result, the outputs will be biased toward which designers taught the AI. If you have a specific skill or understanding in a certain area of design, you will be able to train your tools to help you create in that space.
AI is not a design trend. We will always rely on human designers to set the context for design to create both disruption and empathy. The creative, cultural and social intelligence required to design think won’t disappear. With the backdrop of fear around AI replacing jobs, most future-proofing recommendations from respected institutions are suggesting people improve their employability by honing these exact creative skills. New courses and resources are being created in design thinking for non-designers.
Potentially the raft of new AI-powered design tools alongside an influx of retrained design thinkers may lower the barrier of entry to a design career, and experienced designers may find themselves competing to get a share of voice and work in this new space.
Therefore, my advice is not to ignore or dismiss the development of AI in design as a passing fad. For design to be relevant, it has to be as close to the edge of where technology meets society as possible. AI is undeniably going to play more than a passing role. Designers must be curious to try the new tools and methods to bring their influence to bear.