How Design will Fare in the Age of AI


Will AI take over design jobs? Are robots going to replace designers in the future?

Talk of Artificial Intelligence, and it is immediately depicted as a replacement for humans. But is it really? While there is no doubt that AI will transform the framework of design, the idea that this intelligent technology is here to replace humans is not strictly rational. As technology is evolving and the economy is transforming, shifts in business processes are natural. Design processes are also subject to this change.

This article aims to discuss how AI will profoundly transform the design process. Instead of looking at AI as a threat, we will look at the opportunities that AI brings to the design field, its implications for design practices and principles, and how designers’ work will change.

Analyzing the Role of AI in Two Design Contexts

To understand the impact of AI in design it’s helpful to analyze the two operating contexts of design – design principles and design practice. While design principles refer to the philosophy of design, design practices are concerned with the how-to and object of designs. Knowing the distinction between the two will help us gain an in-depth understanding of the impact of Ai on design.

The Principles of Design

Broadly speaking, design aims to create meaningful solutions for people. From an organizational context, designers follow the principles of design thinking to achieve this goal.

Principles of Design Thinking

People-centricity: Innovations in design should be fueled by the user’s pain points rather than by technological advancements.

Abductive reasoning: Forming speculation based on observations is an excellent approach to looking at problems from a different perspective and creating solutions.

Iterations: Adapt conclusions from abductive reasoning and improve them through iterative testing cycles till a satisfactory solution is achieved.

In a traditional design approach, these activities demand human labor. But AI can radically transform this scenario. Ai empowers a design process with real-time data recorded from user interactions or market trends. This data can serve as input to designers or, even more interestingly, used to build AI engines. AI engines have problem-solving abilities and can generate solutions for various contexts without human interaction.

AI can also release designers from detailed decision-making.

During a design process, several decisions need to be made and actions taken — but only a few of these will require a high imagination or creativity.

Most decisions require problem-solving skills, especially complex decisions during development, such as the functional shape of an object or display of text details. AI can handle these, thus letting designers focus more on creative aspects of design.

Thus in the age of AI, rather than ideating or creating designs at scale, the role of designers will be to come up with new offerings and design problem-solving loops. These loops act as independent and human-free design systems which can replace people with machines for specific solutions. Thus, a model that can provide a variety of solutions in a short time, without great effort, can be realized.

The Design Practice

While technology has been playing a significant role in influencing operations and contributing to reducing the cost and time of developments — its role in the design practice has been quite limited.

With artificial intelligence, this is changing as it introduces automation in the “designing” and not just the “making.” The automation capabilities enable designers to do their work faster, thus increasing the efficiency of their work process.

A great example is the AI system that Airbnb is developing that translates mockups (drawn by designers) into component specifications. Airbnb is known to transform its operations with AI in multiple ways. In this example, the foundation of this AI system is the standardization and organization of all design components.

The AI engine can recognize the components from drawings and translate them to its spec and source code for prototypes.

The role of AI in design practice is not just limited to the automation of existing practices. With its problem-solving capabilities, it can also influence detailed design choices such as the type of content to create, the way of positioning products, the interface to present to users, and so on.

AI will enable dynamic designing, that is, what a user experience will be designed at the moment by the AI system. The role of designers will be to design the problem-solving loops as we discussed above rather than designing solutions.

What is in the Future for Designers

As AI begins to be incorporated in-depth into the design domain, what would the future look like for designers? What should designers know to adapt to the age of AI and thrive? Let’s take a look.

Designers as Curators

A significant breakthrough of AI in design will be that designers will become curators over being creators. They will develop an AI system and train it to solve problems based on different goals and contexts. One aspect of their role will be setting the parameters, constraints, and goals for other models and defining and training the AI system.

Another aspect would be to fine-tune the designs generated by AI and review them.

Non-Designers as Designers

AI will enable access to programs like creative intelligence training and human-centered design training. As a result, non-designers will have the opportunity to develop their creativity and design thinking skills, empowering them to take up design jobs. Therefore, creativity and social intelligence will not be enough to sustain a designer. To stay competitive, designers must build expertise in multiple disciplines or specialize in specific niches.

Demand for Specialists

Though the barriers to entering the design profession will reduce, the demand for people who are masters in the craft will increase. With AI-driven tools, amateur designers can produce thousands of variations of a design quickly. But to review them and choose the ones that best fit the context, the skilled hands of experienced designers are required.

Design for Virtual

The next big thing in design is working with augmented and virtual reality. In the coming years, AR and VR will explode, generating demand for particular skills. In addition, the challenges in virtual reality interactions and curating virtual experiences will require unique skills that AI engines may not fulfill. Thus in the future of design, the virtual world offers a high potential for designers.

How the Collaboration Will Manifest

Future designers must collaborate creatively with algorithms to enhance their work process. Let’s look at three areas where collaboration between humans and machines would be most prominent.

Building UI:

Designers will collaborate with machines to build UI fast. Things like logic, context, etc., are defined by designers, and AI will use standardized patterns and principles to compile designs.

Preparing elements:

Simple graphical tasks like creating diverse compositions, different color-matched cards, and so on take much of the designers’ time. However, ai can accomplish these quickly with proper input. Hence, designers will collaborate with AI tools to prepare design elements fast.

Personalizing UX:

Big data analysis gives actionable insights for personalizing UX. Recommendation engines used by Netflix, Spotify, etc., are examples of how effectively AI can personalize user experience. Designers will leverage this AI skill to provide a better user experience.

The Future of AI in Design

Far from being a threat that will make designers lose jobs, AI opens the door for many opportunities. It enables designers to co-create with machines to work smarter and faster.

The collaboration of humans and computers will make achievable what is impossible for each to do alone. In addition, AI leverages continuous learning, which is central to innovation.

AI empowers designers to move past the limitations in scope, scale, and learning. It will be a fascinating journey where innovation, creativity, and empathy walk together to give design a new nature.

Image Credit: by Polina Kovaleva; Pexels; Thank you!

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