Is AI a threat or an ally to designers and the industry?

Is AI a threat or an ally to designers and the industry?

Is AI a threat or an ally to designers and the industry?

Superunion digital creative director Jessica Tan

AI as applied to design is a tool – it’s exciting and new and headline grabbing – but it’s a tool at the end of the day. One day it will be a button in every design software that allows us to easily perform certain operations that are hard to do manually today. For example, visual effects processes like rotoscoping and tracking will become automatic to a high level of precision with AI.

However, the romantic in me tells me that a true artist can never be replaced. After all, AI can only generate art by learning about what humans create. If one day we ran out of original art – there would be nothing for them to learn from.

Of course, one day AI could advance so much that it would be creating original art that surpasses ours. By then either we would have all become AI designers instead, or we would have more than art to worry about since we would be busy serving AI as our overlords.

Also, while AI-generated original art is perhaps not too far away, AI-generated creativity is perhaps much harder to achieve. Could we possibly artificially codify and implement the messy, organic, chaotic process of creativity?

I think AI could change our industry like how the digital revolution did. Completely new sets of skills to learn, new ways to design, new forms of expression – but the fact of having creativity at the heart of what we do wouldn’t change.

NewTerritory design and creative technology director Tim Smith

AI has been serving designers for a long time already. Just look at the many Photoshop tools that autocorrect our images and fill in the blanks, the algorithms that reduce weight in componentry or adaptive typography that enhances legibility based on your biometrics. AI won’t necessarily take on a humanoid form like the ‘participant’ in the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee example this month. In fact, its emergence in intangible forms, like the cloud, is where it seems to be more useful to designers.

As a designer that dabbles with creative technologies as part of the process, where human-centred design is important, I find myself rooting for both the human and the technology. In fact, I think with advances in human machine teaming, we are better together. I’ve never understood the man vs. machine debate. Today’s machines are a bit like pets, they have always helped us both functionally and emotionally.

Almost all challenges we face as designers require a very sympathetic human ear to understand and solve a human problem. The challenge is always both functional and emotional in nature. For now, I don’t believe AI can better our emotional design intelligence, but AI is vitally important in supporting us in the functional area of design. Though, that might become an out-of-date opinion very quickly.

Monopo London creative director Mélanie Hubert-Crozet

As a creator you should always be excited by anything new and embrace the opportunity of a new tool to become an ally. It’s a chance to create in a different way, like photography, cinema or computers have been, opening the doors to a whole new world of creativity. The incredible pace of innovation we see happening in the creative industry can be overwhelming but mostly unbelievably exciting. Human creativity is not limited by our tools. AI is a new tool to be creative, giving us more time to focus on thinking, testing concepts and exploring rather than simply making.

AI is like a collaborator helping us to brainstorm, think differently and get surprised. Prompting is like a conversation with AI extending our brains, inviting a sense of controlled randomness into our creative process.

For designers, AI doesn’t need to be the whole creative output. AI is not the idea but a component within the story you are trying to communicate, which is always multidisciplinary by essence. Isn’t it so exciting to be at the beginning of a new visual tool where what we decide to do with it is yet to be explored?

Blond founder and creative director James Melia

AI has the potential to be hugely disruptive to businesses, setting some companies up for success and others to fail. For design, AI will be an ally to some, but also a threat to others.

For strategically focused consultancies like blond, which are using design methodologies to identify and solve complex problems, AI poses little threat to replace the value of this type of creativity. AI can rapidly iterate and instantly respond to inputs, speeding up certain processes, as well as producing diverse outcomes. But it cannot think, or problem solve, at least not in the same way a human can.

If you wanted to use AI to rapidly visualise new shapes, colours or finishes, it could be a useful tool for experimentation; and support or supplement existing CAD and visualisation programs that designers already employ in their work.

This type of AI support may have the knock-on effect of making certain design activities and trend-based designs less labour-intensive, thereby impacting some jobs in the industry. But you won’t get from AI the intellect, storytelling and innovative problem-solving which distinguishes great design solutions.

For cutting-edge design agencies and innovation consultants, AI may make processes streamlined and more competitive, producing better outcomes. If this happens – not at the expense of the commercial value of design – then it could be a positive thing for the industry.

Ultimately, there is no stopping AI’s influence and therefore designers need to be smart about how they embrace its potential.

Co:collective experience design practice managing director Jess Mireau

AI is a tool just like any other tool. It can be used for good, or for harm. The scale and speed at which harm can happen is where we need to proceed cautiously. As technology continues to evolve, our role as designers must too, with more of our attention moving towards the ripple effects of what we create. The products and services we design impact real people with real lives and livelihoods and, as designers, we have a responsibility to the communities we’re designing for. That’s where our superpowers as humans come into play: our understanding, our ethics, our creativity, our ingenuity, and our empathy.

Design Partners chief design officer Cormac O’Conaire

AI-assisted design and development will absolutely transform and accelerate the design process, which means AI will undoubtedly be a threat to some creatives. If a computer can behave in the same way as your colleague, are they needed? However, the solution to this is to simply view AI as another advanced tool for creatives to choose from.

Programs, like Photoshop, made many valued skills (like typesetting) redundant when they were introduced, and the industry had to evolve. The same will happen with AI. Designers need to upskill on these technologies and include them as part of their toolkits to draw upon when needed. For me, this elevates the value of the designers, who must ensure new products and experiences are meaningful for people and for the planet, and ensure creative excellence is achieved.

Throughout the new product development process, AI can add immense value. It can help with research – helping to find patterns for human insight –, concept – supporting ideation, and development – and translating quick sketches of apps into working software prototypes or computing generative design solutions for mechanical engineers. Wherever AI is used to define new products or services for people, it is important to be conscious of what dataset it draws from and the ethical implications of inherent biases it may contain. This means reflecting on the potential unintended consequences before designing new experiences.

Thompson designer Al Connoly

In the same way the calculator, instant food or the synthesiser hasn’t kept musicians’, chefs or mathematicians up at night worrying about the future of their industry, designers shouldn’t be afraid of a little creative disruption from AI technology.

Design has already been affected by new technologies such as drag and drop templates or logo generators. But, just because it’s more convenient, faster and even cheaper, doesn’t make it better or mark the end of the creative.

AI can be used to generate some amazing looking images, but I think a better use is to use it as a sketch pad to fire out unrefined ideas to work with. We might see more of a disruption in stock imagery websites where it can take a long time to find the right image (that hasn’t been overused) and be extremely expensive. Image generators like DALLE-2 will give a completely one-of-a-kind tailored image at a fraction of the cost.

Designers need to look at where we are going. If we are heading into augmented reality or the meta verse, we need to think about design for that space. Just because AI is in its infancy right now, it doesn’t mean we should neglect thinking about its future application. Designers have the missing pieces that AI just doesn’t have. We have human experience and a distinct unique point of view that comes from personal history and real-world living.

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