How AI is aiding design

Last year I had to have a surgery which put me out of action for a bit. Although I went back to work after three months, it took a bit more time to finally get back into the flow of things and reintegrate back into the design industry. My time off offered me a period of reflection, but my first few weeks back highlighted the pace of change in the industry. On my return I felt like I was in a different industry – that was not the effect of the surgery.

Over the last few months I’ve been trying to catch up with things I’ve missed during my time off and keep up with current trends and where the design industry’s heading. I’ve been catching up on blogs and podcasts, attending design talks and meetups. I must admit, it has been an interesting journey and has resulted in (almost) a rebirth for me as a designer.

A few days ago I attended a talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) and how they can aid designers to do their jobs more efficiently by assisting and forming a partnership in which designers can have more of a design director role in the process. Although this is still in its infancy, it made me reflect on my journey in the design industry, specifically in the digital world.

Back in 2007 when I was completing my degree I had a part time job looking after a website for an IT company where my job title was Web Master. I was the “Master of the Web”. I was responsible for maintaining the beast – nothing could happen without my input: design, content and code.

Fast forward a decade or so and it’s a completely different world. The web is no longer for the ‘geeky’ few. Anyone can now create and publish content within hours, if not minutes. There are so many templates, platforms and established design patterns out there that can be put together without much knowledge or experience. It might not turn out to be award winning stuff but nevertheless, an immediate digital presence and impact can be made. AI isn’t aimed at replacing people, but to enhance their skills and maximise their time and resources.

We are at a stage now where we don’t even need to look at our screens or tap on our keyboards or mobiles to do things anymore. All we need to do is say a command to Alexa or Siri. We don’t need spend weeks and months gathering data and insight, IBM Watson can do it all in moments.

As a designer I find this revolution terrifying but incredibly exciting at the same time. I find it scary because AI will soon become better than us when carrying out research, gathering insights, identifying patterns, and “predicting human behavior in a way that better serves the user”. It will also become better in operating Sketch, Photoshop or any other design tool. Based on pre-existing design patterns, AI will be able to put pages and templates together faster than us mere mortals.

It’s exciting because this also represents huge opportunities in accelerating new ideas and removing complexity and timeliness from tasks. We can work in partnership with AI to be more effective and complement the habitual moments in everyday life. By allowing AI to do most of the logical tasks, we concentrate on the more human elements of the design process, such as empathy, emotions and understanding intent. As designers we design we can ask ‘why?’ but at the moment a machine can’t. This is extremely important when we design experiences that connect people with a brand.

This is not the first time emerging technology has changed the design and creative worlds. The creation of the e-reader for example didn’t put most publishers out of business, but it opened up possibilities for new and emerging writers to publish books cost effectively. Back even further was the invention of photographic imaging, which lead to the expressionist movement in the arts because there was no longer the need for photo-realistic paintings. The technology enabled people to be more creative and expressive in their craft.

We, designers, can harness the power of machine-learning, big data and clever algorithms to help us craft seamless end-to-end journeys, ecosystems and services that have an emotional and personal impact rather than simply targeting segments or conducting basic machine learning.

We can work alongside AI to improve people’s lives and help brands fulfil their purpose through experiences that are truly meaningful to their audiences.