We have all been bombarded with news about AI through various media channels by now. Countless online videos showcase the outstanding capabilities of ChatGPT, Midjourney, or Stable Diffusion. Each new version makes the previous one seem like a joke. Missing just one week of news feels like a lifetime because of the exponential growth of new AI apps and capabilities. Many articles and opinions discuss the dangers of AI, from suggesting that it will take all our jobs to concerns about incorrect information and copyright infringement. People here and there assume that this insane technology will be the end of the world, making us all puppets in its hands.
But how will AI realistically impact the design industry in the near future? Will our job change drastically or disappear completely?
Let me provide some personal history to provide context. I consider myself a multidisciplinary designer. It’s a fancy way of saying that I work across various design fields, including graphic design, surface design, digital design, interiors, and even a bit of furniture and yacht design. I graduated in Interior Design back in 2000, during the rise of the Internet era. Joining my Interior Design School opened up a new world for me, and I took additional courses to learn from Graphic Design and 3D software to HTML and Flash. I wanted to do everything because, for me, design is interconnected. Unconsciously, this is how I became a multidisciplinary designer. Before completing my Diploma, I secured my first permanent job as a Digital and Graphic designer. Since then, I have moved across different design roles, gaining insights into how these fields work.
The Internet was a gateway to a new world, and things were changing rapidly. Back then, I read similar negative things about the Internet as I do now about AI. Everyone was talking about this thing called the Internet that had tremendous potential and would change the world, but not many people had a home connection yet (remember internet cafes?). Businesses believed that websites were merely digital catalogues of their activities, and they weren’t entirely wrong. It took many years for the Internet to have a real impact. Broadband, social media, HTML5, smartphones, and more transformed the world. Websites like Napster or Myspace opened the door to many other things that shapes our daily day. Internet and technology (hardware, connectivity, software, etc.) have changed the world for better and for worse in many aspects such as workflows, social interactions, economy, and more. Now, we can’t imagine living without it. The current AI situation reminds me of the journey of the Internet during the 2000s.
Things don’t change drastically from one day to the next; it usually takes time to develop new ways. Design jobs have been evolving since computers became prevalent. I’m a big fan of Mad Men (by the way, the best show ever), and if you don’t know about it, what are you waiting for? The show revolves around a charismatic advertising creative director in the 1960s. There’s an episode where they introduce a computer the size of a room, and the staff reacts to this disruptive machine. It’s quite similar to our current situation. With the digital revolution, designers transitioned from handcrafted work to digital design.
Designer jobs and workflows have been gradually changing. Many design jobs from the past are no longer needed, but many new ones have emerged. “Old” designers possessed skills that are no longer required, and we have acquired new ones. If we take a look at the current design landscape, we can see the emergence of roles that were completely unknown before the Internet, such as UI and UX designers, product designers, content and social media specialists, ecommerce experts, SEO professionals, and online marketers. It’s quite remarkable.
We make many assumptions about AI without fully realizing our historical context and the direction in which we are heading.
Let’s make an effort to reflect on ourselves as designers and how our work has evolved over the past 40 years, particularly in the last 15 years. We have become more specialized designers, working with countless software tools, and achieving drastically reduced production times with even better results. We have become increasingly reliant on technology, with software taking on many of our tasks.
In terms of workflow, we have reached a point where many tasks are already based on frameworks and templates. Platforms like Wordpress and Envato have transformed the industry by eliminating the need to create designs and projects from scratch. For designers, it is more productive in terms of cost and time to download and customize existing templates. In some cases, depending on the budget, it may be as simple as applying a template directly.
From a creative standpoint (this topic alone warrants a full article, which I may cover soon), as graphic designers, we utilize software filters and plugins to create visual designs. We do not develop these filters ourselves; software developers provide us with the tools to apply our personal touch. We watch online videos to learn how to recreate effects created by others. We use platforms like Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble to gather images from various sources for “inspiration”. This copycat creative method is prevalent across all design fields, allowing designers to curate, select, copy, and apply design elements based on trends, marketing requirements, and client whims. Additionally, tools like Canva enable anyone, regardless of design expertise, to create images and videos for their media content.
This is the realm where AI is poised to take over because we have established a system that relies heavily on templates, software, and a copycat creative process, which can be easily systemized by an algorithm.
Where are we heading as designers then? Each design field has its own unique characteristics, but we can expect some general trends and changes in the future.
We stand at the threshold of a new revolution: AI. As a multidisciplinary designer, my journey reflects the evolution of design in the digital era. From handcrafted work to the revolution of digital tools, designers have witnessed a gradual transformation. AI threatens to automate these processes, challenging designers to adapt. But history has shown that evolution is inevitable, and human creativity remains irreplaceable.
As AI takes over repetitive tasks, designers will assume new roles as creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The value lies in providing creative direction and overseeing the production work. While AI may change the landscape, it will not eliminate the need for designers. Photographers and videographers have experienced similar shifts, and their profession has not vanished; it has evolved. Likewise, designers will need to refine their skills, harnessing their eye for detail, understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. They will become specialized in creating images with prompts, offering unique perspectives and tailored services. Let’s reflect on the impact of AI on various design fields.
In graphic design, AI algorithms can generate designs based on given parameters and predefined templates. However, the ability to translate client needs, conceptualize ideas, and evoke emotions through design remains a distinctly human skill. Designers will excel at providing strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, and interpreting client objectives into visually compelling solutions. AI can support designers by automating repetitive tasks such as resizing images, generating color palettes, or analyzing data to inform design decisions. This symbiotic relationship between AI and designers will enhance efficiency and elevate the quality of design outputs.
In architectural and interior design, AI can assist in the creation of conceptual designs and generate various layout options based on functional requirements. However, the artistry of crafting spatial experiences, considering human factors, and capturing the essence of a place remains within the designer’s domain. Designers will embrace AI tools to streamline tasks like 3D modelling, rendering, and material selection. With AI’s assistance, designers can explore more design iterations, optimize energy efficiency, and simulate real-world scenarios to inform decision-making. The role of designers will shift towards orchestrating the integration of technology, sustainability, and user-centric design principles into captivating built environments.
Moving to product design, AI can aid in rapid prototyping, simulation, and material optimization. Yet, the ingenuity of conceiving innovative product concepts, understanding user needs, and crafting intuitive interactions rests with the designer. Designers will leverage AI to augment their design thinking process, employing data-driven insights to inform user research, anticipate market trends, and iteratively refine product designs. The human touch will remain essential in infusing emotional appeal, cultural relevance, and usability into products that resonate with consumers on a deeper level.
In the realm of fashion design, AI algorithms can generate garment designs and predict trends based on vast datasets. However, the designer’s expertise in understanding fabrics, draping techniques, and tailoring will continue to be invaluable. Designers will collaborate with AI tools to streamline pattern-making, fabric selection, and supply chain management, empowering them to focus on creativity, storytelling, and crafting unique fashion identities. The human touch will remain vital in creating garments that evoke emotion, celebrate individuality, and reflect cultural narratives.
Beyond specific design disciplines, AI will reshape the creative process itself. Designers will increasingly collaborate with AI systems, co-creating with algorithms and leveraging AI-generated insights to inspire their work. AI tools will serve as creative catalysts, helping designers explore new possibilities, break creative boundaries, and overcome creative blocks. The iterative nature of AI can enable designers to rapidly experiment, evaluate design variations, and refine their ideas. This collaboration between human and machine will fuel a new era of design innovation.
The future holds diverse business models, allowing designers to choose their path based on personal aspirations and market demand. Some designers may establish specialized studios that harness the power of AI to deliver personalized design experiences and cater to niche markets. Others may focus on integrating AI technologies into traditional design agencies, leveraging the strengths of both to create impactful solutions. Additionally, designers will need to adapt to new ethical considerations and ensure AI systems align with values such as inclusivity, fairness, and sustainability.
In summary, the role of designers will evolve to become design managers, creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The required skills will include a keen eye for detail, a deep understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. Designers will need to evoke emotions and create unique user experiences that reflect cultural narratives and celebrate individuality.
AI undoubtedly disrupts our current design workflows and it will redefine design roles, freeing designers from mundane tasks and empowering them to focus on creativity, strategy, and human-centric aspects of design. Designers will leverage AI as a powerful tool to enhance their creative process, generate insights, and deliver tailored solutions. The future of design lies in embracing AI’s potential while staying true to the essence of human creativity, craft, and empathy.