Will Designers Survive the Rise of AI?

History has always been shaped by technology, from the invention of the bicycle, which allowed people to access their workplace from a greater distance, to the expansion of computers, which allowed for the perfect reproduction of documents. Similarly, there have always been people who denied progress, even after time had proven these new inventions to be integral parts of daily life. Today we’re starting to see self-driving cars, or intelligent sales algorithms, but various people and fields have selectively ignored AI, skeptical of its place in society. AI is a vast subject. In this piece I’ll be focusing less on the problematic socio-economic aspect of a cashier being put out of work, than about design, whose previous revolutions were the spread of computers and the first versions of Photoshop, both of which now seem quite ordinary.

The computer revolution meant a completely new level of quality and ease in reproducing the components of one’s work. Where previously text, for example, would have to be endlessly recopied by hand, many authors saw technology as an opportunity to save time and reach new levels in their work. Others, however, saw it as a danger, and their unwillingness to adapt to these new systems often meant unavoidable downfall in their jobs. Alternately, the availability of this new technology caused the emergence of thousands designers who had never been designers, but were afforded the opportunity to learn simply because of the tools themselves. The rise of AI is actually very similar.

Could we lose our jobs? Will some designers lose theirs? Yes, absolutely. But as history has proven time and again, this will be caused mainly by an unwillingness to adapt, rather than the presence of AI itself. Refusing the rise of AI and believing that it can’t affect your job is naive and short-sighted. The change is happening right now and its possibilities are huge. You can’t fight it. It’s important now more than ever to understand AI as a helpful tool, because its presence is widening the gap between pushing your job to the next level or losing it entirely.

Although it’s 2017, automation hasn’t really extended to design and UX yet. We still need to do many repetitive and mechanical tasks, such as bug-fixing, and slog through many steps simply to manifest what we’ve had in our heads for a long time. So what can AI do in the near future to help the world of design? For one, it’s the repetitive tasks, which AI will get better and better at. Imagine a program, which, based on the data gathered from a client, can create a moodboard, a whole set of moodboards of various graphical styles. And this has already existed for several years, it’s just manual and not self-learning — Pinterest or Trendlist.org. Choose a desired style or designer, and the AI will go through Dribbble, Behance, or other servers.

An AI will choose different works every time, so there’s no unnecessary repetition. We’re talking about font research, pictures, competitors, or a specific field in general. This way, AI will understand your taste and preferences more and more. Moodboards will become faster and more precise. It’s not avoiding certain obligatory parts of the work process. It’s educational. You get access to many more sources of inspiration than by doing it alone and you save hours and hours of researching. You’ll eliminate some of the items, your taste and sense of design can’t be easily replaced by AI, so you teach the AI — you both learn. This is just a preview of how the role of a graphic designer will look in the future and why this job will still be necessary.

AI can be help greatly in the field of basic research and algorithmic design, but what about designing itself? Fixing small bugs that were overlooked, color iterations, getting everything right with contrast and color combinations, the pairing of fonts. All can be done by AI alone. The fear regarding AI’s succession — that if an AI is better than a designer he’ll have nothing to do — tends to focus on these areas. But if a designer chooses not to adopt the technology and spends dozens of hours doing extra work, what do you think will happen? In the past, we spent hundreds of hours rewriting a book. This process changed after book printing was introduced — and it’s hard to find someone who still does it the old way.

Design thus becomes an expression of a thought, an idea and a direction, rather than mechanical work. We will become operators, true art directors with computers as our apprentices.

And this can give us a huge leap forward.

How will this look in reality? With a voice assistant like Siri, you can sit at a meeting and record discussions with a client about inspiration, which way to go, who will do the product, who are the customers, the competition, who inspires them. All noticed by our assistant. Once you return to your studio, a pre-prepared moodboard based on the collected data will be waiting for you, with industry research, preferred styles, suggested fonts. It won’t be flawless, but we’ll save dozens of hours of searching. We’ll hone the moodboard, choose the right fonts, and then the real fun and true role of the designer will begin. We’ll look for an idea, a story, a thought, an intention. How to combine things, how to surprise. This will be the true role of a designer. In one of the previous articles, I wrote about storytelling in UX, how the experience of a website can tell a story and guide us through that story. This is still done only by a good designer.

Comparing revolutions, a smart use of AI still differs from the explosion of graphic designers we saw after the introduction of Photoshop. AI can predict, think and learn. It can replace a finance broker, write short articles. But when the tool becomes available to the general public, the output will require a very skilled operator. The rest will be done by people themselves, just as it is with Photoshop.

Thanks to the learning capability, every designer will have their own unique AI, which knows their style and preferences, and is a true helping hand, a true colleague. It will free our hands of repetitive tasks, our style will not disappear, but will be even more refined with new horizons. We will still be hired based on our work. Our added value is unpredictable thinking.

As for UX, thanks to analytics, the change will be even more blatant. Iterations will happen in a matter of seconds and the AI alone can alter the website live and deploy it. Changes in layout or blocks based on real performance will happen automatically. Optimization of UI will happen on such a deep level that it will seamlessly adapt to certain target groups or even a single user. Everyone will automatically see their own unique website based on personal preferences and behavior.

Testing doesn’t have to cost us dozens of hours, the website will evaluate itself, turning off undesired content and preferring that which performs the highest. Good bye A/B testing. Thanks to an understanding of the contrast between font sizes, responsivity will be fully robotic. The routine will go away. Basic wireframing will be done just from exports of analytics. Then we, as operators, will simply adjust the results.

The process will be exponentially faster and more effective and we’ll enjoy our work even more. Mechanical tasks like coding and frontend issues will no longer be necessary. But we have to consider one important factor — our audience is still human. Nevertheless, we must learn how to work with algorithms in order to survive. Advanced tools will continue to surpass the methods we’ve grown accustomed to. Don’t overestimate design as work to be done only by humans. AI can show us otherwise.