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Design in the time of AI

As you might expect, many of my conversations with folks interested in what we are doing with Unisn include variations on the same question: How does AI play into your roadmap for the product?

Reflexively I want to suggest that the role of AI has been exaggerated for at least twenty years and that we are an age away from AI meaningfully taking over from the work of humans in the world of human computer interaction, but it pays not to be too dismissive and to treat the question with the unexpressed nuance it deserves.

I believe firmly in the ongoing need for designers in the design process. If you take anything but the most reductive reading of what design’ is then you know that the creation of artefacts is but the tip of the tip of the iceberg, and whilst we can already see examples of AI creating passable interface concepts what we also know is that they lack any of what makes design design’ and not simply really boring art.

Gathering and synthesising user needs, leveraging business and industry context, talking to current and prospective users, getting out into the field and doing research, diverging and converging on ideas, testing them, building confidence in the approach, striking a balance between brand expression and platform appropriateness, testing, learning and iterating, these are all things that for the foreseeable future will require the skilled hand of a designer in a team of designers.

So what can AI do for the designers of tomorrow? Certainly there is a role, and whilst that role within Unisn is as yet undefined I can foresee AI as an accelerator in artefact creation, or a useful participant in critiquing design decisions or a bridge between design and its peer disciplines - AI as a member of the crew, but certainly not at the controls.

What AI isn’t going to do is replace the need for a designer, but it may replace the 14 year old nephew of that one client that baulked at your day rate, it may replace the FREE TEMPLATES that non-design teams leverage to just get something in front of someone, but what these folks wanted was never really design’ in any meaningful sense anyway.

Design is not like engineering, and it’s isn’t like data science. What makes design special is that it is about human beings first and things on screens a distance second. I - and in turn Unisn - have no ambition of using AI to create an empathy bypass for the sake of getting a seat on the hype train.

Published on 25 January 2023 – UnisnWorkDesignAI


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Stuart Frisby, 2015-top Mastodon