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Generative Ai Design Tools Do Not Design Stuff

I have a bee in my bonnet about the nonsense people are pedalling about AI tooling being a viable replacement for designers. I get the allure - whether you’re trying to sell outrage to fuel your insatiable ego, or trying to figure out how to placate your shareholders who are desperate for you (and the industry at-large) to stop having to pay people more than poverty wages - the idea that you can spew a few words into a text box and get back design” is a magical wonderland of fiscal opportunity. But it isn’t design.

For as long as I have been designing I have been trying to convince organisations and individuals that the thing they see on a screen at the end of a design process is the last 1% of the work, that design” is about empathy, about finding ways to reconcile competing objectives, about trying to create emotional connection, about brand expression, about cultural values, about building a deep understanding of a problem space and then working really hard to solve it in a way that appears completely uncontroversial and even trivial.

Generative AI tools that purport to design” are doing none of that. They are racing past all of the designing and jumping right to the bit where the interface is presented. Only this time the interface doesn’t just appear trivial - it is trivial, it’s trivial in the same way that the discourse around Generative AI in Design is trivial. It’s trivial in the same way that Design eSports are trivial and in the same way that most of the stuff posted on Dribbble and Behance has always been trivial.

Here’s the big risk - the allure is now directly financial, and the people getting hyped up about Generative AI have never taken the time to understand Design to be more that the artefacts. There will be - and I’m sure there already are - executives at companies you’ve heard of who are planning to replace their design team with some credits on an AI tool. They will get interfaces, and they might even - occasionally and mostly by accident - get interfaces that do some of what they want, but they won’t get interfaces that are designed.

Suddenly, tech companies that have never invested in UX writing and Content Design are convinced that they can write functionality into existence with a cleverly worded prompt when even the most cursory knowledge of the tech industry will tell you that concise and well-written communication is not one of it’s collective strengths.

So maybe Generative AI will eat up some design jobs, but they’ll be the kind of design jobs that designers didn’t ever want to do - where senior management have been dictating design decisions into shoddily written JIRA tickets they will instead write them into a text box on a website they don’t own and will generate results of unknown provenance with unknown implications for both intellectual property rights and the end user experience. Organisations that steer clear of this trivialisation of design will create a User Experience advantage which will set them apart from their competitors, and for most internet businesses for whom the only point of differentiation is the quality of their user experience - this will be a significant competitive moat.

Design is going to be fine. The tech industry probably isn’t.

Published on 28 April 2023 – workdesignAI

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Stuart Frisby, 2015-top Mastodon