Embracing change and thriving as designers in the age of AI

Will AI replace designers? And what to do next.

Embracing change and thriving as designers in the age of AI
A photo by Phillip Glickman

It has been six months since ChatGPT opened to the public, and our lives, feeds, and timelines have been busy with AI. Tech giants are working relentlessly to innovate toward AI. Microsoft with 365 Co-pilot, Adobe has unveiled Firefly and Sensei, Canva has showcased their Magics, and Meta, previously focused on the Metaverse, the company publicly acknowledged “playing a little bit of catch-up” on AI hardware trends, details of the overhaul.

The anxiety, praise, and giant pause

We are living in a fascinating yet terrifying time. For some people, the rise of AI superpower presents opportunities to be more productive, efficient, and ultimately more profitable. However, there’s been a massive concern that people may lose their jobs to robots that can replace them.

Recently, Dropbox just laid off 16% or 500 Dropboxers. They publicly disclosed that the reason for these layoffs is AI. In their statement, Dropbox intended to recruit individuals with expertise in AI and early-stage product development.

With the help of AI, someone managed to create a children’s book in just a weekend — it’s impressive yet controversial. Ammaar Reshi, a product design manager at Midjourney, published a 12-page picture book, printed it, and started selling it on Amazon.

However, this achievement has stirred discontent among artists, who raise concerns about the ethical implications of AI-generated art, which claim systems like Midjourney are trained using massive datasets of images from the internet, teaching algorithms to recognize patterns and generate new images. Any artist who shares their work online could unknowingly be feeding the algorithm. Many argue that this amounts to a high-tech form of plagiarism that could potentially harm human artists in the future.

Ammaar Reshi, a product design manager at Midjourney, published a 12-page picture book, printed it, and started selling it on Amazon.
Comic Sans. AB Keith

One day, while scrolling through Twitter and reading the news, AI almost flooded everything. I silently cried, “Can we please take a break from AI? Just for a while.

Actually, an open letter endorsed by the Future of Life Foundation calls for a pause in AI experiments lasting at least six months.

Big names like Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, and Yuval Noah Harari have signed this petition. They say that if such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium. It’s pretty serious. AI systems have advanced to the point where they can now perform general tasks at a level comparable to that of humans. It is crucial that AI labs and tech giants not only engage in a frantic race to create ever more powerful digital minds but also develop a plan to manage this development with appropriate care and resources.

“Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable.” ~Future of Life

The utopian and dystopian

The only AI I have known for years is Jarvis.

The only AI I have known for years is Jarvis. Ironman
© Ironman from Marvel Cinematic Universe

Whenever I watched Ironman movies, I always dreamed that someday in the future, I would have Jarvis as my assistant. I think the utopia of AI is when I see Jarvis, who can perform tasks comparable to those of humans, working alongside humans and not doing anything harmful (assuming we don’t include the Age of Ultron).

Jarvis is like a co-pilot to Tony, assisting him in various ways, such as building new tech and fighting villains. The term ‘co-pilot’ is the most fitting representation of AI for me, a concept embraced by Microsoft and Github.

Conversely, we have seen a dystopian version of robots attempting to take over civilization. Fortunately, in the end, Will Smith put a happy ending to it — humans and robots can co-exist.

Would we reach a dystopian version of AI? Probably.

The godfather of AI, Geoffrey Hinton, made a significant decision by leaving his job in AI research at Google and voicing concerns about the imminent dangers.

During his interview with The Times, Hinton echoed concerns about the risk of job displacement and the potential for a world where determining truth becomes increasingly challenging.

Moreover, Hinton emphasized the rapid pace of AI advancement, surpassing his and others’ initial expectations. He has expressed regret regarding his life’s work and often finds solace in believing that someone else would have if he hadn’t pursued it.

I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have”~Geoffrey Hinton

AI ‘godfather’ Geoffrey Hinton
AI ‘godfather’ Geoffrey Hinton © Chloe Ellingson/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Will AI replace (digital) product designers?

I had a little conversation with ChatGPT itself:

🤖: AI has the potential to automate certain aspects of product design, but it is unlikely to replace human designers completely.

AI is more likely to complement the work of human designers by streamlining certain aspects of the design process and freeing up time for designers to focus on more strategic and creative tasks. In summary, while

AI may change how product design is done, but it is unlikely to replace human designers entirely. The human touch and expertise will remain essential to create compelling, user-centered design experiences.

🤓: I’m afraid even you will take over civilization and dominate the world.

🤖: I can understand your concern, but please rest assured that as an AI language model, I do not have the ability to take over civilization or the world. I am a machine designed to provide assistance and augment human capabilities. While AI has the potential to benefit society greatly, it is important that its development and use are guided by ethical considerations and responsible regulation to ensure it is used for the betterment of humanity.

🤓: But what if humans use you to replace product designers?

🤖: I don’t have personal preferences or desires as an AI language model. The decision to replace human roles with AI is a complex one that involves ethical, societal, and economic considerations. While AI has the potential to automate certain tasks and streamline processes, it’s important to carefully evaluate the impact on human employment and consider the broader implications. It’s worth noting that AI is designed to assist and augment human capabilities, not necessarily to replace them entirely. In many industries, including design, AI is seen as a tool to enhance productivity and efficiency rather than a complete substitute for human expertise.

I have been asked many times by boot camp students and recent graduates who want to start their careers as designers. They worry that the industry is becoming more competitive and the demand is dwindling, making them think they should choose another career path. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling some anxiety about what the future holds for design and what I should prepare for. It’s not a comfortable feeling. It’s as if you’re being forced to step out of your comfort zone and embark on a new journey to the new era of AI.

Some folks out there think they can replace designers with AI. Sure, non-designers can use machines to create designs and provide them with variations in Figma, but the question remains: can they make informed design decisions without any design knowledge? I’ve seen some non-designers make bold yet completely wrong moves.

It got me thinking, would Tony Stark have been able to collaborate with Jarvis and achieve such success if he didn’t have his engineering, science, and high-level intellect to guide him?

Many people think that UI or visual design can be easily replaced by AI. But here’s the thing: can we really trust the taste of robots? Ultimately, human judgment determines the choice of color combinations and fonts. Taste is an intangible quality that is challenging to articulate or teach and varies for each individual. It is often called tacit knowledge — an accumulation of personal wisdom, experience, insight, and intuition that develops throughout one’s career journey. It’s like watching your grandma cook — she adds a pinch of this and a dash of it, tastes it, and somehow creates a delicious meal. You can ask for her recipe, but you won’t be able to replicate it exactly

Robots may seem poised to take over the design world, but there’s still plenty of work to be done if they’re going to replace human designers:

  1. They must learn how to navigate the complexities of collaboration with multiple stakeholders and be aware of the nuances.
  2. They must be intellectually and emotionally independent, unafraid to stand for what they believe is right, even if it’s not the most popular choice.
  3. They must master the art of abductive thinking, the ability to make plausible explanations or hypotheses based on incomplete or ambiguous information.

Robots may one day be able to replace human designers, but it’s not today.

There’s still a long way to go before they can truly replicate all aspects of a human designer’s craft

Embrace the AI revolution and what to do next

People react differently to AI. Some are pumped about its potential, while others get anxious thinking about the changes it brings, especially with tech going downhill and people losing jobs. It’s normal to feel some anxiety, and I’ve been researching AI in the past weeks while feeling a similar sense of unease.

Change is inevitable. While it is unlikely that designers will be replaced entirely, our industries will transform sooner or later, shifting the way we approach work and collaboration.

In the near term, AI is more likely to change the nature of jobs versus fully replacing them”~CTO at Authenticx, Michael Armstrong.

But here’s the thing, the design fundamentally won’t change.

If you don’t learn the fundamentals, utilizing AI is like trying to ride a fancy bike without knowing how. Sure, you might get some speed, but if you don’t have the fundamentals, it will come back and bite you because you don’t have the capabilities to criticize and filter the information you get from AI. In his keynote about AI, Gary Vee says, “The critical thinking of the input becomes a really interesting game.

Soft skills will be hot commodities, including communication, creativity, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, emotional intelligence, and empathy.

Embrace the up-and-coming revolution. Dive into the fundamentals and cultivate those soft skills.

Every week, I write a post in The Playbook, aiming to support you in cultivating your soft skills, gaining a solid grasp of the fundamentals, and thriving in the age of AI. Let’s thrive together.

Read The Playbook for Designers


Embracing change and thriving as designers in the age of AI was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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