A designer walks into a bar. He leans over and says to the bartender, “Hey, will you give me a free beer if I show you something so amazing that I can guarantee you’ve never seen it before?
The bartender says. “Okay, but it better be good.”
The designer opens his laptop and boots up the artificial intelligence engine. With just a few keystrokes, the AI engine determines the location, demographics, the bar’s revenue and order history. The designer, sits back and proudly displays the bar’s new, user-friendly, fully responsive website. The bartender says. “Wow! That was truly incredible! Have a beer.”
The man finishes his beer and says to the bartender. “Hey, if I show you something else that is so amazing I can guarantee you’ve never seen before, will you give me another free beer?”
“If it’s amazing as that AI, then sure,” the bartender replies.
So, the designer reaches into his pocket and pulls out a frog. He sets the frog down on the bar, and the frog begins to sing beautifully. The bartender is again amazed, and the designer earns another beer.
As the designer is drinking his beer, a guy at the other end of the bar walks over and says, “What a performer! I’ll give you $500 for that frog.”
The designer says, “Its a deal!” and sells the guy the frog. The bartender shakes his head slowly. “Not that it’s any of my business, mind you, but that’s a real, live singing frog. Why would you sell it for only $500? You could have made millions off of it.”
The designer says, “Nah, don’t worry the AI I used to build your website is also a ventriloquist.”
Design using artificial intelligence is nothing new.
In fact, when I worked at a large online printing company back in the early 2000s, we used clever engineering to serve up unique galleries of designs.
The engineers saw an opportunity to recreate my thought process using algorithms and custom tools. While not purely intelligent, the tools brought a level of automation to design that I had not previously experienced.
The tools we created were so effective that customer service reps, without design expertise, were using them to create “custom” design solutions.
Ultimately, the tools I helped create automated design to the effect I was no longer needed and was let go.
The fear of AI taking over our jobs is real. In jeopardy are manual laborers, medical diagnosticians and finance jobs. Autonomous systems are and will continue to benefit our society, but at a cost.
Despite my early run-in with design without designers, we aren’t being replaced anytime soon. Designers may employ AI to ease their data analysis and research, but our strength lies in the ability to synthesize the qualitative human element. Perceptions and intuitions combined with quantifiable data help us create unique, useful, usable and desirable solutions.
Don’t be fooled by the AI ventriloquist making money in a bar, it has real power that designers can harness. If we are complacent, however, and AI drives design, we are doomed to a homogenized, templated digital experience. If that happens, you can find me at the bar.