The robots are coming: What does Artificial Intelligence mean for designers?

15th June 2017

The robots are coming: What does Artificial Intelligence mean for designers?

What if we replaced Mark with a robot?

If you’ve had the good fortune to work with the design team here at Brand 51, you will have crossed paths with Mark Guatieri, our senior graphic designer.

With more than 35 years’ experience behind him, Mark’s vision and design skill shape every project that passes through our studio. But Mark – and other designers like him – may soon be under threat from the very thing that helps them work: their computers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to shape all aspects of our lives over the next generation. For better or worse, many of us will see our jobs replaced or reshaped – usurped by computers and robots that can learn and perform tasks.

Will designers also be replaced by AI? The answer is yes. But also no.

Here’s why – and what the future of computing means for your business’ brand creative.

Health, wealth and automobiles

Few of us have grasped how completely Artificial Intelligence will change our everyday life in the next two decades.

Today, computers can identify cancer and diabetes. 263 different companies are racing to build effective autonomous cars. Over the next five years, $2.2 trillion of assets will be traded by artificially intelligent digital systems, not bankers. And in May of this year, Google’s AlphaGo machine beat Grandmaster Ke Jie in the world’s hardest boardgame – Go – for which there are more possible games than particles in the universe.

Artificially intelligent devices are everywhere you look, including in the design world. Today, businesses can have their logo designed by AI using Logojoy. Both the Grid and Wix offer intelligent automatic website design. And if you’ve ever used red-eye reduction on photo-editing software or facial detection on a digital camera, you too have benefited from AI design technology.

As in so many other fields, computers have the potential to perform tasks previously done by skilled craftspeople. Should designers be afraid for their jobs?

Creative and Social Intelligence

The answer is no, explains Mark Guatieri: because at all points, graphic design requires a human touch to be truly effective.

The story starts with the briefing process. “Typically I contact the client to go through a brief in the form of an email or face to face conversation – or both,” says Mark. “Next we supply a quote, and a variety of ideas for logos or whichever deliverable is required. The client would come back with their comments or amendments, and after a few rounds of changes, we reach the final design. This is then sent to the printer or developer to get the work published.” Throughout, our designers work with businesses to manage expectations, convert feedback into amends, work in a variety of media, and – crucially – build a relationship with our customers to have them trust the work we deliver is in their best interest – even when it’s not what they expected. “These skill sets require empathy, problem framing, creative problem solving, negotiation, and persuasion”, says Artefact’s Rob Girling. A computer is unable to work on so many levels and perform so many diverse tasks at once.

And what about design ideas themselves? Artificial Intelligence works by creating media within strictly defined limits, set by the coder who created the program. Successful design – creative that delights, surprises and inspires – more often comes from inspiration outside the limits of the brief. “In design, a valuable or clever idea may also be the result of a particular insight or perspective on behalf of the team,” says Rob Girling. “That breakthrough may result from rigorous research and understanding, or simply from social perspective, philosophical bias, or what is commonly identified as individual “genius” or “talent.” Ideas are extremely resistant to codification. In their early form, they are slippery, elusive, and often feel good for seemingly emotional reasons.”

Robots cannot be expected to bring to the table the creative, emotional and social intelligence that comes as standard with a human designer, who must have an intuitive understanding of consumers’ emotional response to their work. Judging whether a design ‘works’ is a uniquely human feat, grounded in a designer’s talent and experience. “If the design is good I just know it’s good,” says Mark: “And when I give it to a client I’m pretty sure they are going to be happy or not have much to amend. But that comes with time and experience.” A good designer with a clear brief will meet or exceed their client’s expectations quickly and precisely, or be able to amend their design to closely fit a client’s needs. For computers, good design comes from producing as many designs as possible in the hope that something sticks. Often, it doesn’t.

Copy and paste

Many of the AI design tools already available have been criticised for this reason. Grid and Wix’s website builders don’t design truly bespoke websites; instead, they offer a version of a templated site that designers believe will appeal to most businesses. Where a good designer will give their clients more than they asked for, programs like Logojoy often generate disappointing results.

We mustn’t dismiss ‘bots out of hand, however. AI in design is far from useless. Designers that realise the potential for computers and robots to assist with the more mundane and repetitive aspects of their job will soon come out on top.“In Photoshop, for example, you could record the steps you take to do simple edits – perhaps changing RTB to NYK or the size of the image – so this process is automatically applied to other design elements or pictures by AI” suggests Mark. Something similar could be done for removing blemishes from photos. “The problem with this is that a designer would have to pick the right image area to clone, because every different part of the picture is a different tone or slightly different colour, meaning the effect would stand out if you got it wrong. Artificial Intelligence could look for these blemishes instead.”

The likes of Google are already bringing simple-seeming AI into our everyday work in this way, for copying and pasting, and responding to emails. For designers, the opportunities for enhanced design using Artificial Intelligence are endless, with computers working quickly and tirelessly to perform predetermined tasks that make up the bulk of designers’ time working for their clients.

To Mark, the rise of AI in design feels distinctly familiar, to a time before computers entered design studios in the 1980s. “I can remember my colleagues saying to me that the internet was where people would be working in the future,” says Mark. “I stuck to my guns, believing print would stay on top. They were right. But I was right too. Print is still here. People are going back to reading books. There will always be that human element in everyday life and design.”

Could robots replace designers? In theory, yes. But they’d do a better job if they kept us around. After all, designers work for humans – not robots.




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