by Imran Haider on August 4, 2017

Design in the age of AI


Design is often a misnomer. The kind of cool word that you want to use so people know you are doing important work. Even traditional roles are, sometimes, renamed so the term somehow shows up in them. The word, or field for that matter, was rather obscure before Apple started using it in product intro's. And since then everyone seems to have something to do with it. Which makes talking about the subject rather tricky. So, for the purpose of this article we will divide Design into two categories.

1. Design as the ability to look at the world from a problem solving approach. Let's call this Design Thinking, a term made famous by IDEO.

2. Design as the creation of artifacts. This can be an apparel, web page or an image.

So what does the role of Design look like in a world where AI is getting more pervasive everyday? Let's first define what we mean by AI? AI is a technology. Just like any other technology we, the humans, are aiming to solve a problem with it. And that problem is thinking. Because you know it's kind of boring and not all of us are good at it. Machine/Deep Learning and Big Data are more fundamental technologies enabling AI. But it's a technology nonetheless. Design Thinking is normally independent of any technology. You need to be able to see the problem first. And no technology is going to enable you to do so. Also, while new technologies do tend to solve some of the problems they may also introduce a few.

Unless we achieve Superhuman level machine intelligence where computers start to solve problems before we notice them, Design Thinking is here to stay. Even that scenario is a problem that we need to solve by Design Thinking hence Neuralink.

Design as the creation of artifacts is more prone to change because it's dependent on tools. And what any technology does is it gives us new tools. But that does not mean the role of designer is going away. It will definitely change though. 3D printers enable creation of physical products on steroids, but we still need someone who can tell whether the printed products actually makes sense or not. There was a time when Photoshop used to scare designers because it removed the difficulty out of most tasks. And yet Designers gained more from Photoshop than anything else because the program enabled them do things not possible before.

Likely, Big Data is going to make you nervous. It will make you think twice every time you make a decision because you will have access to more data points. As a Designer you will have to act accordingly. Instead of acting on pure instincts you can now act more on concrete data and intelligence in hand. There is a famous quote in philosophy i.e. you have to let go of some things in life to get what you really want. As a designer you are solving a problem by making a better product. That's your end goal. Focus on that and let everything else loosen a bit.

Almost everything you do needs to be intelligent. That's a bit harsh reality to digest but that's seemingly what the future holds. This brings more data and hence more complexity. Part of the job of a designer is to remove complexity from the product she is building. But you can’t make simple products by avoiding complexity. You do so by embracing it.

A term is often used to describe outdated technology products i.e. delivering yesterday's tech tomorrow. It stems from designer's inclination to hold onto what they know. And insisting on not changing what worked before. In a not so distant future everything will be connected and intelligent. This is especially a challenge if your current product does not have any software. Probing the AI question might seem early in your case. But it's not. It should really be your guiding principle.

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Imran Haider

Imran is technology researcher and writer at Modev. He has a background in Product Marketing, Business Analysis and IT Product Management. Now a days if he is not writing, he is normally reading or listening to audio books on AI, Machine Learning, Blockchain and Robotics.