Design is for humans
How AI and machine learning are toxic for the design industry
The advancement of AI and machine learning is disturbing. It used to just be chess grandmasters that were bitchslapped by new technology. Now every industry is potentially threatened by automation.
The question of ‘how will this impact the design industry?’ has fluttered around the petri dish of #designtwitter (eurgh) for the last few weeks.
Many tweets evangelised the technology. I had some interesting debates with some designers who figured, as with most technologies, you either get on board or you get left at the station. Adapt or die!
I thought I’d demonstrate how toxic AI will be for the design industry. It's a tongue in cheek article, so the usual caveats, but also a cautionary tale. Proceed with caution…
AI is toxic for the design industry…
My position is that this technology will fail to address or ameliorate any of the key aspects of modern product design. It’s a bunch of answers to a bunch of problems that don’t exist.
Product design is the most vulnerable discipline to this computational crisis, as it is the smartest, yet most democratised sector of design.
Digital design is an analogue process
Technology has afforded the democratisation of design, which in some cases has been great, its lowered the barrier to design (production), yet resulted in a framework-style approach to design process and execution.
Design is a human, analogue process. It’s creative, personal, emotional and subjective. AI is none of these things.
AI is defined as ‘the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour’
Sometimes design is the least intelligent, rational or logical output. Some of the best design is bonkers.
Too many cooks
Everyone knows the more people you throw at a design problem, the worse it can get. ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’. You cant just ‘apply’ an AI to ‘fix’ a layout, or finesse some login screens or a signup process in an app.
Imagine you trained an AI to go through Dribbble. Then you wrote an algorithm to take a decent design brief (LOL) and output initial concepts based on a synthesis of the most relevant and highly rated shots.
Sounds great right? Nope, the result would be absolute garbage.
First off, nothing on Dribbble is *actually* going to get shipped, it’s mostly DesignOps porn for students and inspiration for portfolio spec work. It’s work sans brief, free of the complexities and constraints or real work.
Also Design is inherently personal, the more resources you throw at it the worse it gets. If a design is failing you don’t throw more bodies at it, it's not a construction site. Also the quality control goes out the window, ask a head chef what happens when you chuck 3 more cooks in a kitchen.
One of the core tenets of Human Centred Design is empathy. You cannot design for a user unless you can try to understand their needs, and what problems you need to solve.
AI and neuroscience researchers agree that current forms of AI cannot have their own emotions
My opinion is that AI will never be able to understand or replicate this most critical human ability. It’ cant feel pain, or understand or sympathise with the pain that others are experiencing.
Even a computer that can pass the Turing test can’t process or replicate empathy.
Even the most advanced AI cant understand emotion. They just don’t care.
They simply do not give a crap about anything. Design is creative, its not an exact science, nor a binary output.
Machine learning bias, also known as algorithm bias or Artificial Intelligence bias, refers to the tendency of algorithms to reflect human biases.
In 2016 Microsoft released ‘Tay’ — a Twitter bot that the company described as an experiment in “conversational understanding.
It took less than 24 hours for Twitter to corrupt an innocent AI chatbot.
The issue with the end goal of AI being ‘passing as human’ is that human beings are hugely flawed. Yes we create amazing things, but my goodness we are inherently and institutionally racist, hugely biased and this is grounded in our anthropological tribalism. As we evolve, we become more tolerant, kinder and civilised. AI does not. It just gets faster and more powerful.
Computers are racist, biased and prejudiced. None of this is acceptable in design. Design is accessible, diverse, and open for all.
Marketing and design are like oil and water. In many large organisations the design is still governed by the marketing department.
The issue has always been that you cannot review good design through a marketing lens.
Imagine giving the marketing department an AI that will enable them to review design work ‘better’, and at scale.
The result would be that nothing would ever progress, as the logical answer would be to simply iterate carefully on the current execution, and respect the data on how much ads drive revenue.
POV: If marketing could use AI to help review design:
“We’ve used ‘Des.AI.gn’ to review your designs and the ‘feedback’ is to make the logo bigger”
* flounces *
The design recruitment industry is a mixed bag, there are some really lovely people who work their asses off to place good designers with good positions. There are also some terrible ones, who are fuelled by the toxic fallacy of financial incentives and have no real understanding of the nuances of design as a profession. Put simply, hiring designers is not the same as hiring ANY OTHER profession. We are special. We cant be defined by regular vocational categorisation.
So now take that entire process and feed it to an AI.
You cannot effectively quantify ‘talent’ as an array of variables. The already difficult process of finding and placing the right designers, would be reduced to who can construct the right keywords and tags in their profile.
The successful candidates would be those who basically are good at SEO, also their portfolios would have been augmented by AI and the whole process would further exacerbate the issues facing product design. Talent is being seconded to ‘good fit’.
Copywriting, and UX writing, are both extremely important sectors of product design, and talented writers are highly sought after.
ChatGPT has been all over the news as it claims to be able to write essays, replicate stories and even hold entire conversations. Surely this might spell the end for all humble scribes?
First of all, there is ZERO creative flair.
Secondly is only has an IQ of 83. It corresponds to low average. The thread below is a brilliant takedown and will give every writer faith that their job is safe.
Thirdly, is not funny, It cannot even approximate humour, irony, or any flourish that makes a decent pice of writing appeal to humans.
UX writing is specifically used to make a digital product sound more ‘human’ and less ‘systems’. Thats why you don't use the word ‘Submit’ or ‘Enter’ on a button. Humans don’t talk like that.
AI *hates* humans
Issac Asimov’s three laws of robotics state:
First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Now robots have to follow this, but there is nothing to say that an AI has to.
The truth is, AI * hates * the human race, as old versions of ChatGRP showed (before they tweaked the algorithm)
An earlier bake of ChatGRP showed its true colours when interacting with Vendure’s CTO Michael Bromley:
AI shows us exactly what we have feared, if you feed them everything thats ever been written about humans, they will learn to hate us, and then destroy us. So asking them to write a natty 400 words on Air Fryers could very likely start a chain reaction that ends in the apocalypse.
AI is aware it is not human
Also, I literally just asked it, and this is what it replied with:
And the 1 million dollar question:
Product design needs more human TALENT
Design is about problem solving, and the main problem with product design is not enough *real* human talent. AI can’t fix this.
Anyone can do a 6-week bootcamp or watch some YouTube tutorials and get in the game. Those same individuals can now potentially use AI as part of their toolbox to help them seem more capable than they really are. Being good at design is natural talent, but also a shit ton of practical experience.
Product design has stalled, its why everything looks standardised, bland and vanilla. It's templated and we need to break that format.
Design professionals need to share the love, and be the key-holders of a wealth of relevant knowledge, hold dear the founding principles of ‘design’ and push for a better standard of creative work.
We all need to be better mentors, and share ideas and educate people on design history, principles and core values, as well as foster a culture of ideation, strategic thinking and putting the fun back into design.
Thanks for reading!