Is Design Safe from Artificial Intelligence?
We’re living in the future and robots are beginning to take our jobs. We haven’t reached the Singularity just yet, but issues surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) are already beginning to present themselves.
Advertising relies increasingly on metrics and automation. Perform a search on Google and your results are tailored to your history. Google knows you. Facebook really knows you, and the advertising you see is a result of the date they have on you. This can be great for businesses, saving them money by taking human error out of the process. This algorithm-based data-manipulation is a great example of how AI can provide low-risk, tailored services engineered to maximise profit, and will, inevitably, grow in the years to come.
You’d be forgiven for thinking design is safe from similar stresses, that artistic flair and creativity could never be replicated by robots. In a few years’ time, however, we might have to think again.
Autonomous design systems are still in their infancy, and it shows. Services like LogoJoy and Grid.io claim to create design products for you, with minimal user input – but do they work?
At its inception, The Grid seemed like a dream – taking brand-representative elements, selecting colours and styles from them and producing a website. For some, this worked and they got what they wanted – a relatively cheap, essentially ‘on-brand’, basic website.
For the majority, it was a different story. A limited editing system meant The Grid was unable to deliver what users wanted. The Grid’s creators assumed, incorrectly, two things – that it knew the content you needed, and that a few simple elements could tell it how you wanted your site to look. In short, they factored out a big part of human nature – people have different ideas of what they want.
Worse, The Grid outputs websites that simply don’t work. The Grid’s own site was created using their software and is slow, clunky and fraught with errors – something that automation should help to avoid.
Similarly, LogoJoy aims to design logos, going so far as to charge users nothing until they’re entirely happy with it. The process seems simple – select from existing logos, colour palettes and design elements and the system will throw out some suggestions.
After completing LogoJoy’s limited process, it presents a variety of combinations of type, icons and colour. Through a refinement process, the user decides on a logo and chooses whether or not to buy it.
This fairly generic output can be a fast and cheap way for a small business to get a logo, but often appears of poor quality. The inherent lack of design understanding means users may get a logo they like, but whether or not it is brand-appropriate is another matter. Those with higher-end brands and more experience in the field certainly aren’t impressed.
Right now, these new autonomous design tools are not up to scratch. They offer little more than services like Squarespace, which offers a somewhat-editable template system. For the novice, the level of design (crafted by human designers) within these services tends to far outstrip the combination of automated, generic elements available through AI. For more complex needs, neither AI nor template-based systems can hope to match the careful, thought out work a good designer brings.
What the current iteration of AI lacks is what makes designers special – a combination of life experience and the unique way of thinking that asks ‘what if?’, and can turn happenstance into design gold.
These issues aside, artificial intelligence is still learning about design. Michelangelo couldn’t have painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as a toddler, but he grew into one of the great artistic geniuses of his age. Will AI also grow to greatness? Will the moment come when it outstrips even the greatest designers? Only time will tell.
Maybe, once we reach the Singularity, AI will be able to think like a person but, for now, true creativity is still in the hands of humanity.