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Design Conscience with Artificial Intelligence

What is the role of AI in design? Will it become one with designers? Can it be the source of a new design conscience?

THE DEBATE: Will AI replace designers?

While creativity is the starting point for any kind of innovation, design is the process through which creative ideas become reality. There is still much to be known about “creativity” and the creative thinking process. Where does the “aha!” moment come from – the solution that greets you in the morning long after focus has shifted from solving the design problem or even thinking about it? There are techniques to inspire creativity, skills in design can be taught, and the masters can be studied for foundational principles of “good design”, but what happens when we look to solve problems creatively is still a bit of a mystery.

Machines need to be trained and that is the role of data. With enough data, machines can be trained to understand what is considered good design and what is not. They can combine random, unrelated things to come up with something new, but performing the creative process on their own is still a capability unique to humans. The “Cognitive Dress” of 2016 is a good example. British Design Studio Marchesa designed a dress that sensed emotions from tweets and changed colors per the emotions. Marchesa chose five sentiments and working with Watson they aligned psychology-based color palettes to “light up” the dress via 150 LED connected flowers. Technology helped with recommendations and making the dress a reality. The designers had the original intent and made the choices. As it should be. Afterall, we humans must live with/in our design experience choices.

That was in 2016. As technology advances, more opportunities become available to apply intelligent technology to the design process - not to replace designers but to augment what they do. The power of artificial design intelligence together with human creativity is an unprecedented force that can make world-changing ideas reality. Using data to feed design, designers are better equipped to produce user and environmentally sensitive products with less waste; simulate design options “on screen first”; innovate completely new products through the direct embed of technology into previously one-dimensional designs and experiences; and set new measures of bottom-line impact to people, planet and profit. In fact, the combined team could just be the catalyst for a new design movement - design with a conscience using AI.

Yesterday’s design choices. Today’s challenges.

Little was known about the impact plastic bottles would have decades after they were invented. The lightweight, unbreakable, “miracle solution” is now one of the earth’s largest challenges – filling our oceans at the rate of 8 million metric tons per year . At the time of design, they were a heroic solution. Now they are a serious problem. Had circular design principles and intelligent technology been available, the outcomes may have been different.

The ability to apply artificial intelligence to the design process can help designers model, predict, and measure the impact of their designs into the future. The impact of a product’s full lifecycle can be simulated to prevent future “miracle solutions” from filling our oceans. Then intelligent, orchestrated production flows can deliver the products more efficiently. Augmented by AI, designers can elevate the art and design with data to build solutions that do less harm, use less resources and even slow the current deterioration caused by industrial age (design) practices.

Back to the debate

But let’s face it, machines will never the same as a skilled craftsperson or produce the equivalent of something handmade. Couture will remain couture. What it can do however is offer meaningful options and insights from the vast data playground. Designers can be more informed, create with greater intelligence and even be inspired by new possibilities to:

• Build kinder, user and environmentally sensitive products on screen first

• Reduce waste across the full lifecycle of a product and apply circular design principles through orchestrated and intelligent workflows

• Innovate with direct embeds of smart, sensing technology to measure more meaningful results

AI is not a greater threat, than human ignorance. Good design in any field (graphic, industrial, architectural, system and business) will be the manifestation of data intelligence from both human and machine. Together, machine and human intelligence have the potential to design and build with a conscience.


By Ava Maria Hakim

IBM Consulting & Lost Artist

Driven by the power of design and technology to reinvent business for higher levels of ecological, societal and financial profit.

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