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The Difference Between AI & Design Thinking

The long awaited (or feared) future of artificial intelligence is here. We knew this day would come but have we prepared for its impact across our creative industries?

 

By Kelli Binnings, Founder at Build Smart Brands. Brand psychologist, Designer, Photographer.

 

Our imagination has consistently propelled humanity forward, fueled by a seemingly limitless capacity to question, explore, innovate, and create across all industries. Solving problems is kind of our thing, right?


It’s no wonder we’re questioning the overlap and impact of AI on our creative endeavors. Will AI surpass our human ability to think creatively? How can we leverage AI to expand our capacity to produce? The best way to approach the future of AI is to understand the difference between AI and design thinking and how we employ our uniquely human ability to create while intuitively connecting to problems and the people that experience them.


Traditional design thinking is the ability to discover, define, simplify and humanize complex problems for the better. This divergent and convergent way of thinking allows us to interpret and define problems through observation and exploration, so that we may shape them into better outcomes. While identifying a problem can be the “easy” part, it’s what follows that makes design thinking a uniquely human skill. Our ability to develop and deliver a slew of possible solutions, while simultaneously processing and testing through empathy and intuition, is unique in the world. This innovative method of thinking thrives on our relationships with each other and the problems we experience, relying less on knowledge and analysis and more about how well we intuit the problem to drive a better experience.


Alongside the explosion in interest over AI is a renewed emphasis on the human experience, especially in professional settings. Rightfully so. Every single interaction a business has with people is an opportunity to provide a memorable experience. John Whalen, PHD and author of Design for How People Think, uses the “Six Minds of Experience” to illustrate how we interact with the world. He says that through language, wayfinding, vision/attention, memory, emotion, and decision making, we feel and process experiences. Think of all the categories of experiences you’re probably already familiar with: user experience, customer experience, employee experience, brand experience, service experience, sales experience. And at the pinnacle of it all, human experience. Each of us contributes to these experiences with our own unique perspectives, creative pursuits, cultural and social interests, and psychological presets. We all have a different creative lens to apply. Is the intrusion of AI into our regularly scheduled design workflows at odds with our humanity? Or does AI gives us the opportunity to amplify our skill sets so that we may share that need in a more efficient and effective way?


How do we use AI to our advantage when incorporating it into our creative process? How can AI stimulate our creativity? AI will essentially allow us to rapidly iterate and produce proofs of concept on our way to a solution. When guided by design thinking, we have the ability to produce work of great depth and quality while AI adds value and speed. That alone is game-changing when you think about how fast creative work moves today.



Creative software giant Adobe launched Sensei back in 2016, a tool that uses AI to enhance the functionality of its entire suite of apps. Adobe is also now beta testing Firefly, their newest AI addition in response to the AI text-prompt based imagery platforms Midjourney and DALL-E 2.


Generative AI tools like Sho.ai create iterative design assets from human-crafted strategy and design prompts, minimizing or removing altogether the need for expensive and time-consuming production work. It’s clear the relationship between human creativity and computer intelligence-based collaboration is well on its way. What used to take artists weeks or longer to execute, can be created now in a matter of minutes with these generative AI tools and many others like it.


While AI may have a super human capacity in the breadth of its data set, our human experience allows us to go deeper, make intuitive connections to design, feeling and strategy that AI simply cannot.

AI gives us the power to cut through complexity, endless hours of concepting, and bridge the gap between ideation and output, making creative work less daunting for business. For creatives who can sympathize with “blank page” paralysis and the pressure of “first idea” visualization concepts, AI is revolutionary.


However, our next struggle as creative pros will likely be around redefining the lines of “idea” or intellectual property ownership and creative authorship; two things we rarely paused to consider with human work. While AI promises improvements to many aspects of creative work, it’s simultaneously pushing us to explore a highly collaborative creative process that challenges us to rethink what it means to produce creative content.


The beauty and power of the human imagination is boundless. Our ability to understand and empathize with others, layer in social and cultural nuances, and deliver creative solutions that simply propel humanity forward, will not change. How we go about executing them, will. The key takeaway is this: there will always be a need for us to articulate how we see the world. The importance of design thinking will only increase. We may just be relying on AI to help us interpret that particular viewpoint, allowing us to share with others much faster.


While AI may have a super human capacity in the breadth of its data set, our human experience allows us to go deeper, make intuitive connections to design, feeling and strategy that AI simply cannot. In a recent article from Dieline, Rudy Sanchez said, “AI will serve as another skill in a creative pros’ tool chest,” which puts those of us prioritizing AI technology at an advantage for the future state of design and creative work. Where we go from here will depend greatly on our ability to articulate and interpret how we feel, create connection, and apply meaning to our ideas.

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