This month, I—along with probably every other designer, photographer, and illustrator on the planet—feverishly downloaded the Adobe Photoshop x Firefly Beta, adding another addition to my ever-growing personal AI support team.
By Paul Woods, Award winning designer, author, and CEO of global design agency Edenspiekermann
Albeit buggy and rudimentary in its output, this tool served as yet another reminder that AI is here to stay, and there is no creative role that will be unchanged by its arrival. Now, without coming across like an alarmist, the question begs itself: As creative professionals, is it time to look for another job?
The relentless march of progress
Progress moves in one direction: forwards. Adapt or get left behind, and all that. And if it’s not already glaringly obvious, AI is going to have a massive impact on how we, as designers, work. From the ability to radically distill vast amounts of research into insights, structuring content into information architectures worthy of a half-decent strategist, to directly generating creative output such as art direction and copywriting taglines. Everything is about to change. And you know what? That is pretty fucking cool.
Yes, change is uncomfortable. Change scares us shitless. It forces us out of our comfort zone. It might even question our existence on this little blue sphere. But here’s the thing: Humans are design to not only adapt—but thrive— when exposed to radical change. The invention of the Gutenberg press made information accessible to the masses. The invention of the personal computer changed how designers do—well, pretty much everything. The iPhone. The dethroning of the Adobe monopoly by Figma. The list goes on. These watershed developments allowed humans to move onto bigger and more ambitious problems to solve. To take a leap. And it is the opinion of this author that it’s time for us—as designers of 2023—to move onto bigger problems.
Focusing on the bigger problems
Over the past years, tools have made design more accessible than ever before. No longer do we need ridiculously overpriced university degrees—online knowledge is more available and higher quality than ever. Even the design software landscape is significantly more accessible than ever, with quality open-source tools available. In short, design is no longer in the hands of the “chosen few”. AI takes this access to the next level.
Does that put designers “trained” in craft out of a job? Of course not. But it will shake us out of the safe, the iterative, and the boring stuff which will be handled by AI: Maintaining bloated design systems. A/B testing creative on shitty banner ads to maximize the amount of hemorrhoid unguents sold—the list goes on. And let’s be honest: This stuff is not what we should be working on anyway as designers. The lazy work will go to the machines, and we can focus on the real stuff.
Design was never about the tools anyway
AI is another tool in our arsenal. An incredibly powerful tool, but still just a tool. And design is not—nor has it ever been—about the tools we use. At our profession’s core, the fundamental task is to solve a human problem: Make the passenger process of boarding a train during rush hour safer and easier. Allow a diabetic patient to better understand a 360 picture of their health based on various data sources. The list goes one.
Will AI change everything for designers? No. It’ll just change the tools we use to solve the problems and allow us to tackle more ambitious problems at scale. Design careers will only vanish when all of humanity’s problems have been solved. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that day is coming anytime soon.