AI-Driven Design: will artificial intelligence be a friend or foe to designers?

AI-Driven Design: will artificial intelligence be a friend or foe to designers?

Alberto Maestri Published on 10/13/2018

First came computers and the desktop publishing revolution (remember the clamour in 1984 when Apple launched the Macintosh?). Then the Internet. Now it’s artificial intelligence and machine learning. Not a decade – or even a year – passes in which designers, illustrators and visual communicators are challenged (and often stressed) by technological innovations.

By training and mindset, these professions are practised by risk takers who are curious and openminded, often seeking new horizons; this article aims to clarify the nature of artificial intelligence and its relationship with visual communication work, highlighting some of the most exciting examples of products and firms in the field of AI-driven graphic design. In the conclusions, I will try to go full-circle and answer the question put in the title.

As experts in visual communication, how should we view the exponential growth of new technologies?

I hope that my words will serve as a useful guide and help you better understand this groundbreaking area so that you can make the most of the opportunities that are constantly emerging.

AI-driven and algorithm-driven design: what is it?

The venerable Wired magazine calls it AI-driven design. Other websites  talk about algorithm-driven design. And then there are those who speak of design intelligence. Essentially, it is non-human intelligence that is capable of producing creative results that appear genuine to the human eye.

Indeed, by artificial intelligence we mean:

A paradigm of information technology that studies the theories, methodologies and techniques for designing systems capable of giving electronic processors abilities that, to an average human observer, seem to be exclusively the preserve of human intelligence.

Algorithms, on the other hand, are the “recipes”, the underlying rules necessary for AI to work correctly. Personally, I prefer the term AI-driven design because it’s the most comprehensive and I’ll use it from here onwards.

AI and algorithms: at first glance, they seem far removed from the design and visual communication professions. How can we think about and apply them together?

I’ll give you a concrete example: would you ever say that the image below was produced (by Chris Rodley) using creative tools that use AI? It’s actually a great example of AI-driven design 🙂


Think about the revolutions (and headaches!) that similar technologies could bring to your everyday work: for a web designer, it may be realising the dream of “websites that just make themselves”. But it’s not just about websites: below I list three ideal solutions for different creative situations.

Three AI-driven design innovations to keep in mind for your day-to-day work

Wix ADI, The Grid and Adobe Spark. Names that have a cyberpunk ring to them, as is the norm in artificial intelligence. Names that label AI-driven solutions capable of unleashing the imagination of creatives and visual communicators.

Let’s take a look at them together.

  • Wix ADI: “ADI” stands for artificial design intelligence. It’s a solution developed by Wix, a leading website builder. Just input the content and the ADI assistant will guide you step by step to the best digital solution in terms of colours, visuals, images etc. If you’re curious about how it works, watch this explanatory video:

  • The Grid: “welcome doers & creators, this medium adapts to your message”. That’s a nice opener on The Grid homepage, don’t you think? The idea behind this platform is to drastically streamline the website creation process: just add your content and The Grid will do the rest using “adaptive design”.

  • Adobe Spark: “Create impactful graphics, web pages and video stories in minutes with Spark’s free graphic design app”. The message on the home page of this solution tells you what you need to know. It’s a tool that lets you quickly produce content for social media, webpages, videos and other channels/formats thanks to Adobe Sensei – the “magic wand” behind all of Adobe’s AI and machine learning products. Now anyone can be a visual communicator!

Conclusions: the next (creative) challenges to overcome

Chatbots, intelligent visualisation, automatically selected colour palettes, and more. As I underlined above, AI-driven design will be truly revolutionary and perhaps, for some, worrying. As it will provide highly effective and efficient solutions, the question that immediately springs to mind is: will these solutions manage to completely replace humans in the near or distant future?

The most likely answer is ‘no’. Today, only living, breathing creatives are able to combine creativity and data management using the right and left sides of their brain.

Indeed, I found Richard and Daniel Susskind’s reflections in their book The Future of the Professions particularly illuminating:

“We can imagine a day when machines […] will write wonderful poetry, compose splendid symphonies, paint stunning landscapes, sing beautifully, and even dance with remarkable grace. […] We marvel today at world-class runners, even though our cars are faster. In the future we may race our robots […] but we will find little purpose in pitting human athletes against androids on the track. Indeed, we will still marvel at the physical prowess of the high-performance human beings who are not robotically enhanced. Likewise, in literature and the humanities, in music and the performing arts, we will surely still have deep respect and admiration for human creation that is native, shorn of any digital support. We will regard and assess and value these creations as engagement, communication, and expression amongst human beings alone. We will value them precisely because they are the product of flesh and blood, toil and anguish, inspiration and exhilaration of fellow human beings.”

We shouldn’t forget that artificial systems normally lack experience of the world. So take what I’ve said as a professional challenge: one which, if overcome, will change the way you work.

Of course, “coping with” something like AI is not an everyday occurrence and it involves a significant adoption curve. Especially if the aim is to use AI for artistic ends. The challenge within the challenge, then, is that it’s a constantly evolving field. That’s certainly the view of Erik Natzke, principal artist in residence at Adobe Research:

“I believe wholeheartedly that in five years the tools we are using now will change completely. I don’t know exactly how, but there is this evolution happening on the near horizon. In the future we will be shocked that we were still using computers the way we are today.”

One thing is certain: with the advent and spread of artificial intelligence in the creative field, the integration of science, business and art is gathering pace. As I said: it’s up to you to raise your game and use this technology to wow people.