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Blog: Convergence between AI and Design


Go to the profile of Sean Yeoh

Summary: Presumed as the least threaten field of work by Artificial Intelligence, the creatives, will nevertheless be overtaken by the latter for several reasons, specifically in efficiency. The upcoming disruption may be taken as a threat by some, but is also taken as an opportunity by the others. This essay will be built upon the assumption that a significant change in the creative field may be inevitable. Therefore, the belief is that preparation will do us better than resistance towards technological advancement mainly due to overprotectiveness, i.e. Job security, future uncertainty, large scale AI domination over human beings. Certainly, those issues are surely as important as the benefits the technology might bring, yet this essay will take an optimistic stance of the future, specifically targeting the concerned creatives. In summary, this essay will begin by defining the basic principles or Design and Artificial Intelligence for clarification. It will then explore the potential convergence between the conventional human-like method of the design process and artificial intelligence. Finally, in order to reach convincing presumptions of possible collaborations between the creative and AI, multiple scenarios will be considered and discussed, while taking in great consideration of the potential outcome.

Question: In what ways can the creatives utilise the capability of AI towards achieving better creative performance, in greater regards to creativity and efficiency?

Chapter 1

In today’s ever-changing world filled with a vast amount of information, Design has become a popular strategy across all fields. Designers are challenged to approach well-informed markets and users that constantly demand a continuous flow of freshness. A business without a consistent flow of new product, services, user-centered designs, would quickly fall behind. Additionally, the need for immense user understanding has also elevated in importance. Buzz words such as sustainability, empathy and design thinking are all as common as any other business terminologies.

Human’s role in designing has been so tightly intertwined, one might automatically assume the relationship between them to remain without changes. However, with the rise of artificial intelligence, one could reasonably doubt such certainty. It is now very believable that the next technological advancement will inevitably make human’s role redundant, even in the high creativity field of design which designers have taken for granted. Many have started to doubt whether creativity can only arise from within a human mind and design skills can never be acquired or learned by a machine. After all, what is true creativity or artistic? To determine whether AI, as we know it today, will be capable to design at a level equal to a human designer, we should first understand the fundamental basis of AI and its capability to carry out the design process or thinking. Then can we determine the feasibility of convergence between the two.

The term Artificial Intelligence was coined in 1955, though the field went through decades-long of “ice age” where development was slow and interests were lacking, recent years and the years to come, many believe development in AI field will soon enter an exponential age of advancement. AI is defined as “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.” As described in the definition, the examples of tasks and skills listed are all also essential in a typical design process. Assuming the development of AI will carry on as intended or defined, could that means it is perfectly capable to take over the role of a human designer?

Kai-Fu Lee, a leading technologist in AI, believes that despite the potential intelligence an AI machine will acquire, it will never be able to obtain the ability to “feel” warmth and compassion. Therefore, he proposes an optimistic futuristic environment in which AI can be utilised efficiently along with human workforce. He separates occupations into a chart of two axes, “compassion” and “creativity or strategy”. The occupations on the chart are then clustered into four categories.

  1. AI to replace human in repetitive jobs
  2. AI helps to compliment creative skills and creativity
  3. AI to do analytical thinking and human complements with warmth and compassion
  4. Jobs that be done without AI
Automation will force us to realize that we are not defined by what we do, Kai-Fu Lee (http://bit.ly/2IFPMDI do/)

One might quickly assume the role of a designer would fall somewhere between “high compassion needed” and “Creativity/Strategy”. However, before we do so, we should analyse the process of design which a designer would carry out on a day to day basis. It is justifiable to assume a typical design process requires a high level of compassion and creativity. The design process developed by Stanford’s Design School for industrial designers may demonstrate the uses of such skill sets. The following paragraphs will provide descriptions of such process along with the

Stanford’s Design Process is divided into five stages, “Empathize”, “Define”, “Ideate”, “Prototype”, and “Test”2. A designer would begin by acquiring the users’ perspective through observation, interacting, watching and listening. Since the problem the designers are solving is rarely their own, they would have to empathize their users as in who they are and what is important to them. It is simple in theory, yet difficult to achieve in nature. A good designer must be able to steer clear of any prior biases and constantly remind himself to empathize with the others.

The designers then enter the “Define” stage, where they formulate and clarify the ultimate problem. At this stage, the designers who have just recently acquired a great amount of new and valuable insights can now synthesize the collected information and find the needs for a solution. In Stanford’s Design Thinking guide, the designer at this stage can be defined as an “instant expert” on the subject and is supposed to have gained “invaluable empathy for the person you are designing for”. The designer must now be able to approach problems with other perspectives instead of his own. He must avoid allowing the interference of his previous biases attached to his personal perspective. A task that is certainly easier said than done.

The following step, “Ideate”, might be a perfect example of the advantage of human creativity. In this stage, designers will have to achieve a high quantity of potential ideas generation rather than quality. However, the generated ideas do not have to be exactly directly linked to the main theme or concept. After all, “thinking out of the box” is how many unique design ideas were born spontaneously. Ironically, personal perspectives along with biases may be useful in this stage, unlike the previous stages. Unless we could create a perfect list of factors or constants for a computer program to follow, the computer will not be able to totally replicate this form of “human creativity”. Though, there is some convincing argument to prove that none of the human’s creativity truly comes out thin air, which will be explained in the following chapter.

“The mark of a designer is a willing embrace of constraints”- Charles Eames

In order to begin the basic ideation stage of design, constraints should be listed out clearly. These constraints may come in the form of physical, technical, manufacturing, material, aesthetical, etc. They act as a guideline for the designer to follow as he visualises and greatly quickens the process as he is able to filter the ideas which do not fall within the constraints.

Chapter 2

Three main features of AI will be discussed in this chapter, regarding AI’s certain abilities in designing better than a human would, “Integrated System”, “Individuality”, “Targeted Emotion”. Following the introduction of these three capabilities, potential scenarios of integrating AI into the design process as described in the previous chapter will be presented.

Unlike individual human designers, computers aren’t individuals and can be easily integrated into a single flexible network. The abilities of a collection of human individuals are certainly greater than the power of the individual. Since humans are individuals, it is difficult to connect them to one another and to make sure that they are all up to date. Imagine the possibility of designers being up-to-date with the latest trends, industry standards, or every possible fashion or niches. Wouldn’t that allow every single need to be met and nothing is made to be faced without any demand?

One might counter argue by saying there might be a loss of individuality in a collective design system. However, an integrated computer system can maximise the advantages of connectivity without losing the benefits of individuality integrated network. AI’s ability to create a powerful integrated system can perform better than human’s intuition skill used in a design process. A network of “designers” will certainly perform better than individual work.

Art valuation and human emotions are closely linked. Many people misunderstand the changes of human emotion when admiring a piece of art, music, painting, designer furniture, etc., it is some mystical phenomenon. Whereas in reality, they are simply the result of a biochemical process occurring within our bodies. Therefore, with the example of AI-generated music, “machine-learning algorithm could analyse the biometric data streaming from sensors on and inside your body, determine your personality type and your changing moods, and calculate the emotional impact that a particular song — even a particular musical key — is likely to have on you.”. The following paragraph extracted from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, perfectly describes the potential of integrating AI into the field of music.

One option is to just leave it to the customer. You can evaluate your emotions whichever way you like, and the algorithm will follow your dictates. Whether you want to wallow in self-pity or jump for joy, the algorithm will slavishly follow your lead. Indeed, the algorithm may learn to recognise your wishes even without you being explicitly aware of them. If art is really about inspiring (or manipulating) human emotions, few if any human musicians will have a chance of competing with such an algorithm, because they cannot match it in understanding the chief instrument they are playing on: the human biochemical system.”

— Harari, Yuval Noah. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. J. Cape, 2018.

Chapter 3

Going back to Stanford’s Design Thinking Guide, we shall start to present example scenarios of how AI will benefit the design journey, or even better it. In the first stage of “Empathize”, AI would be able to bring itself into a new project absent of any personal biases and this would ensure a quicker process to empathize with the users, yet to mention the speed of research it will be able to carry out in.

Precisely, the design process as we know it revolves heavily around the ability to empathize. As mentioned earlier, understanding the customer has become as important as any other business factors. In order to do so, compassion in designers will be needed in order to have the most authentic understanding of their customers. A practical skill to apply at this stage would be the ability to discover connections and patterns quickly.

Revisiting the example of AI and Musical evoked emotions, the same theory can be applied to industrial design. For instance, if we were to utilise smart wearables that are able to detect the changes in our emotion through natural body reactions, a profile can be created on whatever evokes positive emotions, such as a product with simple functions yet a high potential in aesthetical presentation such as a chair or sofa. With this highly personalised profile, shouldn’t the program be able to generate a piece of furniture that can evoke positive emotion at every angle and consequently create the most emotional, sentimental or eclectic piece of furniture that any single individual has ever seen?

The following extract is from “Design as Art” by Bruno Murani which describes the fast changes in the design field.

The stylist therefore works by contrasts. If curves were In yesterday, square corners are In today. Out with delicate colours, in with bright ones. It is well known that women’s fashions work the same way. A fashionable colour reaches saturation point and everyone longs only to see its opposite, so that an excess of violet produces a desire for yellow. After a season of violet, then, one can fairly reliably predict a season of yellow.”

Quick adaptation often relies on intuition.

Intuition is a trait most designers “feel blessed to possess”. Such a trait may seem natural, yet they sprout from years of experience and involvement, in either direct or indirectly of their present field. Harvey Molotch describes designers as creatives who have “an instinct for visualizing sharply what is perhaps nebulously and unconsciously desired”. It is rather obvious that such a skill may be inconsistent. Yet, a designer run solely on AI may collectively acquire a large armoury of “experience” from multiple sources, it is best if implemented in assistance to a human designer.

Chapter 4

The final chapter concludes by siding towards the future where human designers are able to utilize AI to their fields’ benefit, rather than personal benefit, such as unreasonably claiming personal individuality in creative work. At this current moment, the perceived role of AI in design is to churn out designs based on designers’ inputs and selected preferences. For instance, a designer could compile a mood board for an AI designer to take as reference. The AI designer can then produce as many designs for the human to make the final choice. However, this is just replicating arts and styles which have already existed before. This would discourage exploration of any new style. Alternatively, one could also say the free time which the human designers now have the opportunity to enjoy, can then be redirected onto searching new styles as the AI processes or even after when results are handed over. In an ideal scenario of AI and a designer working together is where menial tasks are taken over by AI, whereas the human designer can adjust his focus onto the late stage design, where the final decisions are made. This would make the designer an art director or many more potential roles that are yet to be created.

Finally, I shall conclude on a positive note, maintaining the preliminary belief that perhaps the greatest strength of AI in design is its capability to create a network of design minds contributing together.” When Gary Kasparov, humanity’s most brilliant chess master, lost to Deep Blue in 1997, IBM programmed supercomputer, the computer did not become the best chess player, instead, the best chess player is a team of humans using computers.

Source: Artificial Intelligence on Medium

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