February 19, 2023

Who is afraid of the big bad Artificial Intelligence?

Far from stealing our jobs as designers, AI can only make our lives easier, evolving our roles into decision-makers.

César Álvarez

César Álvarez

Design Director at Z1

Who is afraid of the big bad Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence deserves attention, reflection, and debate. Let's dive into its ins and outs.

It started as a barely audible hum and, by the time we wanted to realize it, it was Christmas, and your brother-in-law was explaining to you in detail the wonders of AI. All while proudly showing you how he had managed to get this technology to generate "an image of Che Guevara with Chewbacca drinking Coca-Cola painted in the Velázquez style." Or it was your sister who, between the first and the second course on Christmas Eve, expressed her panic at the landing of an unstoppable invention that, apparently, will displace 85 million jobs.

In line with these fears, I remember an engraving from the 19th century in which the Luddites are represented, the English artisans who destroyed the machines that would leave them without bread, beating it out with the technology of the textile industry. I don't remember exactly the name of the piece, so as I write these words, I slide over to ChatGPT to ask the question. After a couple of white lies on his end, because AI invents approximate data that it doesn’t fully know or has not been formulated correctly, I get the answer: Ned Ludd, Leader of the Luddites.

AI is already forcing us to reflect on the future of design. On whether the human eye, talent, and experience will continue to be responsible for discerning between the good and the best, the convincing and the true.

AI invites us to reflect on the role that technical and creative professionals will play in the future. To reflect on whether the human eye, talent, and experience will be responsible for discerning between the good and the best, the convincing and the true. Today I want to share what the Z1 Design team has learned after months of using AI tools.

What is a tool and what is creativity?

In the digital products arena, AI arrival has been experienced with enthusiasm. We are a professional field that must live riding at the digital vanguard, and this case couldn’t be any different. We had many conversations around AI on the design team. The conclusion is that we need to get to know AI well enough, like a good friend that you know what can be asked of him or her, to ensure that, far from stealing our jobs as many insist on predicting, it does this work for us, making our lives easier.

Today, a designer can ask the AI to help him or her, for example, to propose the onboarding of a certain app or to create a moodboard. The chosen platform would kindly offer a series of suggestions in a few seconds or minutes. However, it doesn’t know, or at least not at the moment, whether its answer fits the client or users’ needs, or if it adjusts to the other parts of the product. That, comrades, is where we have a say, where we have to add value.

The key is to know this technology like someone knows a good friend and knows what can be asked of him.

In Z1, we have a dedicated Slack channel to share our impressions on every new AI tool we discover. At a design level, we use AI for very simple tasks, like someone who uses an encyclopedia to check information. We use Magician, Stable Diffusion or Dall-e to create sketches, draft documentation or analyze requirements, or ChatGPT to generate content. We use it as an inspiration and communication tool, for example, to show what we’d like to design to a colleague easily. Or if we need to reduce time when writing a text on Figma.

An illustration of a vase with a flower that is the Chatgpt logo with a sign that reads lorem ipsum in the background that begins to peel off the wall.

However, beyond these tasks from which we already benefit, AI is going to turn us into leaders and managers of our work rather than executors. It’s precisely in the execution where it can become an ally to which we will give guidelines and whose solutions we will then have to correct and adapt to each project. Always providing our background to decipher if its results are correct, applicable to the product we are working on, or if it could be improved.

Gradually, we will get closer to the role of the curator, manager or art director, in a world in which design will be more related than ever to decision-making. I will give you an example: If we ask an AI to generate a series of images in Van Gogh style, we will be forced to know well what we are asking for, who Van Gogh was, how he painted and why this style can benefit the project we are working on. In addition, we will have to know if the AI has given us a satisfactory answer or if that answer finally agrees or not with our product.

Culture and criteria are irreplaceable

There are certain concerns that threaten the sector and that deserve all our attention. Just as today there are designers who work with templates to deliver apps that will rarely transcend or provide real value, AI can also cause the design of digital products to become impoverished and homogeneous in quality and prices. However, any professional or serious client will know right away that not everyone knows how to craft a digital product.

In this sense, at Z1 our commitment is to continue discarding any trend or tool that distances us from what we believe in. Namely, a design of the highest quality, based on the avant-garde and ethics, designed expressly for each client and that never loses sight of the most important focus in our profession: the users. I think the clients who are most fond of their entrepreneurial initiatives will turn to experienced designers who take care of all of the above.

Can AI lower the quality standards and prices of the sector? Yes, but it is a path that does not interest us at Z1, where we continue to bet on quality and craftsmanship when creating great products.”

A few days ago, I was discussing with a colleague about whether AI will generate specific profiles in the short term, professional roles dedicated to dialogue with it to apply its capabilities to day-to-day studios like ours. We concluded that not at the moment, although we did see clearly that all of us are going to end up knowing how to get the best out of it. To know how to properly formulate the questions will help us optimize time and visualize ideas in the field of image creation. A task that already saves us hours in tedious internet browsing, for example. In other words, it pushes us to reinvent ourselves and requires us to grow as professionals.

On the other hand, customers will demand more and more products with integrated AI, to focus their products more on the conversation with the users than on their handling of the mouse or the keys. This is already happening among some of the apps we are crafting, such as Slé, which promotes smart transport decisions, improving sustainability, urban habitability, and health. To develop it, we’ve created our own neural network, in this case, focused exclusively on sustainable land travel, but we will likely have to train it for many other functionalities in the near future.

What is not an AI and will never be? A professional decision maker.

There is one more element in the debate we will have to measure as the months go by: will AI change the current digital product business model? We have to admit “yes, it will happen.” However, by then, and we say it without blinking an eye, we will be ready. 

We will continue doing what we are best at: adding originality, flexibility, ethics, and experience, knowing how to listen and understand the client, keeping our eyes open to get involved with knowledge and culture, and keeping intact the passion for continuing working on projects that transcend. What is not an AI nor will it ever be? All this path in which professionals make decisions, lead the process and prioritize the functionalities of a product.

The AI, by the way, thinks the same:

Z1's Design Director asks ChatGPT if the AI will replace the work of digital product designers.