From creator to curator? How artificial intelligence is changing the role played by designers

Marko Thorhauer, IBM iX, und Burkhard Müller, Art Directors Club, bei ihrem Talk am IBM iX Stand auf der OMR

As in other processes, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly integral to creation and design. This technology could fundamentally change the way designers work by enabling them to explore new design techniques and speeding up the creative process through automation.

What it won’t do is replace human beings in their jobs. That’s according to Marko Thorhauer, Executive Creative Director at IBM iX, and Burkhard Müller, Chief Digital Officer at design agency Mutabor and Board Member Digital of the Art Directors Club (ADC), who discussed the matter at OMR Festival 2023. The two experts agreed, however, that designers will need to develop new skills in the areas of creative direction, technology, AI prompting and data usage.

The creative industry is well aware of the sweeping changes that AI is set to unleash, which is why businesses are keen to tackle the topic head on. As members of the ADC, Burkhard Müller and Marko Thorhauer are taking part in the ADC Festival 2023. This year’s theme “Change the World with Creativity” is a clear nod to artificial intelligence. AI tools such as ChatGPT, Midjourney, DALLE, watsonx and Firefly will soon deliver search results and insights in real-time, develop design proposals and automate repetitive tasks. The power of these technologies is such that it will be much easier to analyse large data volumes, monitor competitors and assess trends. Meanwhile, texttoimagebased AI suites are speeding up and simplifying things in visual design, with photos, illustrations and film all poised to benefit from these developments. There have been teething troubles, however, with AI continuing to struggle when it comes to creating serial work, styles that accurately reflect project briefs and onbrand design languages. This is precisely why people despite certain claims to the contrary remain integral to the creative workflow. It does, however, raise the question of what the work of creators might look like in future.

Designers and AI an industry in a state of flux

AI is already able to handle certain tasks quicker and more effectively than human beings and this will continue to be the case in the future. Other tasks, though, require human intelligence. The idea here is that professionals will go “from creator to curator”. Creative minds will increasingly use AIsupported findings to craft ideas and briefs (known in this context as “prompts”). Their main task, though, will be to sift through AIgenerated results and lend their sharp, professional eye to selecting and curating the relevant ones.

Generating moods, image types and new styles

Tools such as Midjourney are already influencing the way we perceive things. AI is opening up new, hitherto unseen, visual worlds that guided by targeted prompting are capable of making visual statements with a striking emotional impact. This is a hugely promising playground of creativity for designers and a welcome addition to their current skill set.

Repetitive tasks become a thing of the past with AI

Probably the most economically significant outcome of AI for the creative industry is that repetitive tasks, such as photomontage, image optimisation and resizing, or text and layout formatting, can all be automated. With AI taking on these tasks, designers have more time to focus on the strategic and creative sides of their work.

Using AI to tailor designs to specific target groups

AI is also able to generate design proposals and prototypes based on certain parameters and user preferences. AI systems can rely on automated learning algorithms to analyse huge volumes of data, trends and user behaviour, before creating design options that cater to specific objectives. Not only does this make it easier to collate ideas, it provides designers with valuable insights and inspiration that spark their own creative impulses.

Understanding user requirements by analysing data

AI also conducts advanced analyses and tests and applies datadriven strategies to gain deeper insight into user requirements, preferences, and patterns. This datadriven approach enables creative talent to craft personalised, userfocused experiences.

Designers are evolving into curators

These developments mean the role played by designers is set to change from pure creation to the curation of results generated by AI tools. After all, the ability to properly assess results, contextualise them on a cultural level, select the best options and apply intuition and empathy is currently the preserve of human beings. Designers will increasingly focus on design consulting, therefore, meaning they will assess and advise on designs rather than create content themselves. Their creative spark will continue to be important, but it will be harnessed differently. Designers will need to demonstrate a new flair for aesthetics and recall value, master strategies and storytelling, and apply these skills when assessing and curating AIgenerated content.

Prompting: the key in the AI-shaped lock

Prompting – commands issued in the form of text – is essential to getting the most out of AI. The results generated by AI depend greatly on the way in which it is primed to complete its task. The more explicit, subtle, precise and creative the prompt, the more focused and suitable the generated content will be. In other words, prompt design and prompt engineering, as they are known, will have their own role to play in the creative process. Prompting can be used for brainstorming and conceptual design, creating visuals and mood boards, and developing image content that embodies a completely new aesthetic and visual vocabulary.

Refining content produced by AI and adding the human touch

Designers will review and refine AI-generated content to ensure it meets the preferred style, brand identity or design principles that have been established in advance. Manual tweaks and creative interventions can help “humanise” the content.

It’s all about intention, communication, emotion and vision

Designers will be the ones who best understand the intentions and emotions of the target audience – and can cater to them accordingly. Communication design is the key term here: this is where the sum of all interactions between companies, brands, users and other stakeholders are shaped, honed and refined. Strong interpersonal communication across many different touchpoints is essential to this process and something that AI will likely not be able to handle with the required degree of precision any time soon. The key lies in creating integrated designs and campaigns that allow for specific types of interaction while reflecting the vision of the company or brand.

The ability to train AI

Another new area where designers will increasingly play a role is training AI models and adapting them to improve certain design tasks. By providing AI with relevant data and feedback, designers can optimise its performance on an ongoing basis and ensure it meets all their design needs.

How will the business evolve?

The paradigm shift brought about by AI is not limited to the creative process alone. In fact, the entire design business will be reconfigured from the ground up.

Stricter customer requirements

Given that AI will be pivotal in laying the groundwork for the creative process, it stands to reason that customers will increasingly expect projects to be delivered faster and with higher-quality design results.

Integrating AI elements into design solutions

Even today, AI-based chatbots are playing a key role in areas such as UX/UI design. The future will see more and more digital products being developed on the basis of AI. The user must be front and centre when it comes to designing these products, so designers will need a profound understanding of AI solutions and technologies to be able to provide customers with the best possible advice.

A need for new services and AI infrastructure

The advent of AI has ushered in a need for specialised services and infrastructure to support AI-enabled design processes (known as DesignOps). Examples include cloud-based AI platforms, data management solutions and targeted training for designers.

Making the art of design democratic

Another way in which AI will change the design playing field is through the development of new open-source solutions. Design communities will share AI models, tools and resources, thereby making access to AI in design more democratic and fostering collaboration.

Regulation and legal solutions

Using AI to generate designs necessarily poses various legal questions, not least with regard to trademark law and intellectual property, data privacy when processing user data, and ways to license AI models and content. It is important to put in place clear guidelines and rules to ensure AI-generated designs meet all legal requirements. Designers will also need the right tools to comply with regulations, as they have to guarantee their AI applications are ethically and legally sound, as well as compliant with data privacy and security standards.

In conclusion, it’s clear that there is no underestimating the profound and transformative effect AI will have on designers, their work and the industry as a whole. AI tools automate repetitive tasks, offer intelligent design proposals, pave the way for data-driven decision-making, improve deliverables and ultimately enhance the creative potential that can be harnessed by designers, who will increasingly take on roles as curators of content as time goes on. If designers are willing to accept AI as a powerful ally, there is no limit to the number of doors it can open for them.

How does IBM use AI?

From the beginning, IBM has sought to use AI in a responsible way: The company identifies and advises on trustworthy AI, implements AI technology to the required degree, focuses on automated process optimisation, and deploys AI for data analysis and document digitisation, while never losing sight of the risks and compliance issues associated with all of this. Overall, IBM believes artificial intelligence should be used to enhance human beings and their performance. In addition, IBM seeks to ensure data, information and creative products remain the property of their creator(s). Finally, the technology IBM works with has to be transparent for its customers at all times.

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