When the desktop publishing revolution initially took off, I resisted the move from analog to digital design at first, fearing the loss of artistry. For a while, my creative process blended the two. I would do some typesetting, illustrating, and collaging on the desktop and leverage the output to then create a wood block print. Eventually, I begrudgingly stepped away from the familiar comfort of my letterpress–and surprisingly, I loved the change.
Now, emerging technologies like AI and platforms such as AR, 3D, and screenless experiences are on the rise, and they’ll require designers to adapt again. Gartner researchers, for instance, expect 70% of organizations to experiment with immersive technology by 2022. Goldman Sachs predicts AR hardware and software sales will climb to $58.2 billion in 2025 from $2.4 billion in 2018.
The shift can feel intimidating, daunting, and scary to designers. While many creatives don’t seem worried about the effects of emerging tech on their jobs, they do express concerns about expanding their skill sets for continued career growth. The Creative Group’s Creative Workplace survey of more than 1,000 creatives found that 45% of respondents anticipate emerging technology like AI will create more demand for their skills in the next three years, but 88% worry about keeping their skills up-to-date as they advance in their careers. Juggling multiple deadlines and stakeholders with less time at their disposal, today’s designers have little bandwidth to dedicate to exploring new mediums. I often find designers resorting to new mediums only when new projects require that they understand these emerging technologies.
Yet there’s reason to believe that this shift shouldn’t provoke the same anguish as endured with the advent of desktop publishing. First, because many designers today grew up with an early form of immersive reality–video games. Younger designers and aspiring creatives have been immersed in digital tools and software since childhood, from Minecraft to Pokémon Go and new platforms like Mattel VR headsets or Play-Dough Touch Shape to Life Studio.
And secondly, because AI is already subtly making many designers’ jobs easier.
AI as the helping hand–not the job killer
AI will allow designers to be more creative, unlocking new skills and automating tedious, mundane tasks. Adobe recently acquired a company called Allegorithmic, the creator of a suite dedicated to 3D materials called Substance. They’re experimenting with bringing AI to 3D tools with Project Substance Alchemist and a feature called Delighter.
This is a tool that lets artists working on 3D models create and edit digital materials. In other words, if you have a photograph of a particular type of material you want to add to your digital model, Project Substance Alchemist leverages AI to take a very tedious part of scan processing and makes it easier on the creative. In the end, artists get shadowless materials so they can generate their own lighting. AI-powered features like these can save creatives significant time and reduce barriers to entry in 3D.
AI as a continuous feedback loop
Higher education institutions like MIT and Harvard have also been exploring intuitive applications of AI to support designers. For example, Zoya Bylinskii, a PhD candidate at MIT, is working on how to use algorithms to give design feedback to humans. She and her colleagues published a paper on one such system, which offers real-time predictions to creatives during the design process on what areas of a design will be most visually significant to the viewer. While these systems are still being developed, her work is a sign of things to come. Rather than staring at a blank canvas, designers will have guideposts to help them make informed design decisions as they acclimate to a new medium.
AI as a busywork killer
There are also many examples of the way AI is already saving designers time by automating busywork. For instance, Digital Domain, a Los Angeles-based visual effects and digital production company, leveraged AI to expedite the creative process to turn actors into iconic superheroes in Avengers: Infinity War. They tapped an AI algorithm trained on scans of actor Josh Brolin’s face to track his expressions and then used another algorithm to automatically map the resulting face renders onto Thanos’s body. A process that typically took weeks is now accomplished in nearly real time with emerging technology.
A recent Time Inc. study found that 90% of consumers like custom content from brands. As consumer expectations rise, designers are tasked with the time-consuming process of creating wide varieties of content across more mediums. To streamline this process, Netflix developed an AI algorithm to dynamically crop images for a variety of channels and apply stylized movie titles personalized to the user. Additionally, the algorithm A/B tests the effectiveness of each design on Netflix users to self-train and optimize the content. Instead of manually editing content one-by-one, AI saves designers’ time to focus on their larger creative vision and learning new skills.
I believe firmly that this is the most exciting time to be a designer and creative professional, and that new technologies, like AI, will expand opportunities for designers rather than narrow them. It will change how we work, learn, and play and, in the process, expand digital experiences beyond the screen to the world around us.