AI in design: how are creatives using artificial intelligence? With Seky Kwon, Grafik and Vernacular
It’s easy to look at the emergence of AI as one of two black-and-white scenarios. Either, one: an existential threat. To not only livelihoods, careers, and intellectual property, but creativity itself. Or, two: the future of design, and a hallmark of a revolutionary new way of working. It’s easy to get lost in discourse. And, rather than dwell on hypotheticals, we thought we’d ask creatives directly to hear their thoughts. How are they using AI in their practice today? How do they feel about it?
Sekyeong (Seky) Kwon is a Product Designer at Dojo (a top 10 fastest-growing fintech company in Europe), working on “how digital products look and interact with users.” Outside of her day job, the London-based designer keenly follows emerging technologies. In fact, she’s had her eye on the AI space in design for a few years now, having focused her MA thesis on ‘the social and ethical implication of AI in the design industry’ in 2017, in which she predicted the profound impact of AI in the creative industry. Following her seminal speculative design project Michael Barnes, the designer was invited to MIT Design Lab to present her paper, which she co-authored with Falmouth University tutor, educator and designer Dr Robyn Cook.
It could act as a wake-up call for the industry.
Looking back at the project, has AI turned out the way she thought it would? “100%!” she tells us. “What I did with the Michael Barnes project six years ago; generating text, images and a website with online tools and code is already happening everywhere, and it’s crazy how they are so easy to do these days.” The key difference is, the original intention of her project was to be provocative and satirical, answering her research question: “Will AI be an ally or enemy to designers?” Today, she reflects, AI is being harnessed to create real things, by people with little or no understanding of the technology.
“This week,” Kwon says, “I saw this new trend on TikTok, generating a LinkedIn profile with an AI app. The results were amazing. If I were to create Michael Barnes in 2023, it would be so uncanny – imagine a realistic profile picture of a graphic designer, a way more impressive brand identity created using MidJourney, and a ChatGPT-generated design studio manifesto. Perhaps, it will no longer be obvious that he is a fictitious character, so I could get in big trouble. It could act as a wake-up call for the industry to start thinking about the social and ethical implications of AI.”
It is important to know that ChatGPT is true but not real.
Following the release of ChatGPT and its many parallel offspring, designers have been engaging with AI from a point of discovery. Having access to the mind-boggling expanse of the World Wide Web, AI’s searching capabilities simply thwart that of the human brain.
Designers Andrea A. Trabucco-Campos and Martín Azambuja (known collectively as Vernacular), have taken an interest in the tools available and authored Artificial Typography, a project and subsequent publication born out of curiosity of the AI space. The New York-based pair reveal that lately, they’ve been implementing AI tools in the early discovery and research stages of projects. “ChatGPT is a great tool to provide summarised information from a client, based on the data that exists on the internet (which is usually a lot),” they tell us. “It is also a good tool to verify if some visual concepts have already been used previously and do kind of a lawyer’s work.” They also explain that, at a software level, there are tools that can convert interviews from audio to text, providing Vernacular with a helpful transcript of conversations. “It is important to know that ChatGPT is true but not real,” they point out, “this means that the information must be checked to avoid errors.”
“As a creative coder,” Nick de Jardine tells us, “I utilise AI tools such as ChatGPT to handle the mundane and repetitive parts of a codebase construction. This enables me to focus more on the creative side of the work.” With over two decades of experience, the New Zealand-based designer, developer, and Founder of design and technology studio Grafik, has seen the tools in design and code shift and adapt. Whilst it’s not currently capable of a more technical and nuanced understanding of website development (coding, testing, shipping etc), de Jardine notes that as a tool, AI “significantly bolsters productivity by providing assistance and efficiency to me, the human operator” and it is extremely powerful when offering perspectives on problem-solving.
Like de Jardine, AI is helping Trabucco-Campos and Azambuja carry out automated tasks, but with simple design-related objectives. This includes using plugins in Figma which can automatically generate colour palettes, image alternatives, icons, interface designs, and more. Having these handy allows the designers to quickly visualise a concept or create an early iteration to develop later on. “When designing,” they continue, “we have used MidJourney for the creation of images and it is a very powerful tool when it comes to generating visual boards.” For example, if they cannot find a suitable image for a moodboard, they go ahead and create it from scratch! “We’ve used it more than once in the studio for presentations,” they tell us, “and nobody noticed anything different on the client side, it just was another image.” Likewise, in their opinion, Photoshop’s introduction of AI makes projects more fun and exciting.
Designers can spend more time on meaningful tasks.
While AI is not a central part of her design process today, Kwon agrees with Vernacular and de Jardine that tools like ChatGPT and Notion AI are incredibly helpful for tasks involving text, such as quick bursts of research and simple writing tasks. “It is ironic to think now,” she reflects, “but I asked AI to suggest a few options for a ‘human’ friendly error message to try it out in the app I worked on early this year.” In addition to using AI in the design process, she explores ways of bringing the newest AI-powered tools directly into the digital products she designs, making them more helpful for users. “Using AI as part of the design process is definitely something I’d like to experiment with more,” Kwon adds. “Framer recently launched an AI site generator, where you can create a website by just writing prompts. I tested them for my side project, and the outcome was not particularly impressive but I feel like these sorts of tools will continue to improve over time as we use more.”
With such lightning-fast technological advances, the questions and implications of AI in the design industry are now more relevant than ever. On one hand, we’re in an exciting era, with AI bringing a lot of time-saving benefits. Like previously mentioned, “if AI can be used for time-consuming tasks where it needs less human creativity, designers can spend more time on meaningful tasks,” Kwon summarises. “However, most importantly,” she continues, “I think as we are flooded with AI-powered tools, and they are so easily accessible to anyone, it is crucial to educate people – especially the younger generation – about AI safety, ethics, and how we can use AI responsibly. I’m sceptical to what extent that's being done or discussed,” she concludes.