The Death of the Designer? How AI and Designers will Make Uneasy Bedfellows

Bob Silver

July 12, 2023

How will AI be utilised in the future? To what extent will AI “take over” our jobs? Will humans still have a place in the traditional economies that have manifested over centuries? All of these questions are age-old, relatively speaking — the great Alan Turing published his “Computer Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950, a paper in which he asks the question, “Can machines think?”. Even before this, artists/philosophers such as Ramon Llul (1308) and Gottfried Leibniz (1666) proposed an alphabet of human thought, stating that all ideas created by humans are a combination of a small number of simple concepts; the precursor to how AI generates the content and information that it does.

Having spoken to a number of designers and programmers, the fears for their jobs in the future are real and valid. During our Interfacing The Future event held in January, one of our speakers, Tom Mason, spoke at length about what his company,, were doing in the field of AI generated art. Mark, a designer at Conjure mused on this during the interval and believes that it’s rather ironic that AI is being used to create all these amazing art pieces and to effectively become the artist, while humans are left to do the “brainless automation” of it all. He argues that it should be the other way around, as AI could be used to make the automation process much more efficient and streamlined, whereas humans should be allowed to inhabit the creative side of that relationship, as abstract thinking is what we are much more capable of than AI ever could be. For instance, when designing the buttons for use in an app that’s being developed, labelling and inputting the functions for each button currently has to be done manually, which can be a long-drawn-out process and arguably isn’t the best use of a designer’s time. This could be automated using AI, thereby freeing up the designer to pursue other activities which require a more human touch.

Specifically, take two phases of a design project; thematic design at the beginning, and mass component / design system creation at the end. If AI can generate themes at pace, then experienced designers can take the results and refine them as they move into traditional UX/UI Design. The finished product is then ready for AI to come back into the frame in order to round out the more time consuming elements of the project. To reiterate Mark’s point from earlier, AI would likely bookend the work, with everything in the middle being where human designers add the value.

Now you could argue that this is a grand simplification, and that what product designers do goes well beyond the simple production of wireframes and pictures, and you’d be right. The client-agency synergy comes through trust and understanding built up through in-depth expert workshops and collaborative design sprints. With that said, there are already AI designers ready to use which are able to create work roughly equivalent to that of a student or a junior designer. On closer inspection of this work though, it’s clear to see that the detailing often evident in the work of those who have trained for it and experienced the industry first hand simply isn’t there. This is especially true when these programs bear the weight of the entire design process, however they can be effectively used as a sort of mood-board. The example below was the outcome of a search containing the following words: UX/UI, sports car, connected car, and app, on Midjourney, providing a great starting point for the ideas stage.

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Picture of an HMI generated by AI

An interesting point brought up by Conjure’s CEO, Sam, addresses the idea of whether burgeoning designers can continue to roll off the conveyor belt and into the job market if AI is introduced. An idea which ironically is being thrown out of the window in many ways in this conversation is that designers traditionally earn their experience and their stripes by completing many of these exact tasks that AI could be used to cover, which begs the question of how junior designers and anyone looking to enter that job market will be able to do so. If everything they’d usually work on is being automated and only a seasoned, professional designer is required to oversee the process and add that human touch where necessary, where do they fit in?

In that same vein, it leads one to question the morality of whether AI should be allowed to be as big a force as it seems it could. Is it ethical to automate large swathes of the job market, not simply the design industry, and make millions of people redundant in doing so? If that were to happen, what would replace those jobs in order to avoid mass idleness through unemployment?

At this point, I should admit that I’ve asked many more questions than I have answered. However, until we have concrete examples of what will happen to industries once AI is able to take over many people’s jobs, or what happens once it does, it’s almost impossible to say definitively. It’s not improbable that we could see the introduction, or furthering, of its uses in cybersecurity, finance, transportation, and even agriculture, amongst myriad other industries, and this is already happening with a reported 77% of businesses world-wide already using some form of AI (source: IBM) and the global market size of the AI industry topping $136bn last year (source: Grand View Research). One thing is certain, however, that the more this happens, the more the divide between humans and tech will be blurred.