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Hybrid intelligence: When designers collaborate with AI

Exploring the relationship of humans and technology

Hugh Song

We are in the midst of a large shift in the relationship between ourselves and our tools.

We are in the midst of a large shift in the relationship between ourselves and our tools. I have always been interested in Artificial Intelligence (AI), and how it can impact our lives; combine this with my interest in the design industry and you have my undergraduate thesis.

My thesis work in graphic design was a project I titled No. Brainer, an experimental web application (Web App) that aims to provide insights into the impact that AI or Machine Learning (ML) could have on the practice of graphic designers. A misguided many, believe that automation could replace designers and become a threat to the industry. However, my perspective is more of cautious optimism; with No. Brainer, my hope was to reframe this future technology as an essential tool for design ideation. Instead of replacing designers, it supports them by providing ideas we could never think of.

I took my lead from existing tools such as placeit.net; a logo generator intended to categorize and re-arrange elements to generate designs. These algorithms are intended to replace traditional designers for a lower price, but what I am interested in is how algorithms can be used to extend the skills of a designer—the same way that features in Adobe InDesign help with kerning and typesetting. I considered all the aspects of the design process and thought a good opportunity would be for AI to help facilitate the ideation of rough compositions.

When users visit the web app, where they can input their own set of parameters (elements, and principles of design) or allow the application to input random data. The application will then use its database and algorithms to generate a series of compositions. Users can then download these compositions as a source of inspiration for their work. These results are intended to be extremely rough—impossible to use as a product and breaking all the rules that a typical designer might be constrained by. My goal with this tool is to inspire and to spark new ideas rather than directly providing a design solution.

AI is often depicted as a dangerous technology that will betray its owner, or take all of our jobs, but that’s just science fiction—for now. Many people associate it with risk because how it works, and what it can do is poorly understood. A great example is this research project by David Ha, where researchers trained an algorithm to grow legs that were optimal for getting it from point A to B. The algorithm, instead grew one giant leg that was the exact distance from A to B, and proceeded to topple over itself and fall to the finish line. It completed the task, but it solved the problem in a creative and inspiring way.

From my personal experience, I often find the ideation phase to be the hardest part. It can be challenging to remain open-minded, unbiased, curious, creative, and iterative during this stage. No matter how much you remind yourself that there are no “bad ideas” it’s a fine art to reign in your subconscious. This is where I chose to leverage AI. Does this make a human designer less relevant? Not at all. It has the power to enhance, and unlock latent design opportunities for a designer to take action on. A designer curates, and tweaks the outcomes, and ultimately takes the work to the finish line. This should bring us to a more contemporary idea of what a designer can be; designer as a curator, designer as a facilitator.

With all kinds of technologies we have in our generation, designers should be conscious about what tasks some tools are good/bad for. The design industry has had plenty of upheavals due to the addition of new tools, and I do not see AI as being any different. It’s a new technology for humans to embrace, and explore.

Ha, David. “Reinforcement Learning for Improving Agent Design.” Artificial Life, vol. 25, no. 4, 2019, pp. 352–365., doi:10.1162/artl_a_00301.


Li, Yi-Na, et al. “Rule-Based Automatic Generation of Logo Designs.” Leonardo, vol. 50, no. 2,     2017, pp. 177–181., doi:10.1162/leon_a_00961.


Shaughnessy, Adrian. “Will Designers Be Replaced by Robots?” Creative Bloq, Creative Bloq     ART AND DESIGN INSPIRATION, 20 Mar. 2018, www.creativebloq.com/features/will-designers-be-replaced-by-robots.

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