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February 6, 2024
Words by
Ileana Marcut

Designing in the era of AI: Navigating Uncharted Territory

Designing for AI is like exploring a new frontier. It's challenging, exciting, and unpredictable. What does this mean for designers and product people?


I started working with teams two years ago to create experiences for AI-powered tools, even before ChatGPT's great hit. In my journey to learn about AI and work on AI digital experiences, I could feel the significant impact on my design workflow and approach to AI-specific projects. Here's my take on what the rise of AI technology could mean for designers.

Designing AI and designing with AI

AI's technical evolution is revolutionizing the way digital products are built and interacted with, and this transformation brings significant changes to how designers work and think.

Designers now face the dual challenge of integrating AI into products while using AI-powered tools to streamline and improve their workflow.

Many designers have adopted AI generative tools such as ChatGPT and Midjourney to enhance their design process. As AI tools continue to advance, they will unquestionably become part of every designer's toolbox, influencing the future of design in exciting ways.

Automation might reshape our roles. But there's so much AI can only do with our creativity, problem-solving skills, and intuition. Our focus should be leveraging AI where it counts and keeping our human touch where it's needed most. 

"The essence of a designer's evolution in the AI-driven world" - Generated using ChatGPT

Creating experiences for complex AI systems with many unknowns

AI knowledge becomes essential. It's necessary to understand the limitations and capabilities of AI to create meaningful AI-powered products. Understanding what AI can and cannot do is critical for defining practical features and measuring success.

Designers are responsible for making AI understandable, promoting ethical practices, and ensuring seamless interaction between humans and machines.

Each designer should dive into the world of AI by exploring its basic building blocks to learn how AI works.👇🏽

The evolution of design from traditional to AI-powered digital products

AI is different from traditional software. Unlike conventional software that operates within predefined rules and logic, AI systems can learn from data and make decisions. This learning aspect introduces variability and unpredictability in behavior, a stark contrast to the predictability of traditional software.

AI's transformative role lies in its ability to augment human skills, automate laborious tasks, provide deep insights, personalize experiences, and solve complex problems efficiently. We are no longer just using tools but collaborating with intelligent systems. It is an exciting yet challenging journey into the future, where our digital interactions are more intuitive, personalized, and impactful.

👉 Explore the different types of AI

"Stepping into the world of AI-powered digital innovation" - Generated using ChatGPT

A shift from conventional design

Moving from traditional to AI-powered digital products means stepping into a world of dynamic, evolving design that challenges traditional methods and encourages innovation.

Designing for AI involves a change in mindset to accommodate the fluidity and unpredictability of AI. Designers must explore beyond traditional click/tap interfaces to voice commands, gestures, and adaptable elements based on user behavior. 

Many AI systems incorporate direct interaction and invisible AI, providing user-facing features while performing background tasks. Integrating invisible AI presents unique design challenges, such as crafting interfaces that subtly indicate AI's contributions. Designers must think of design solutions to make AI's invisible process perceivable and understandable to users.

Collaboration between data scientists, developers, AI experts, and designers is crucial in the early stages of product creation. Designers should aim to work with engineers early on to explore AI capabilities and propose solutions for user needs. It is also essential to try AI functionality in the early phases of development and conduct user testing to capture feedback and address ethical concerns.

The novelty of AI in digital products opens doors to experimentation. Designers should explore and use AI tools to discover new possibilities to transform digital products. It's about asking not only "How can this be done?" but also "How should this be done with AI?" and "What new possibilities does AI open up?"

This journey into AI is as much about navigating the unknown as it is about shaping it.

Explore UI patterns for AI

New challenges. New ways. New questions.

AI digital tools are in their early stages, and AI interfaces, patterns, and standards are now forming. Today, many engineering teams develop AI tools without design support or experimenting with new ways of showcasing unique behaviors.

Designers must adapt to AI development needs by reshaping their design process and acquiring new skills to navigate emerging challenges. This evolution involves:

Essential questions to keep in mind for future AI projects:

Key Takeaways

AI is transforming the digital space, challenging us to rethink how we create digital products. As we navigate this shift, embracing AI, understanding its capabilities, and integrating it into our work are crucial steps toward crafting innovative solutions. Despite the technological advancements, our core mission remains unchanged: to develop ethical products that enhance people's lives.

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