Whether you're a founder or a designer, you might have considered a potential new addition to your team: artificial intelligence. From prompting AI-generated artwork to brainstorming with ChatGPT, we’re seeing a new wave of design emerging. Is AI simply a helpful tool or a dark horse—something to be wary of?
This ambiguity brings to light new dilemmas in the industry. How can we ensure we’re using this technology ethically, in a way that avoids discrimination and bias? What is the best way to use these tools in our day-to-day projects? What about our jobs—will we be replaced?
At Designer Fund, we strongly believe that with this new technology, the skills that designers have will become more important than ever.
If harnessed correctly, AI can be one of the most powerful tools we’ve seen for elevating creative potential. So how should you think about AI today while the technology is still in its relative infancy? Let’s go to the experts.
Below, we're highlighting ten talks from this year by some of our favorite thinkers—spanning from art museum technologists to startup design leads—who discuss how AI can help build creative technologies and shape more human-centered experiences.
The following talks are presented in chronological order, with the most recent one listed first.
Andrew Ng, Opportunities in AI, Stanford University
Andrew Ng is a computer scientist, co-founder of Coursera, and managing director of AI Fund, known for his contributions to AI research, including co-founding Google Brain and pioneering online AI education.
In his Stanford University lecture, Ng explores the vast potential of AI, highlighting two pivotal trends propelling its progress: AI as a general purpose technology (akin to electricity), as well as its increasing adoption through no-code and low-code tools.
Ng’s core message is crystal clear: AI is not just about riding the latest technology wave; it's about addressing real-world problems. He underscores the importance of democratizing AI, extending its benefits beyond tech and consumer software—from seemingly simple tasks as ensuring even cheese distribution on pizzas, to more complex ones like optimizing agriculture and making our roads safer.
This prompts the question: How can designers leverage AI to address real human needs?
What excites me about the rise of AI tools is the opportunity to create those deep, challenging applications that hopefully can create very long-term value. A lot of the work that lies ahead of us is finding those diverse use cases and building them.Andrew Ng, Managing General Partner, AI Fund
Contrary to the conventional design thinking approach of exploring countless possibilities before reaching a solution, he encourages a more direct approach: swiftly developing a concrete idea and collaborating with experts who've wrestled with the problem for a long time.
As Ng wraps up, he leaves us with a call to action. He believes we should actively shape the development of AI. To do that, we must adapt our skills to work in harmony with AI and push for policies that prioritize people. Because the impact of AI, for better or worse, ultimately comes down to the choices we make as a society.
Notion's AI Lead Linus Lee in conversation with Outset Capital
Linus Lee is a research engineer and AI lead at Notion, where he experiments with AI-augmented tools for thinking. For Linus, AI’s most important role is as a creative collaborator.
Within Notion, Linus has seen how users more often access AI as a thought partner or an editor, rather than relying on it to do their work for them. For example, users will often start by writing their own content and then ask the AI to refine it. While AI can be a powerful assistant, he believes that there will always be a need for human taste and decision-making in the work process.
I'm excited about humans being the ones steering the interaction or relationship [with AI]. I think AI is good for executing on things, but there always has to be a tastemaker.Linus Lee, AI Lead at Notion
Eileen Isagon Skyers's TED Talk: In the Age of AI Art, What Can Originality Look Like?
Eileen Isagon Skyers is a curator and artist who has produced online exhibitions for creative institutions such as David Zwirner, Rhizome, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In her own AI artwork, Eileen blends traditional art techniques with digital tools, while drawing inspiration from renowned artists.
For Eileen, creating art with AI can help us blend familiarity with novelty—giving birth to unprecedented concepts. She emphasizes that it’s time to embrace the fusion of both the old and new, as AI and humans working together will introduce novel creative possibilities. Most importantly, she sees AI as a tool to co-create with.
AI is everywhere now. We are all now collectively co-creating with AI, whether we're aware of it or not. If we want to be a part of these worlds, we cannot design alone.Eileen Isagon Skyers, Curator & Artist
Figma's Noah Levin on designing with AI at Config 2023
Noah Levin is the VP of Product Design at Figma, where he leads the UX function across design, writing, and research. In Noah’s view, AI will uplevel the work of creators across different skillsets. His recent talk at Config 2023 explores how AI can make both designers and non-designers more effective in their craft.
I think AI will both raise the ceiling—unleashing new heights, more creative outputs, more amazing products—and also lower the floor, making it easier to design and allowing anyone to collaborate visually.Noah Levin, VP of Product Design at Figma
Additionally, he shares two grounding assumptions that are helpful for understanding AI’s potential impact on the design industry:
- Design entails problem-solving for people rather than just simply pushing pixels.
- Design has always evolved with technology, and AI is not the first major shift to impact design.
Noah’s biggest piece of advice: Remain intentional in your work, even as AI takes on more tasks, and adapt and learn alongside technological advancements. It’s critical to be curious and optimistic about these changes so that we can learn how to use them to our benefit.
Scott Belsky, Interview with Lenny Rachitsky
Scott Belsky was previously the CEO and founder of Behance, an online platform for creative professionals to showcase and discover work. Now, he serves as the Chief Strategy Officer and EVP of Design and Emerging Products at Adobe. In the podcast episode with Lenny Rachitsky, Scott shares his thoughts on how AI will impact product teams. Scott thinks that AI will ultimately flatten organizational structures:
We're entering the era where we collapse the stack in every organization, where instead of having to go to someone for anything you can kind of do more things yourself.Scott Belsky, Chief Strategy Officer and EVP of Design and Emerging Products at Adobe
Scott predicts that generative AI for product leaders will ultimately expand the surface area of possibilities, allowing for more exploration that can lead to more creative results. For example, he states that AI will help increase human ingenuity and reduce the friction of work in workflows, enabling us to focus more on developing ideas and refining various options. And with boosted human ingenuity, there’s even a possibility of hiring even more people who can do more as a company.
Scott also acknowledges that generative AI will augment designers' work in real-time through tools like Photoshop, which can now utilize features such as Generative Fill and Expand to extend image content beyond the original image.
Ovetta Sampson in UX Magazine
Ovetta Sampson is the Director of User Experience Core Machine Learning at Google, where her focus is democratizing ML and make it more accessible and useable for more people.
In her interview with UX Magazine, Ovetta emphasizes the importance of recognizing the limitations of emerging technology like generative AI in order to create human-centered solutions that prioritize the well-being of users.
One of the ways I challenge my design teams when it comes to generative AI is asking them, 'how might we design to their limitations, not their capabilities?' If you don't understand what it's not capable of, it's almost impossible to do governance because you will make policies based upon assumptions that aren't real.Ovetta Sampson, Director of User Experience Machine Learning, Google
She also highlights the concerns surrounding large language models and their potential to perpetuate stereotypes, as well as the increasingly blurred line between sentient machines and humans—both of which further underscore the importance of thoughtfully designing how machines respond to and engage with people.
In a related seminar at Stanford University, she discusses how designers in the midst of cutting-edge innovation need to be mindful of biases and exclusions in data-driven creations, such as photography and facial recognition software.
Ovetta believes that designers have the responsibility to use AI in a fair and equitable way, addressing biases and considering diversity and inclusivity in the design process. This primarily starts with understanding and collecting the data that goes into these systems, as data and people are irrevocably linked.
Keeping people in the forefront of data aggregation ensures more human-intelligent product design. It’s important that we as designers really understand how data is collected, how it's cleaned, how it’s engineered, and how it’s transformed by data scientists and model developers to ensure human-centered AI.Ovetta Sampson, Director of User Experience Machine Learning, Google
Looking at the future, Ovetta suggests that design will become transdisciplinary, integrating data science elements to help designers develop intelligent products that improve everyday lives.
John Maeda at SXSW 2023: Design and Artificial Intelligence
Watch the abridged version of John’s talk here: Design in Tech 2023: Design and Artificial Intelligence (Abridged)
John Maeda is a technologist, product experience leader, and Vice President of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft. At this year’s SXSW conference, John gave an overview of the 2023 Design in Tech Report, covering key design trends, the impact of AI on design, patterns in creativity and business, and the exponential growth of technology. For John, AI is a tool that can support the design thinking process and add value to it.
John sees many uses for AI in the creative processes, from visualizing solution journeys to simulating customer reactions. Design thinking will be revolutionized as it’ll become much easier to conduct research using AI as a partner. This will help organizations get out of the convergence phase of design thinking and diverge on ideas that can truly help customers.
I think these kinds of models can still be used in constructive ways with how we do design the old way in this new era.John Maeda, Vice President of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft
Generative AI and the Future of Creative, The Society of Digital Agencies
This panel discussion from The Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) features four seasoned design veterans who discuss explore generative AI and its impact on the creative industry. One of them, Nishat Akhtar, VP of Creative at Instrument, believes that AI is a tool meant to empower creatives, and that designers and writers are the true spark behind this work.
They're the co-pilots in editing and understanding what's been generated. A lot of the times tools such as ChatGPT or Midjourney are something that’s really used to create a concept. Final work takes real creative perspective and editing to differentiate what something looks like for a client.Nishat Akhtar, VP of Creative at Instrument
Building on this idea, Jeroen Thissen, Creative Director at code d’azur, cites that when it comes to AI for smaller agencies and freelancers, they might be at a creative advantage because AI can accelerate the production process. Using AI, big television advertisements and digital campaigns might take less effort to produce, making the core creative idea even more crucial for differentiation.
The emphasis is going to be more on the idea because perhaps 10,000 people are going to make Nike ads just because they can, but there's only going to be one that has a good idea.Jeroen Thissen, Creative Director at code d’azur
MoMA: How artists are using and confronting machine learning
This episode from the Museum of Modern Art’s How to See series features Kate Crawford, Trevor Paglen, and Refik Anadol—three artists who are using AI as a tool to experiment with (or even divert) its conventional uses. Rather than rejecting the technology, these artists investigate and discuss the possibilities of using AI in unexpected and unintended ways. For Kate, Trevor, and Refik, we’re only just beginning to explore the potential of AI as a creative tool.
I think we are at a crucial inflection point right now. I've been calling it the generative turn. It's a moment where what we previously understood as how everything from illustration to film directing to publishing works is all about to change very rapidly.Kate Crawford, Professor, Artist, and Author of Atlas of AI
An example of this approach is Refik Anadol’s MoMA exhibition “Unsupervised,” where he took the entire metadata of MoMA archives, aggregating ~130,000 images, and used the data to create custom software artwork that would interpret MoMA's collection data. Today, this software artwork is updated in real-time and projected large scale for visitors to experience.
Artwork like this shows that creative projects harnessing AI can push the boundaries of visual imagery and originality, designing new ways for people to experience art.
In the talk, Trevor also notes that artists possess a unique perspective in utilizing AI that traditional technologists (engineers) don’t have. Lean into your unique point of view—and use that to develop new projects, rather than relying on what AI’s creators (or engineers) suggest.
Artists, what we bring to the party is thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years of thinking about what the hell an image is. The kind of engineering computer science tradition does not have that.Trevor Paglen, Artist
Intercom: AI in the designer’s toolkbox
Both Intercom’s Staff Product Designer Molly Mahar and Senior Principal Product Designer Gustavs Cirulis have experience integrating AI into customer service products. In this podcast episode, Intercom’s VP of Product Design Emmet Connolly interviews them both to discuss their experiences working with AI and large language models like ChatGPT to solve real product issues at scale.
They explain that though generative AI is capable of useful tasks like summarizing content, editing text, and creative writing, it has a significant flaw: hallucinations. AI generates responses that sound plausible but are factually incorrect, which poses a challenge for applications like responding to customer support queries. However, the technology is evolving rapidly, and it is expected that it will eventually be able to provide factually correct answers.
One big thing is needing to design for a lot more failure cases because there aren’t necessarily guardrails. When you’re having a conversation, it can go off the rails in so many different ways.Molly Mahar, Staff Product Designer at Intercom
Additionally, designing the UX of AI presents a new and interesting opportunity for designers today. Gustav is curious to see how new design patterns will emerge with AI as our creative partner, but notes that, as of now, designers are experimenting with pre-defined prompts to nudge AI-generated text in the right direction:
We’re already seeing some patterns emerging with small predefined prompts on how to change text like ‘expand this,’ ‘summarize this,’ ‘make it friendlier.’ It’s a relatively new pattern that is starting to emerge, and I think we’ll see more and more of those types of patterns.Gustav Cirulis, Senior Principal Product Designer at Intercom
Though we’ve summed up what the experts think, AI is so broad and multi-faceted that it’s hard for anyone to completely predict how it will develop.
It's clear from these talks that not only will AI democratize access to design for non-designers, but it can also supercharge the creative process for trained designers—helping us achieve more and develop novel ideas beyond our current limitations. Design might now take inspiration from the past, present, future—and even times, spaces, and places that don’t exist in any tangible reality—all with AI being a trusty partner in the process.
Whether you're a founder or designer, what have your experiences with AI been like? How have you found it helpful in your creative work? Any warnings to share with the design community?