The End of Design As We Know It? How Automation and A.I. is changing the Face of Design Forever
As the technology landscape continues to evolve, so does the field of design. The rise of industrialization and automation has led to a shift from traditional craft skills to more assembly-based work. With the development of AI, we are seeing the possibility of even more automation in design. This raises questions about the future of the profession and the role of human designers. In this article I look at the commercial and technological trends facing the industry and try to imagine what comes next.
In the past, furniture making was a craft that required skilled artisans to painstakingly create each piece by hand. However, this was both time and labor-intensive, making it a costly process. As a result, while wealthy landowners could afford to furnish their homes with expensive pieces, local villages were lucky to have a few precious items.
With the advent of industrialization, furniture making became a factory-line process. This meant that more furniture could be produced for less, making it more accessible to a wider range of people. Instead of furniture makers designing chairs, a smaller number of industrial designers working for furniture brands like Knoll, Habitat, and later Ikea created the designs, and large factories populated by lower skilled workers produced them en masse. Although there is still a need for furniture makers, especially at the high-end, the number of local furniture makers has dropped significantly. The same fate may await the design industry.
In the early stages of my career every town and village had a host of local web designers creating promotional sites for shops, restaurants, and small hotels. However, much of this work has become self-serve through tools like Shopify and Wix. Many of these freelancers moved in-house, in part because the local work dried up, but also in part because of a massive boom in demand and the industrialized scaling up that followed.
As a result, the job of the designer has shifted away from coming up with brands, high-level design concepts and the “0–1” work. Instead, designers create industrialized design systems and use those systems to assemble screens from their component parts. Designers are now doing much less design from scratch and are rather assembling pieces to order. This requires skill, but a lot less hands-on craft skill than before.