October 27, 2017

As technology continues to develop and change, so too does the role of designers in the web space – and with continued improvement of machine-learning and artificial intelligence, some may find themselves asking the question: how long before designers no longer are needed in this space? Will our role succumb one day to a more efficient, automated process?

A quick Google search will bring up several different services allowing users to generate logos – such as Logojoy or Tailor Brands – which all seem to follow the same basic process: the user answers several questions about their business, choose the kind of logo style they are after and then use this information to generate a logo. The results? Well, let’s have a look – what kind of a logo would an AI create for Mogul?

This is what the Tailor Brands AI came up with:

The results are interesting. Perhaps as expected, the generated logo is not exactly very coherent nor does it “suit” the Mogul brand, and while other options are generated too, everything just looks a tad generic. Of course, many of these tools give the user the option to take the generated logo and adjust the colours, fonts, sizing etc – and whether it comes to choosing one of the generated options or tweaking one of the given options, this still requires a bit of design sense – the success of the design still resting in the hands of the human designer.

In this context, AI still have a bit to learn before they can truly understand what makes a logo “work”. Many of the most recognisable logos are based on stories, ideas, emotions – nebulous concepts that perhaps may not seem all that important at first, but are the very driving force behind a brand identity. They don’t just influence the logo graphic, but every visual aspect – imagery, messaging, packaging, collateral – it all begins with people and their ideas. Once AI have an understanding of these concepts, they may have the potential to create quite meaningful work.

Given the kind of technology which currently exists, perhaps an AI that can create a basic logo based on user input isn’t too surprising, but what about an AI that can design an entire website? Well this exists too. Currently, there are two main web design AIs available, where users can upload their own content and an AI will build a website out of it – these include The Grid and FireDrop, both offering “websites that design themselves”. The Grid especially was much hyped as being the end of the human designer, but as of now it is yet to live up to this claim (in fact it is said to be currently at a near industry-low in terms of customer satisfaction.) In reality, The Grid often produces incoherent layouts, while those created by FireDrop are simply too generic. Beyond the customisation of colours, fonts, images etc, there currently doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of variation between sites “designed” by AI.

Perhaps as the AI responsible for making websites that “design themselves” learn more about the way that people interact with and use websites, AI website builders will become smarter, with the potential to create intuitive and focused websites – but for now, websites that truly design themselves are mostly just a cool idea. AI in the context of design could be useful for generating ideas, creating a starting point on which to build. Maybe in a future where AI play a bigger role in the design process, the role of the human designer will be one of management and curation, rather than one of creating from scratch. The best outcome might be for designers and AI to collaborate – AI can take care of more mundane tasks or even idea generation, leaving the designer to focus on what they do best: refining ideas, solving problems, and the oh-so-important “making shit look cool”. Even if the tasks of the web designer changes, I think human design input will be a part of website development for a while longer.