Design in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Is AI just another digital technology that will not significantly question what we know about design?

Harvard Business School published an incredibly interesting paper:

Is AI just another digital technology that, akin to many others, will not significantly question what we know about design? Or will it create transformations in design that our current frameworks cannot capture?

To address these questions, we have investigated two pioneering cases at the frontier of AI, Netflix, and AirBnB (complemented with analyses in Microsoft and Tesla), which offer a privileged window on the future evolution of design.

We found that AI does not undermine the basic principles of Design Thinking (people centered, abductive, and iterative). Rather, it enables to overcome past limitations (in scale, scope, and learning) of human-intense design processes.

In the context of AI factories, solutions may even be more user centered (to an extreme level of granularity, i.e., being designed for every single person), more creative, and continuously updated through learning iterations that span the entire life cycle of a product.

Yet, we found that AI profoundly changes the practice of design. Problem-solving tasks, traditionally carried on by designers, are now automated into learning loops that operate without limitations of volume and speed. These loops think in a radically different way than a designer: they address complex problems through very simple tasks, iterated exponentially.

The article, therefore, proposes a new framework for understanding design practice in the age of AI. We also discuss the implications for design and innovation theory. Specifically, we observe that, as creative problem-solving is significantly conducted by algorithms, human design increasingly becomes an activity of sensemaking, i.e., to understand which problems make sense to be addressed. This shift in focus calls for new theories and brings design closer to leadership, which is, inherently, an activity of sensemaking.