Adobe: Scientists made AI smart but to make it ‘human,’ you need designers

Is artificial intelligence a job killer or a job creator?

When it comes to graphic design, AI is a tool that will enhance more jobs than it replaces, according to one of the top design gurus at Adobe Systems Inc.

“Bots aren’t actually going to take our jobs. In the near future, there’s more likely a chance these technologies will be helping us do our jobs,” said Val Head, design evangelist of UX (user experience) innovation at Adobe.

Head made the remarks in Toronto on Wednesday during a keynote at DesignThinkers, a conference held by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers. She acknowledged that software developers and machine learning scientists have played the central role of making current AI technologies ‘smart.’

But she suggested that in order to make AI more ‘human’ – and therefore more engaging for users – a different set of players must enter the picture: designers.

Val Head of Adobe Systems Inc.

“Right now, the algorithms (in AI technology) are only as smart as the person who created them,” she said. “But how do you make (AI) feel seamless? How do you make it feel intuitive?”

That’s where designers come in, said Head.

“If AI is going to catch on and become stuff we use every day or become part of our lives, it has to become more human,” she added in an interview after her presentation.

Designers, especially those working in UX and UI (user interface), can improve the way AI interacts with people, Head said. Citing examples, she said that could include creating personalities for company chatbots that reflect their corporate brands, improving virtual reality (VR) experiences so they don’t make people feel sick to their stomachs, or designing VR headsets that are more comfortable to wear.

Get hands-on

Rather than fearing AI will take their jobs, Head said design pros should get hands-on with the technology to explore, master and improve it.

“Try out as much of this new technology as you can. Poke holes in it. Where does it work for you? Where does it not? Experiment to fix a problem or find solutions,” she advised the Toronto audience.

“We can take a negative approach,” she continued later in an interview, “or we can embrace these as the really interesting and layered design problems that they are … It gives us a new range of design problems to solve.”

Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis discusses the company’s AI platform, Adobe Sensei, during the Adobe Max conference in Las Vegas on Oct. 18, 2017. (Image courtesy Adobe)

Head’s comments echoed ones made by Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis at last month’s Adobe Max conference in Las Vegas.

“Our fundamental belief is that (AI) will amplify human creativity and intelligence, not replace it. It will free you from doing repetitive, mundane tasks,” Parasnis said.

In Vegas, Adobe highlighted how its own AI platform, Sensei, powers some of the functions across its Creative Cloud suite. For example, Scene Stitch uses Sensei to replace the unwanted part of an image with something appropriate from Adobe’s stock photo library.

DIY design tools

Debate continues to rage over the impact of AI on employment in every industry, and the design sector is no exception.

In 2013 an Oxford University study predicted that graphic design jobs stand an eight per cent likelihood of being replaced by automated AI tools. That’s low compared with other jobs studied in the report, such as telemarketing, hand sewing and watch repair, which all have a 99 per cent chance of being replaced, according to the researchers.

Still, new AI-powered design tools and products have stoked fears that automation is removing more humans from the creative process. Toronto-based Logojoy, an online AI app that creates customized DIY logos for startups and small businesses, has racked up more than 600,000 global users and created more than two million logos since its launch a year ago.

DesignScape uses AI to suggest minor tweaks to a design (left hand column) and automatically create brand new design elements as well (right hand column).

DesignScape is another AI-infused graphic design system created in Toronto. It “aids the design process by making interactive layout suggestions, i.e., changes in the position, scale, and alignment of elements,” according to an academic paper outlining its features. DesignScape offers users a suggestive interface, “where suggestions are previewed and can be accepted” and an adaptive interface “where elements move automatically to improve the layout.”

In a way, AI turned out to be a job creator for Peter O’Donovan. O’Donovan, who developed DesignScape during his PhD studies at the University of Toronto, is now working in Seattle as a computer scientist – at Adobe.

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Christine Wong
Christine Wong
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at and is now a freelance contributor.

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