Design Brief: 3 Ways to Work With New AI Tools
May 24, 2023
Design Brief: 3 Ways to Work With New AI Tools
At the search giant’s annual conference, Google demonstrated dozens of new features that will leverage artificial intelligence — and unlock new ways of working. Here are three ways designers can adapt.
Words by Anna Serra
Photos courtesy Valentino Vergara / Midjourney
Since the November launch of ChatGPT by OpenAI last year, Google has been pushed to demonstrate its commitment and readiness to lead the AI revolution that promises to touch every aspect of our digital lives. This month, at the annual I/O conference, that demonstration was heard around the world.
Google delivered a potent vision of how AI can power practical and aspirational experiences — improving productivity and making people’s lives easier where they already work and play. Examples include the Help Me Write feature in Gmail that allows users to generate entire emails, a Magic Editor for photos that enables impressive and convincing real-time editing of subjects and generative AI-powered Search that creates a more profound contextual and conversational experience for users.
Here’s why we’re all paying attention: Hundreds of millions of people already interact with Google features enhanced by machine learning models, but until now, the company didn’t put a lot of emphasis on this technology. Now, the same users who discover AI through Google’s embedded features will form expectations that other products and services must also meet. Meanwhile, designers will have to learn to incorporate these tools into workflows if they want to remain commercially relevant. In other words, the generative AI revolution will start at work.
That doesn’t mean blindly copying what Google (or Microsoft, Meta or Epic) launches. It’s necessary to be informed by what the giants do, but understanding your users’ context and needs is still critical for success. We must critique and understand what makes sense to keep, discard or remix as the technology and users’ understanding of it continues to evolve, similar to when graphical user interfaces (GUIs) or the iPhone changed interactions. But this time, we’ll need to adapt at speeds we’ve never seen before. So far, here’s my advice:
1. Separate Empty Ideas From Useful Solutions
As designers, we’re already used to collecting references and inspiration. We made experimenting with new AI tools a priority so that we could establish clear criteria for what and how to test. Things like readiness, pricing and legal constraints are always the first order of business. This ensures we’re not wasting time on vaporware that promises much but delivers little, or on tools we can’t realistically incorporate into our workflow. We want to intentionally fit AI into our process instead of shoehorning it in for the sake of novelty. A good example of this is tools like Google’s new Sidekick, a Google Doc enhancement that acts like a smart writing companion, offering contextual prompts as content develops. It’s like having a partner working with you at all times, catching mistakes and suggesting ideas you may not have considered — not another stakeholder that you need to consult as an extra step.
2. Ground Solutions in What Users Truly Need
Those of us who create experiences must remember that right now, AI-powered tools are still relatively hard for the general public to use. They can either add extra steps to workflows, as in the case of ChatGPT, or demand specialized knowledge, as in the case of Midjourney. Though it feels like we’ve been talking about AI in tech and creative circles forever, to the larger world, the race is just beginning. And while the wider adoption of AI tools unlocks a lot of novel use cases, the basics of a good experience still hold: The ones with true staying power solve real needs or genuinely connect with our emotions. Google’s generative AI-powered Search is a giant leap in that direction. That said, AI won’t be able to save a bad idea or a bad client relationship, or magically make your work better if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.
3. Stay Cautiously Optimistic
Will all of these new AI-driven ideas and features survive the harsh reality of user adoption? Doubtful. But this year’s I/O conference offered one of the first tangible glimpses into a future where AI is humming along under practically every touchpoint users face with Google. For example, a total game changer for Google’s Workspace portfolio is the addition of Duet AI, which enables contextual collaboration and efficiencies across apps like Sheets, Docs and Meet.
From here, it sometimes feels impossible to predict how our industry will change. However, just like giving in to the hype wholesale is dangerous, so is letting fear dominate our reactions, which would keep us behind. Designers are a part of the early wave of workers impacted by AI; a robot won’t replace us, but another human with a cutting-edge, AI-driven skill set just might. We need to balance enthusiasm with proactive skepticism and apply our learnings to the solutions we design, so we can help the rest of the world adapt as well.
We’re in one of those moments of creative explosion where patterns and standards are rewritten almost daily, and even if the pace slows down once we move from the early adopters to the early majority, our own tools will be transformed by AI to shorten the path from idea to execution more and more. It’s equally thrilling and unsettling — and I can’t wait to see what comes next.