AI Vertigo: where do we go from here as designers? | by Raoul Flaminzeanu | Jan, 2024
A button, an icon, and a checkbox are each a building block, a replicable element that, alongside another 10–20 building blocks, creates the whole experience. The creation of one building block implies imagining and visualizing hundreds of iterations.
With generative tools in the UX toolbox, the process is expedited, leading to a nuanced shift in our roles as designers. Our daily tasks will focus less on creating individual artifacts and increasingly on selecting, assembling, and styling the elements, curating the experience.
We transition from being primarily the creator of forms to the curator of experiences.
A curator is a keeper, manager, or custodian of a collection or museum. When working with cultural organizations, a curator is typically a “collections curator” or an “exhibitions curator”, and has multifaceted tasks dependent on the particular institution and its mission. (“Curator,” 2023)
The role of a curator shares other responsibilities familiar to design practitioners. These include conducting research, acquiring and preserving artifacts, and creating educational and enlightening exhibitions. Very similar to UX Research roles.
Curatorial responsibilities often include communication, influencing and managing stakeholders, ensuring strong alignment with the institution’s mission, and possessing a clear vision of the institution’s future direction and evolution. It sounds very similar to a job description for a UX Leadership job description. Trust me, I’ve reviewed a lot of them lately…
The evolution of design tools unlocks this curatorial nature of the design role, as we’re no longer burdened with creating 100 versions of a button, managing numerous final versions of a project, and other tedious tasks. The new tools free up our hands, offering relief from repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel, and afford us more time for creative thinking.
In this new paradigm, designers evolve into ‘Curators of Experience’ of product development. As such, we focus on collecting, editing, and moderating the experiences of a product, viewing the product not just as an interface but as a holistic service. This role emphasizes the orchestration and refinement of the entire user experience.
This isn’t a drastic change for designers already familiar with working within a design system or proficient in service design methods, and it feels closer to a natural evolution, even a relief.
“Shamans act as a conduit to the supernatural realm, where they act on group members’ behalf and enable rituals (often dramatic) that bind group members together for a common goal.” (Watson-Jones and Legare, 2018)
Many years ago, Francois, a Director of Product, at Intact Insurance describe my team as a “team of dreamers” and meant it as a compliment. I took was uneasy to his characterization, especially in the context of an insurance company. I aimed for our design practice to be perceived as pragmatic, quantitative, and data-driven, aligned with the insurance industry’s culture.
Later, I understood that design lives with the tension between pragmatism and idealism. While embodying the organization’s mission, whether focused on innovation or refinement and monetization, design plays a strategic role in bridging visionary creativity with practical solutions.
Design lives with the tension between pragmatism and idealism
Creativity belongs not to designers but to the production floor. As designers, we are bridges between creative ideas and usable solutions. We invite, guide, and manage our teams in navigating expansive creativity and grounded applications, akin to how a shaman leads people between the ordinary and supernatural realms. (Watson-Jones and Legare, 2018)
I often rewatch John Cleese’s “Creativity in Management” (John Cleese on Creativity In Management, 2017) insights. Cleese speaks to the importance of slowing down, dreaming, and embracing playfulness to increase the imagination of original ideas. Creativity is dreaming, manifesting, imagining, hallucinating.
On a related note, Kats, in his book “Make it new,” narrates an unusual story where Myron Stolaroff, looking to enhance creativity, gave LSD to fellow engineers in a secluded cabin (Katz, 2015) . This historical and rather dramatic anecdote points to a bridge missing between development and innovation. As that still feels like an illegal and potentially harmful activity, design practitioners had to invent other ways to bridge the gap and encourage creativity.
Design Thinking, a problem-solving approach that emphasizes empathy, creativity, and iteration to develop innovative solutions tailored to users’ needs, is precisely about that. It is a form of Managing Creativity. Through facilitated group rituals, it encourages serious play, creating prototypes, and hallucinating radical new products. These rituals, conducted by designers, are merely a communal tactic to make playfulness accessible to other professions and help others shed their inhibitions via childhood play memory. Similar to a party flavor helping shed inhibitions.
Generative algorithms can now add even more radical product ideas than those generated by communal play times. One can observe that the ideas spawned by humans and learning algorithms have similar qualities. The results are always a little bit off, raw, with too many fingers, and full of false facts. But all ideas are valuable as they help see new connections and avenues for innovation.
Designers also have the role of harvesting ideas, hallucinations, and dreams from humans and generative algorithms and transforming them into useful products. This shift in our role, which is not necessarily new, expands our influence and role by bridging the gap between pragmatic needs and the realm of creative, dream-like innovation.
Francois, the Director of Product, recognized the significance of the “dreamer” metaphor as a tribute to the visionary role of design, acting as a bridge from the present to the future. This concept can be challenging to convey in companies where the function of design is less understood. In such scenarios, it’s more effective for designers to embody the role of a facilitator and use design to inspire rather than trying to explain it.
Join in the brainstorming. What new metaphors pop into your mind?