Innovation - Spring Layout

Insight - 04/24/23

Views on the Impact of AI

8 min

By Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman

The IDSA Women in Design Committee’s vision is to have gender parity in our industry. One way we work toward this goal is to amplify voices. In this article, Views on the Impact of AI, we have view points from women and nonbinary designers who are emerging into the profession and establishing their career. The WID Committee welcomes thought, support, and feedback at

INNOVATION is the voice of the industrial design profession, providing in-depth coverage of industrial design issues and communicating the value of design to business and society at large. This award-winning quarterly is generously illustrated with images of cutting-edge designs and features a clean yet dynamic layout that brings editorials and top-notch content to life. The magazine was first published in 1982, and IDSA members consistently name INNOVATION as a primary benefit of their membership experience to this day. Want to read more? Access to the latest issues of INNOVATION magazine here!

From Sci-Fi Fem-Bots to Sustainable Design

When the topic of artificial intelligence comes to mind, I can’t help but think of the sci-fi fem-bots that have been featured in movies like Blade Runner, Ex Machina, and Her. These films, among others, have often portrayed women as the conduit for artificial intelligence. As a result, I became curious about how women industrial designers view the impact of Al on their profession, so I decided to ask a group of women in the field for their thoughts.

What’s the Consensus?

Overwhelmingly, the message I heard was that artificial intelligence is not a replacement for human designers. While Al can automate routine tasks and provide data driven insights, it cannot replace the creativity, intuition, and empathy that are essential to good design. Rather, Al should be viewed as a tool that complements and assists human designers, enabling them to produce more compelling and innovative products. As Milja Bannwart, an industrial design consultant and creative director based in Brooklyn, NY, explains, “There are many aspects that a designer incorporates into the design of a product. There is a story to be told, the emotional impact on users, consumer testing and research, form and color, the quality of materials used, and craftsmanship.” By using Al in combination with human creativity, designers can unlock new possibilities and produce products that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Furthermore, according to Lorraine Justice, PhD, FIDSA design researcher, author, and professor of industrial design at RIT, Some people believe that Al will transform designers into mere curators or arbiters of design, rather than original creators. However, this is only one aspect of the potential options for this technology. The human desire to create will always exist, and designers will continue to use any available tools to create better designs.

According to Yukiko Naoi, principal at Tanaka Kapec Design Group in Norwalk CT, Al could serve as a valuable tool for collaboration in industrial design. She believes that in any creative process, any input or specific angle of seeing things is valuable and that Al could provide a viewpoint that individual designers may overlook. “Al’s ability to offer fresh perspectives could be particularly useful in industrial design,” says Naoi.

Al is a great tool to automate many of the routine tasks involved in industrial design, such as creating 3D models, rendering product images, and analyzing user data. This can free up designers’ time to focus on more complex and creative aspects of the design process. According to Ana Mengote Baluca, IDSA, a faculty member at Pratt Institute, designers should approach the use of Al with a healthy dose of skepticism. While relying too heavily on Al may be risky, Mengote Baluca acknowledges that the technology shows promise in exploring new forms for products: “My big concern about Al is that it will drive trends and affect the aesthetics of what we create. If the algorithms are written in a way that promotes what is popular, then that wilI become the next big thing. I worry that we will lose diversity in style and in aesthetics if we rely on Al too much.” Naoi adds, “Just like any tool, it depends on how we use it. If we rely only too heavily then some of the outcomes will be too obvious computer driven.”

Image generated with DALL-E using the prompt “A female industrial designer dressed as a sci-fi fem bot standing in a design office retro 60’s art.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Naturally, there is a lot of apprehension about how AI will affect the design process. Al has the potential to transform our lives in many positive ways, from improving healthcare and transportation to enhancing education and entertainment. However, there are also valid concerns about the impact of Al on humanity, including job displacement, privacy concerns, and ethical issues. To address these concerns and ensure that the use of Al in industrial design is responsible and beneficial, it’s essential to establish ethical guidelines and standards for Al development and implementation. It’s also important to involve all stakeholders, including designers, engineers, consumers, and policymakers, in the conversation about Al’s role in design. By doing so, we can maximize the potential benefits of Al while minimizing the potential risks and unintended consequences. When discussing the impact of Al on industrial design, Jeanne Pfordresher, partner at Hybrid Product Design in Brooklyn, NY, adds, “Al has tremendous potential for creativity, and if we can address the ethical issues surrounding it, even better.” Ultimately, the successful integration of Al in industrial design will require collaboration, transparency, and responsible innovation.

One of the biggest challenges facing designers today is how to create products that are both functional and environmentally responsible. Al has the potential to enable more sustainable and environmentally friendly product design. For example, Al can be used to model a product’s life cycle and predict its carbon footprint, allowing designers to identify areas where they can reduce emissions and improve sustainability. Additionally, Al can help designers to optimize material use, design products for disassembly and reuse, and create more energy-efficient designs.

Finding efficiencies in massive amounts of data is a time-consuming task that is ideally suited for Al. Industrial designers can leverage this technology to create more sustainable designs and more efficient supply chains, which can help to mitigate the negative impact of human activity on the environment.” Al can help us manage supply chains and reduce inefficiencies,” says Mengote Baluca, adding that “by creating decision-making tools for designers, we can make more conscious choices.”

Al can significantly improve the design process by leveraging vast amounts of data on user preferences, market trends, and product performance. This enables designers to create more efficient and effective designs that better meet the needs of customers. Bannwart recommends “integrating Al at the outset of the design process to analyze data and identify trends, conduct consumer and competitor research, and even generate concept ideas. In later phases, Al can also be useful for creating design variations, accelerating the process, and experimenting with form generation for the sake of exploration.”

Many products in the market today have used Al in their design and development. Adidas used Al to design and manufacture the Futurecraft 4D shoe. The shoe’s midsole was created using a 3D printing process that was optimized with Al algorithms to create a lattice structure that is both lightweight and strong. Apple used a combination of machine learning and acoustic simulations to design the AirPods Pro. Al algorithms helped optimize the fit and seal of the earbuds and create the noise-canceling technology that is one of the AirPods Pro’s key features. Al also has great potential for creating better user experiences in products. For example, Dyson used Al to design the Pure Cool Link air purifier, which can automatically detect and respond to changes in air quality. Al algorithms were used to optimize the performance of the air purifier and create a user interface that is intuitive and easy to use.

Al is rapidly becoming an integral part of the industrial design process. While I don’t believe Al will or should replace human designers, I do think that by establishing and following ethical guidelines for Al development and usage, we can leverage Al into helping designers create products that are not only functional and aesthetically pleasing but also sustainable and environmentally responsible.

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