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HCDE design jam explores the future of AI-powered design work

Leah Pistorius
May 14, 2024

The latest advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) are reshaping the landscape of design professions. AI algorithms can support designers in analyzing data, uncovering patterns, and inspiring creative direction. Additionally, AI can automate simple tasks and give designers more time to focus on complex and imaginative work.

Design Jam mentor and HCDE student speaking while looking at sketches and a laptop

Pitch Sinlapanuntakul, a PhD student in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, is studying AI’s role in supporting design professionals in their work, both today and in the future as AI continues to evolve. Sinlapanuntakul and Professor Mark Zachry brought this exploration to HCDE students in a half-day design jam on April 26, 2024.

“We are primarily curious how AI can complement the creativity of designers, not replace it,” explained Sinlapanuntakul. “So far, AI advances in the design space have been more around generating art, and I think there’s a big opportunity to look at AI for design tools. So we want to understand from design professionals how they could see integrating AI in their future workflows.”

For the design jam, Sinlapanuntakul and Zachry recruited students who already had at least two years of professional design experience. They also invited designers from Adobe to mentor the students and provide input on their work practices. “We are thankful to our guests from Adobe for joining us because Adobe is really leading this space in integrating AI in tools designers are already using,” said Zachry. 

The design jam challenged HCDE students to envision a future, three years from now, where AI is deeply integrated into the product design process. The students were tasked with imagining they were working on a futuristic design team that develops AI technology for designers to use in their design process and work. Students were encouraged to think beyond current technological boundaries, like mobile or web-based applications, to pinpoint the essence of the AI-powered design technology. In small groups, the students engaged in a multi-phase process of brainstorming, sketching, and creating a simple prototype to bring their ideas to life. 

Team of three students working around a table covered with sketches
Mentor speaking with team of four students around a table

Khyree Watson, an alumnus of HCDE (BS ‘20), served as one of the mentors from Adobe. Watson currently works as a solutions consultant on Adobe’s Creative Cloud and Document Cloud. “I’ve had brilliant conversations with students today,” said Watson. “They aren’t trying to find ways to cut corners with AI. They understand the value in using AI will be to give their minds more freedom to do the hard work—the decision-making designers do. We know that to do good design we need to use our empathy and our understanding of other humans. Things algorithms can’t do. So I’m glad they’re keeping that in mind while finding new use cases for AI as an assistant in the design process.”

Master’s alumna Kasturi Khanke (MS ‘23), now an experience designer at Adobe based in San Francisco, also joined the design jam as a mentor. She works on AI integration with Adobe Acrobat, and says the ideas the students are exploring are not far from becoming a reality in industry. Khanke appreciated that students are considering the holistic experience of practicing design to understand how AI can help collaboration. “Often the designer’s job is not just to do design, it’s also communicating with developers, project managers, or other stakeholders, and getting feedback. So the students have had several good ideas around using AI to facilitate collaboration, which, in turn, will elevate their design work.”

Team of three students presenting their prototype. The screen behind the students says top three themes across your team
Team of four students presenting their prototype. One student is pointing to the slide that says Wonderboard
Team of three students present their prototype, standing in front of a slide that says Identifying the pain points we encounter as product designers

Design Jam organizers and mentors Mark Zachry, Pitch Sinlapanuntakul, Khyree Watson, Kasturi Khanke, and Matt Knorr
Design Jam organizers Mark Zachry (left) and Pitch Sinlapanuntakul (right) with mentors from Adobe: Khyree Watson (BS' 20), Kasturi Khanke (MS ‘23), and Matt Knorr.

As the design jam came to a close, the students presented their prototypes and shared insights gained from their exploration. The presentations sparked conversations between the organizers, mentors, and students on the implications of AI in design, as well as the potential for AI to enhance creativity and efficiency in the field.

“Design is not just a process of creating products but a process of creative problem-solving for our future reflecting our thinking and values. There is an urgent need to understand possibilities for AI use more broadly among design professionals,” observed Sinlapanuntakul.

Sinlapanuntakul and Zachry plan to continue studying AI for design tools by hosting additional workshops, potentially in different locations, to engage with a wide variety of design professionals.