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AI, Web3 and the design sector

Two recent DBA events, in Glasgow and Brighton, have pointed the spotlight onto the subject that has been on everyone’s lips – the rapid advancements in technology that have thrilled and scared people in equal measure.

What are AI and Web3 good for? What should your business be doing with them?

Will designers lose their jobs? Or worse, will the robots take over the world and destroy mankind?

These, and other questions were discussed at the events.

Here are a few key takeaways: 

Beware the hype

There is a lot of hyperbole around AI at the moment. Jeremy Keith, co-founder of ClearLeft brought everyone down to earth by unpicking some of the phrases being used. What we are dealing with at the moment is not actually AI – we have a naming problem. Generative AI is very different to the concept of Artificial General Intelligence that has been around since the 1950’s, where computers are smarter than people. That, says Jeremy, is in the same realm as faster-than-light-travel.

Jeremy uses the phrase “applied statistics” to describe generative AI; taking enormous amounts of data then generating something similar based on implied correlations. It is useful for a lot of tasks, and understanding how it works will help you get the best out of it. You can read the transcript of Jeremy’s talk here

Don't be too complacent

While Jeremy downplayed the hype, Warren Hutchinson, co-founder of ELSE and DBA Chair warned that agencies need to get a handle on the technology, otherwise they will be left behind.

Web3 is changing how websites manage data; large language models like ChatGPT are condensing a week’s worth of research and early strategy work into one hour; image systems like Midjourney are giving early vision to concepts in seconds.

Get to know the programmes. Play with them. See how useful they can be.

Both Warren, and fellow DBA Board member Andy Sexton, Partner and ECD at 2LK talked about how they had dedicated R&D time for their teams to learn and develop their knowledge of these technologies to enable them to use them in their work, and potentially in their work for clients. Damien Smith, Partner at ISO Design took us through examples of recent live projects illustrating their creative application of AI. 

Implications for design agencies

All agreed the tools are really useful for inputs (rather than outputs). At the beginning of the process they can help you get past the blank sheet and through the early stages. At a recent DBA Members’ Forum one agency founder described how they used them to replace the first week of a project but the results were then almost discarded as “that is the obvious stuff, now we can move on to what we do best.”

A concern for the industry as a whole was centred on the speeding up of the creative process. For an industry traditionally based on charging by the hour this has huge implications. If you can go through a week’s worth of work in one hour, how do you charge for that? More agencies are already moving towards a fixed price model so the increased use of AI might accelerate that trend.

It was agreed that designers would not be losing their jobs in droves, but their jobs would be changing. Just as the Apple Mac brought changes to the sector in the 1980’s, or the boom (and bust) in the 1990’s and 2000’s moved things online, ways of working will change dramatically in the coming years. Keep learning, because as Jeremy explained: “These tools are good at quantity, not quality. What they won’t help with is problem definition. And it turns out that understanding and defining the problem is the really hard part of the design process.”

Don't miss

AI will also be the subject of the discussion in our next DBA Members’ Forum – which in a one-off change of day due to a bank holiday in Scotland, will be on Tuesday 8 August 4-5pm. Keep an eye out for your invite to join us online, or find out more about how you can attend


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