Digital products are getting more and more complex. In this article, Yury Vetrov explains why we need to support more platforms, tweak usage scenarios for more user segments, and hypothesize more. Our industry has both high- and low-skilled designers, and it will be easy for algorithms to replace the latter. However, those who can follow and break rules when necessary will find magical new tools and possibilities.
I’ve been following the idea of algorithm-driven design for several years now and have collected some practical examples. The tools of the approach can help us to construct a UI, prepare assets and content, and personalize the user experience. The information, though, has always been scarce and hasn’t been systematic.
However, in 2016, the technological foundations of these tools became easily accessible, and the design community got interested in algorithms, neural networks and artificial intelligence (AI). Now is the time to rethink the modern role of the designer.
Will Robots Replace Designers?
One of the most impressive promises of algorithm-driven design was given by the infamous CMS The Grid. It chooses templates and content-presentation styles, and it retouches and crops photos — all by itself. Moreover, the system runs A/B tests to choose the most suitable pattern. However, the product is still in private beta, so we can judge it only by its publications and ads.
The Designer News community found real-world examples of websites created with The Grid, and they had a mixed reaction — people criticized the design and code quality. Many skeptics opened a champagne bottle on that day.
The idea to fully replace a designer with an algorithm sounds futuristic, but the whole point is wrong. Product designers help to translate a raw product idea into a well-thought-out user interface, with solid interaction principles and a sound information architecture and visual style, while helping a company to achieve its business goals and strengthen its brand.
Designers make a lot of big and small decisions; many of them are hardly described by clear processes. Moreover, incoming requirements are not 100% clear and consistent, so designers help product managers solve these collisions — making for a better product. It’s much more than about choosing a suitable template and filling it with content.
However, if we talk about creative collaboration, when designers work “in pair” with algorithms to solve product tasks, we see a lot of good examples and clear potential. It’s especially interesting how algorithms can improve our day-to-day work on websites and mobile apps.
Creative Collaboration With Algorithms
Designers have learned to juggle many tools and skills to near perfection, and as a result, a new term emerged, “product designer.” Product designers are proactive members of a product team; they understand how user research works, they can do interaction design and information architecture, they can create a visual style, enliven it with motion design, and make simple changes in the code for it. These people are invaluable to any product team.
However, balancing so many skills is hard — you can’t dedicate enough time to every aspect of product work. Of course, a recent boon of new design tools has shortened the time we need to create deliverables and has expanded our capabilities. However, it’s still not enough. There is still too much routine, and new responsibilities eat up all of the time we’ve saved. We need to automate and simplify our work processes even more. I see three key directions for this:
constructing a UI,
preparing assets and content,
personalizing the UX.
I’ll show you some examples and propose a new approach for this future work process.
Constructing A UI
Publishing tools such as Medium, Readymag and Squarespace have already simplified the author’s work — countless high-quality templates will give the author a pretty design without having to pay for a designer. There is an opportunity to make these templates smarter, so that the barrier to entry gets even lower.
For example, while The Grid is still in beta, a hugely successful website constructor, Wix, has started including algorithm-driven features. The company announced Advanced Design Intelligence, which looks similar to The Grid’s semi-automated way of enabling non-professionals to create a website. Wix teaches the algorithm by feeding it many examples of high-quality modern websites. Moreover, it tries to make style suggestions relevant to the client’s industry. It’s not easy for non-professionals to choose a suitable template, and products like Wix and The Grid could serve as a design expert.