Since the introduction of DALL-E 2 and ChatGPT, there has been a fair amount of wringing hands about AI technology, some of it justified.
It is true that the future of technology is unclear. There is a great debate about ethics to use existing artwork, images and content to train these AI products, and worries about which industries will move or change. And it looks as if an AI arms race between companies like Microsoft other Google it’s already running.
And yet as in industrial designer and teacherI have found that AI imaging programs are a fantastic way to improve the design process.
They are not a replacement for the valuable knowledge and critical thinking skills that I have accumulated through years of experience. But they spark creativity and expand the range of what’s possible with the products my students and I design.
A peek behind the design curtain
Industrial design involves the creation of everyday objects, with a particular focus on their form and function. Industrial designers go into everything from furniture and consumer electronics to accessories and apparel.
A typical design process involves a lot of research and talking to consumers about their needs. From there, designers brainstorm and sketch out ideas, followed by the prototyping and manufacturing stage. Finally, the objects are refined and manufactured.
During the early stages of brainstorming, designers spend a lot of time with their sketchbooks, drawing inspiration from their immediate surroundings, history books, and their own experiences. The Internet also plays an important role: it is where designers collect many of the images they use to create inspiration boards. famously, jonathan ivewho designed many iconic Apple products, drew inspiration from luxury watches to create the Apple Watch, using the “crown”—typically used to wind a mechanical watch and set the time—as an input device that allows users to scroll through content.
AI has given designers like me the ability to simply generate images based on a simple text message. tools like DALL-E either halfway let’s take abstract concepts and turn them into an avalanche of images.
Enter any sentence, no matter how crazy, and you will receive a set of unique images generated just for you. Do you want to design a teapot? Here, have 1,000 of them. Some may be shaped like a dinosaur; others may be made from mashed potatoes.
While only a small subset of them can be used as a teapot, they provide a seed of inspiration that can be nurtured and refined into a finished product by the designer.
From nostalgia to a tissue box
Perhaps a handful of those 1,000 teapot images will allow a designer to conceive of an unexpected new shape that is easier to hold, cheaper to make, or more beautiful to look at. Generative AI can make the brainstorming process easier, but it remains the responsibility of the designer. responsibility to make the decisions that ultimately lead to products that enrich people’s lives.
Recently, I found myself using AI imagers like DALL-E and Midjourney to explore complex ideas that can be difficult or time consuming to articulate and channel into a physical product. For example, for one project, I wanted to create objects that really connected people, in a profound way, to a place they had visited or lived in, as opposed to magnetic refrigerator souvenirs that tourists often end up buying. .
So I decided to design a set of small domestic objects to sell to tourists visiting the small colonial town of Antigua, Guatemalajust a few miles from where I grew up. I wanted the objects to evoke nostalgia for the city, and perhaps inspire those who bought them to want to return.
I started by asking DALL-E for tabletop items that were nostalgic. The results were hilarious and unexpected. I received pictures of sad-looking objects like erasers and a frowning tissue box. I had taken the promptness very literally.