We’re thinking about AI. Are you?

February 4th, 2021

Over the past few years, artificial intelligence has received unprecedented attention for the ways in which it will supposedly disrupt every facet of our personal and professional lives.

Speculation is one thing. But what waves will AI make for non-enterprise businesses in the next few years? What near-term implications does it create for the web, for ecommerce, and dare we say it, for design?


Defining AI


The Merriam Webster dictionary defines AI as “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.” More useful is this definition proffered by a CEO in the space that AI is “a form of software that makes decisions on its own …. able to act even in situations not foreseen by the programmers.”

This concept—software acting in situations not foreseen by its programmers—has become the defining feature of AI, often referred to as machine learning.

The goal of AI, according to GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, is “synthesizing a machine intelligence that could successfully perform any intellectual task that a human can.”


The Impact of AI


AI is undeniably on the minds of CEOs. Technology consulting company Infosys polled 1,600 senior enterprise executives and found that fully 71% consider their industries to have been disrupted or on the verge of disruption by AI.

We can see this happening everwhere. As driverless cars appear to spell imminent doom for the humble truck driver, so too does AI threaten the traditionally lucrative fields of financial trading and management.

You might say that automation is to blue collar jobs what AI will be to white collar jobs—and possibly just as transformative.

Unsurprisingly, investment dollars are flowing into these opportunities. In 2015, investments to the tune of $400 and $100 million were made in AI development in the healthcare and retail industries, respectively. These numbers are predicted to rise well into the billions by 2020.


AI for the little guy


What does AI mean for the non-enterprise companies of the world? Will they benefit from AI?

Let’s consider another thought from GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving: He considers AI to be “at the heart” of his company’s goal to “radically shift the global economy toward small business.”

Putting aside the long-term consequences of AI (which are hard to pin down discretely), we are left with the “trickle down” effect in the near-term: scores of useful, time- and money-saving services that can be scaled to non-enterprise needs like AI scheduling assistant x.ai and job description tools like Textio.

This is the exciting near-term revolution in AI—while it may put some niche jobs at risk, the net effect could make our lives easier in surprising ways.  


AI & ecommerce


Is there any doubt that AI and ecommerce are on a happy collision course?

Consider The North Face’s partnership with IBM’s AI technology to help shoppers select the perfect winter jacket. With only a few questions, browsers are guided seamlessly through the rather technical world of winter jackets (pit zips, anyone?). It’s not hard to see the implications here for many other purchase categories, particularly if combined with other sources of personal data to empower the AI.

On another front, we’re seeing the rise of the “internet of images” as AI becomes smarter at autodetecting image content. Many of us got our first hint of this with the emergence of mobile check deposits over the last five years or so, and more recently, the arrival of Google’s reverse image search and Amazon’s mobile app visual search.

These implementations are only scratching the surface. Startups like Allyke are already expanding visual search for smoother shopping experiences, and bringing the same visual recognition power to other industries.

These advancements are ushering in what Harvard Business Review calls “the era of predictive commerce,” and it will affect everything from staffing, to stocking, to personalized search results.

What does AI mean for design?

AI makes good sense for business. But for design? Let’s take a look.

It’s first worth appreciating how AI and automation clearly free professionals from the mundane, labor-intensive elements of their work to focus on the creative and strategic elements. It’s not hard to imagine a near-future AI assistant able to turn a designer’s initial concepts into 10 incredible, fleshed-out variations within seconds.

In this context, the role of the designer becomes that of the art director, or strategist. Even if the grunt work is “outsourced” to AI, the creative concepting remains as important as before.

The process that emerges—experimentation, testing, iteration, feedback—is familiar to designers already, and destined to play a greater role in an AI-enhanced world far beyond design. Harvard Business Review acknowledged as much when they included “work like a designer” on their list of practices that managers will need to master in an AI world.

Though it was pilloried for misleading marketing, the unquestionably successful (in sales terms) adventure game No Man’s Sky put this approach directly into practice with a near-infinite algorithmically generated universe for players to explore. The result is a game in which players travel across planets with unique topography, flora and fauna—which the game’s own designers haven’t seen before.


Can AI design a logo?


Closer to home for us at Shellshock is a service called Logojoy, which uses a similar AI-driven approach to logo design. Simply enter a few details, convey a few preferences, and your custom logo is ready!

While we find this concept novel, it helps illustrates the gap between AI-driven design and the approach of a true professional. Let’s consider a logo design project we completed last year:

We developed this logomark for a pharmaceutical delivery startup. Because their brand name began with “Z”, we incorporated it into the pill design, and structured the open ends of the pill to reinforce the smooth renewal of prescriptions. And this is just the logomark—similar care was taken with the wordmark, color palette, and typography.

As far as we can tell, we are a long way off from AI capable of conceiving these “soft touches” independently and applying them into a coherent, reliable end result. We further suspect that by the time that happens, life and economics as we know it will have transformed unrecognizably.

Caveats aside, we see huge value in bringing AI to design. What if we could counterbalance our known shortcomings as designers with an AI assistant, and explore perspectives we would never have considered on our own? What if we could realistically simulate user responses, creating tighter, more resilient designs before we had even presented them to the client?

Design is informed inextricably by the designer—but AI holds the promise of enabling us to escape those constraints and be more. That’s exciting.


Is AI on your radar yet?


Chances are good you’re not consumed with fears of “Hal” ousting you from a job just yet. But in tech, today’s beta test is tomorrow’s Google. We strongly recommend that all our clients start seriously considering the implications of AI in their space. You just might stumble onto the “next big thing” in your industry.


Transformation starts with conversation.