Why AI Won't Steal Our Jobs: A Product Designer's Guide to Staying Relevant


Justin LaBaw

on •

Mar 16, 2023

Why AI Won't Steal Our Jobs: A Product Designer's Guide to Staying Relevant

The Year, 2025. Your driverless Uber drops you off at your local Philz coffee where you anxiously await your only in-person meeting for the week - a 45 min design review with a startup founder to look over initial UI work you’re moonlighting on the side of your FAANG job. As you begin walking your client through your designs, you hear those dreaded words, "hmmm, I don’t know what’s missing with these comps, but I’ll know what I like when I see it...” A long bead of sweat forms on your brow, your trackpad finger begins to shake, and that's when you let the cat out of the bag. “It wasn’t “ME” that did those designs; it was really “DALL·E 4” - An AI system that can create UI designs of pretty much anything you can think of in under 5 distinct prompts. Lucky for you, your client woke up on the right side of their Thuma bed and lets you take another crack at the designs asking you to utilize what separates you most from your AI competitor, instinct and creativity.

AI-generated UI design concepts; Aesthetically pleasing, yet highly un-usable. Source:‌ @aiui.lab, Midjourney

So should you pack up your MB Pro and move to Bali because your job will be replaced by a Chat GPT Super Robot? Not so much. In my opinion human product designers will always have an upper edge.

First off, AI simply isn't very creative, yet. Sure, it can generate new ideas and designs based on existing data, but it lacks the ability to truly innovate and think outside the box. When was the last time you saw an AI-generated design that made you go "Wow, I never would have thought of that!"? Probably never. Creativity is a uniquely human trait that requires imagination, intuition, and emotion - all things that machines struggle with.

Have you ever felt consoled by Siri or Alexa? AI isn't quite good yet at understanding human needs and desires. Sure, it can analyze data on user behavior and preferences, but it can't truly understand human emotions or anticipate what users will want or need in the future. A great product designer needs to be able to empathize with their target audience and understand what motivates them. They need to be able to anticipate how a product will be used, and what features will be most important to users. While AI can certainly assist with some aspects of this, it can't replace the value of human intuition and empathy.

Do AI’s play well with others? Not so much. One of the most important aspects of product design is the ability to collaborate and work in teams. While AI can certainly assist with certain aspects of the design process, it can't replace the value of human collaboration. We, product designers often work in teams, bouncing ideas off of one another, and collaborating on solutions for complex UX problems. One of the beautiful things about a diverse team is each person brings unique perspectives and skill sets to the table, and the process of working together often leads to more innovative and effective designs. Can you imagine a room full of robots trying to brainstorm together? It would probably be a lot of awkward silence broken only by the occasional … beep.

So, why won't AI be taking over product design any time soon? Well, for starters, it's not very creative, it can't understand human needs and desires, it can't collaborate effectively, and it can't replace the expertise of human engineers and manufacturing experts. But let's be real here, there's another reason that AI won't be taking over product design any time soon - and that's because it's just not funny.

Think about it. Have you ever heard a joke told by an AI that actually made you laugh out loud? Probably not. Sure, AI can analyze humor and even generate jokes, but it lacks the nuance and subtlety that humans bring to the table. Humor is a uniquely human trait that requires a deep understanding of social norms, cultural context, and linguistic subtlety. Machines just can't replicate that level of nuance and complexity.

And let's be real, who wants to work with a bunch of robots with endless dad jokes.

This is the first of a five-part series I’ll be writing on “Designing the Future: The Role of AI in Product Design”.

- Justin LaBaw-Rivers, Principal Product Designer at Artium