Beyond Algorithm: Design Skills AI Cannot Replicate

2023-05-12 15:30:00
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Summary : This article discusses the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the field of design, highlighting its potential to aid in ideation, data analysis, and prediction. AI can improve efficiency by automating repetitive tasks, but it cannot replicate the non-technical skills required in design, such as creativity, intuition, and empathy. Collaboration among multidisciplinary teams remains essential to achieving successful design solutions, and AI tools must be seen as assistants rather than replacements in workflows.

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The notion that artificial intelligence will replace human beings stems from the belief that both possess identical qualities, capacities, and aptitudes. AI technology serves to replicate human intelligence by carrying out duties that demand an immense collection of data, as evident in Chat-GPT4's inclusion of over hundreds of billions of parameters.

Whereby certain tasks of speedy, accurate, logical, and continuous analysis of vast volumes of data are concerned, artificial intelligence proves to be superior to humans. However, it cannot compete with humans in specific fields requiring intuition, emotional intelligence, familiarity with cultural norms, and the capacity to adapt to dynamic environments. Creation is within the capacity of AI, but it cannot emulate innovation to the extent that people can.

Human beings possess consciousness, coupled with the latent capacity of their subconscious minds, which can significantly impact crucial decisions. The ability to learn from experiences, adapt to different environments, and make decisions based on intelligence and perception is a skill that takes years, decades, or a lifetime to master and cannot be taught to machines, regardless of their apparent perspicacity.

From six perspectives, I will illustrate the edge that human beings possess over AI. Employing our minds, hearts, and hands in unison to effect radical changes is what sets us apart from AI and makes us human, creative, and innovative.

I. Curiosity

The range of artificial intelligence's comprehension and knowledge of the world is restricted, thereby limiting its capability to traverse beyond those preexisting horizons. Disconnected from physical senses, AI cannot relish the world nor experience the captivating plethora of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings that revolve around us.

By contrast, human beings, with their natural sense of curiosity, venture beyond those predefined limits to expand their minds, gather fresh ideas, perspectives, and methodologies, spurring the alloy of inspirations and originality to spark innovative and exploratory solutions.

So, what is curiosity?

To unravel the subtle facets of curiosity, we must interpret its diverse classifications, unattainable by AI.

In the 1950s, renowned British-Canadian psychologist Daniel Berlyne put forth a model to differentiate between the two categories of curiosity: stimulus-based perceptual curiosity and cognitive curiosity, fueled by a genuine thirst for knowledge. He further classified two forms of behaviors associated with curiosity:

  1. Diverse exploration, fueled by the craving for unique stimuli or an intrinsic desire to explore.
  2. Specific exploration, stimulated by curiosity, searching for fresh and insightful information.

The ideological framework of human curiosity is derived from the pioneering work of Daniel Berlyne.

Berlyne's theory, composed of four discrete dimensions of curiosity, outlines the situational applicability of each one. The particular quadrant being discussed is the one that overlaps between one's inclination to learn and their drive to explore. The diverse cognitive curiosity associated with this quadrant embodies a desire to explore new realms in order to cultivate new knowledge.

Therefore, how do we cultivate curiosity?

To actively develop one's sense of curiosity, consider the following steps:

  1. Try to consciously embrace the joy of exploration. Set aside some time each day to delve into a new subject that you find enticing.
  2. Start with gradual increments of time and slowly increase the duration spent learning and enhancing your knowledge of this particular subject. A modest starting point could be dedicating 10 to 20 minutes daily to activities like watching a TED talk, reading a book summary, or acquiring a new skill.
  3. Peruse the summaries of various books on a topic to identify which textbooks you should proceed to read comprehensively over the next few days or weeks.

II. Observation

Although "noticing" and "observing" are often used interchangeably, they differ in meaning. "Noticing" involves encountering something for the first time, whereas "observing" entails taking careful note of something or someone. Our aim is to cultivate creativity by first recognizing what others miss and then focusing on conscientious observation as the need arises.

Unlike humans, whose capacity for noticing and observing discovery is limitless, AI relies solely on selected, structured data. Besides AI's limitations, it would be unable to comprehend the emotional undercurrents of the person or situation it is observing. By perceiving what we notice and observing, we have the ability to understand the context and construct meaning from the situation.

So how do we do it?

Our powers of observation can be sharpened by regularly investing time concentrating on people's behavior.

You can do so anytime you're anticipating your order at a coffee shop or standing in line at the supermarket checkout. Take a pause from your glowing device, unplug your headphones, and survey your surroundings. Although others around you might be fixated on their gadgets, begin analyzing the intricacies of:

  • The type of phone they're utilizing.
  • The level of activity or passivity of their engagement with entertainment or interactive applications.
  • The emotions that their expressions convey.

As you develop your ability to notice, you will be amazed at the previously unnoticed details that you've been missing all this time. With consistent practice, this skill will become second nature to you.

By observing the world with a fresh perspective, you can uncover a wealth of creativity and insight that can help you identify hidden issues and recurring patterns. From there, you can generate more innovative and effective ideas and solutions.

III. Empathy

Artificial intelligence may be able to recognize human emotions by interpreting facial expressions and may be programmed to simulate emotions, but machines and tools lack consciousness and the capacity to truly comprehend or feel emotions. AI also lacks personal experiences that enable us to demonstrate empathy to different degrees.

Empathy is an art that involves putting ourselves in another person's position, understanding their emotions and worldview, and allowing this understanding to guide our actions. According to psychologists Paul Ekman and Daniel Goleman, there are three distinct types of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy,
  • Emotional empathy,
  • Compassionate empathy.

Empathy that sparks thinking, evokes emotions, and drives action is essential and plays a significant role in our lives. However, compassionate empathy, which inspires action beyond understanding and sharing others' experiences, propels us to do everything in our capacity to aid those around us. It has the potential to change people's lives. I'm suggesting a practical application of empathy, not just empty words.

Empathy is indispensable in human-centered design, and successful designers put this skill into practice. They start by immersing themselves in the user's environment to gain profound insight into their needs and motivations. The designers then use that understanding to develop products and experiences that are tailored to the users.

Even if empathy doesn't come naturally to you, make an effort to cultivate it in the coming days by interacting with others in one or more of the following ways:

1. Suspending judgment

It's challenging to be empathetic if you're constantly making judgments about others. Passing such judgments only hinders your ability to empathize, and the person you're trying to understand may withdraw from you.

2. Listen attentively with your eyes and ears

Engage multiple senses while listening attentively to truly connect on a deep level. Focus on what the other person is saying, rather than planning a response. Stay fully present with the person, leaving behind the distractions of modern life.

Empathy can be elusive for most of us and requires regular practice to fine tune.

IV. Advocate for the User

At the foundation of a designer's abilities and conduct is advocating for the user. The skills and traits of inquisitiveness, awareness, and empathy cultivate a profound understanding of users and their requirements, but there's more to it than that.

Advocating for the user entails representing their interests in instances of a dispute of interests. Through the design procedure, user advocates speak on behalf of the users, provide accurate user profiles, exhibit profound insight into user groups, and personalize products that seem impersonal.

Devoid of inquisitiveness, awareness, and empathy, AI does not possess the capacity to use these skills and behaviors to stand up as an advocate. Moreover, AI's deficiency in creativity limits its ability to craft solutions that cater to others' needs. While ethical AI protocols can be programmed to protect humans, which is an increasingly critical field, current events have demonstrated a range of outcomes, occasionally to the point of extremes. It's illogical to assume that AI can independently make moral decisions.

On the other hand, humans can accomplish this. We can demonstrate it in our designs by acting in the users' best interests. Two of these strategies are outlined below:

1. First and Foremost, Do No Harm

Your choices can impact the thoughts, behaviors, and lives of your users and those around them, so be vigilant to prevent any misuse of your design. Ask yourself: Would you feel comfortable using your design if it affected you, your parents, or your children?

2. Recognize Your Responsibilities to Different Groups

Be accountable for the outcomes of your design. While working on your design, address the question "How do we......?" while also factoring in the potential costs. Remember that you're not the user, utilize your knowledge of the user to advocate for them. Be an advocate when users aren't present, and consider your responsibilities to the user, non-users, and society as a whole.

V. Visual communication

Artificial intelligence lacks physical senses, making it incapable of visual thinking and communication. Without creativity and emotion, AI is incapable of generating ideas beyond what is present within its data sets or communicating outside of its programmed language capabilities. However, AI can still be utilized as a visual communication tool, particularly through text-to-image conversion tools.

Storytelling is a powerful skill that conveys a vivid and memorable image, inspiring action in its audience. It transforms written or spoken words into visuals that people retain in their minds. However, the perception of the same thing may vary between individuals. This phenomenon occurs whether you're listening to an inspirational speech or reading your beloved author's work. Despite the author's detailed description of a situation or character, two individuals sitting together may conceive differing mental images. But when visuals or pictures accompany the words, people interpret the narrative the same way, a presentation slide, or a chart, which eliminates the likelihood of disconnect between what is communicated and what is envisioned. Thus reveals the power of visual thinking and communication.

Not every designer possesses an innate artistic flair, but being a skilled visual thinker and communicator doesn't necessitate it. Frequently, a sketch on a whiteboard or notepad can effectively communicate a message more swiftly than any written or verbal expression. The ultimate objective is to promptly actualize concepts and immediately identify the most effective solution. Many user researchers and designers use visualizations to gain insights into data and generate fresh design ideas.

VI. Collaboration

When considering AI’s impact on cooperation, we can witness its positive influence when people utilize AI tools in their collaborative efforts. We acknowledge AI tools' potential to generate designs, logos, layouts, and code, as well as write content, complete homework, and generate legal documents. However, given examples of its mishaps, we must recognize them as assistants rather than replacements in our workflows.

AI tools can aid designers and researchers by reducing human effort, such as transcription, increasing efficiency, and saving time with text-based video editing. They provide valuable machine learning-based insights, including attention prediction, and can even augment human efforts, such as AI assessments. Yet, we must remember that AI is not without flaws and mistakes.

Through collaboration, we can accomplish more with greater efficiency. Rarely can an individual arrive at the best solution alone. The era of a singular designer working in isolation has ended. No single person or field possesses all the necessary expertise or skill sets to tackle every design issue. Rather, they require multifaceted teams composed of diverse backgrounds and disciplines to confront significant challenges.

Collaboration ultimately takes shape in multidisciplinary teams united towards a shared objective. This approach introduces unique perspectives to the creative process, from ideation to supplying feedback and validating during the design process.

Effective collaboration hinges upon comprehending and leveraging social dynamics. Whereas some individuals may grapple with this aspect, AI technology cannot do it at all. Negotiation and compromise also require nuanced human skills, something that AI lacks without specifically programmed algorithms. Additionally, collaboration necessitates adjusting to real-time feedback, input, and circumstances, which traditional AI has limited ability to do outside of its training phase.


Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the way we live and work, enabling us to operate more efficiently.

In the design field, AI can aid in ideation, data analysis, generating change, and prediction based on patterns. This allows us to focus on strategic design tasks, leveraging our unique skills that AI cannot replicate, where we have a definitive advantage over AI. Through AI, we can improve our efficiency by dedicating more energy on core tasks, such as understanding our users, stakeholders, and constraints of the real world, and then working collaboratively with others to create successful design solutions. These changes will not uproot the traditional way of doing things; rather, AI will augment rather than replace us.

Artificial intelligence cannot replicate the design skills we acquire through practice and experience as it is non-conscious and lacks the ability to adapt. Without our depth of emotions, intuition, and knowledge, AI cannot learn to the same extent as humans. While AI can emulate some of these skills artificially, it cannot replicate the innate creativity and human touch required in many design areas. Non-technical skills such as curiosity, observation, empathy, advocacy, visual communication, and collaboration are essential qualities that enable us to utilize our minds, hearts, and hands to become more design-oriented in an AI-dominated world.

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