AI – A Designer’s Assistant or a Replacement?

AI design tools

Over the last few months, we’ve seen an online explosion of AI-powered text and image generators. Many non-designers welcome these tools as a way to express themselves and create results that would have taken professionals days to complete. The obvious question is, should designers start feeling scared?

Interior designs from a photo you upload

In Business of Home, Fred Nicolaus writes about how he tested with an L.A. designer Shaun Crha an online tool called Interior AI. They uploaded pictures of empty rooms, selected basic prompts (“midcentury modern bathroom,” for example), and watched the machine go. After tweaking the tool settings, they started getting impressive results.

Launched in September 2022, Interior AI is the creation of Pieter Levels, a programmer. He built the site in five days by connecting it to a commercially available AI engine called Stable Diffusion. It has been trained with images from Pinterest and other photo sources.

You can use the Pro tier of Interior AI for $29 monthly. The site already has almost 200 paid members, the article says.

Nicolaus asked three designers whether they are worried AI was coming for their jobs. Their answer was a resounding no. The designers said that the planning needs to be more precise and that you also must use shoppable products. Furthermore, they believe clients want a custom process and a personal relationship with the designer. 

“All three designers expressed a concern that a tool like Interior AI might give clients a false confidence in their own skills. It can be hard enough to work with a Pinterest-obsessed client who thinks they know better—imagine working with one who has an algorithm on their side,” Nicolaus writes.

However, he reminds us that it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine lower-level work – e-design for a retailer, say – eventually being displaced by tools like this one.

The coming AI tsunami

Another article caught my attention this week. Martyn Day wrote an excellent summary titled Artificial Intelligence (AI): the coming tsunami in AEC Magazine.

Day quoted Sebastian Errazuriz, who said in 2020, “I think it’s important that architects are warned as soon as possible that 90% of their jobs are at risk.” In August 2022, he was on Instagram again, this time identifying that illustrators will, unfortunately, be the first artists to be replaced by AI.

In conversations with some design IT directors at leading architectural firms, Day noted an appreciation that automated systems will soon heavily impact many standard, repeatable building projects – schools, hospitals, offices, and houses. He mentions one company already running projects in the Middle East with just one architect.

Day believes that at some point, AI systems will start producing 3D models based on description, or the AI will be capable of rendering all façades, enabling some degree of 3D.

”To stay ahead of the game, the best survival advice is to familiarise yourself with these new systems, when you get the chance,” Day advises. “Like all hype cycles, the impact of machine intelligence on jobs will be overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long-term.”

My experiments

I’ve played around with several AI text and image generators. They are simple to use. Just type in keywords or phrases that describe what you’re trying to create. The app then makes, typically within seconds, several alternative results.

The trick to getting great results is using suitable prompts for the app. Sometimes the difference between a poor and excellent result is determined by just one word in the prompt.

Here is a collection of architectural images I’ve created with an iPhone app called starryai. Around 80% of my pictures have been good or excellent. Others had issues like distorted humans or weird solutions (a sauna without walls, for example).

The images present only partially feasible designs. However, they could serve as an inspiration for an architect.

AI will be more than just pretty pictures. It will fundamentally change design and construction processes. I agree with Martyn Day that it’s now time to experiment with the available tools and start envisioning a future with digital co-workers.

What do you think? Message me on LinkedIn.

Share This