News of artificial intelligence (AI) and its disruptive role on all industries should force graphic designers to reimagine how they work and to consider what skills will be necessary to thrive in the future.
While AI will not render a graphic designer obsolete, it is safe to say that AI will certainly replace specific tasks, skills, and activities. As a result, some design jobs will disappear, some jobs will evolve, and other jobs that do not yet exist will spring forward.
A recent example of this can be seen in the app store phenomenon. Before 2007, there was no such thing as smartphones or apps. Everything changed when Steve Jobs released the iPhone and then later opened up the app store so third-party developers could create a range of apps that solved all types of problems. From that point on, an entirely new industry was created, leading to billions in sales as well as new companies and positions in the design sphere.
Top 10 skills needed in 2020
While it would be foolish to predict exactly how everything will play out in the future, designers must still consider how their skill sets should evolve, adapting to the changes being ushered in by AI technology. Moreover, designers would be wise to listen to researchers studying AI’s impact on the workforce, and the skills they must develop in order to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.
A noteworthy study conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2015 looked at future skills, employment, and workforce strategies, comparing the current job market’s top ten skill categories against what they believed to be the top ten skills categories required in 2020. The researchers found that complex problem-solving skills remained at the top of both the 2015 and 2020 lists, but the priorities given to skill categories were shuffled around. Designers experienced in human-centered thinking are already well-trained in these skills
Notably, the category of creativity rose from number ten on the 2015 list to number three on the 2020 list. Emotional intelligence, number six on the 2020 list, did not even make the 2015 list. Designers experienced in human-centered thinking are already well-trained in these skills, so honing them should prove valuable in the coming years. Moreover, the contrast between the 2015 and 2020 lists indicates that a willingness to be a lifelong learner is an essential requirement to staying relevant in a rapidly changing workforce.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Four intelligences
Klaus Schwab, the founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, writes in his 2018 book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, that we can only meaningfully address future concerns and challenges caused by AI by harnessing “the collective wisdom of our minds, hearts and souls”. Schwab thinks the best ways to adapt, shape and flourish in the next industrial revolution will then require people to nurture and apply four unique types of intelligence, which I will briefly summarize below:
The first intelligence Schwab discusses is called Contextual intelligence, which is based on the mind and how one understands and applies knowledge. Contextual intelligence gives humans the ability to be flexible, and adaptable to an ever-changing world. It results in a mindset that isn’t foolishly stuck in its ways and remains open to integrating diverse opinions and interests from those from different backgrounds and fields. This adaptability allows people to make connections and propose solutions that might be on the outskirts of their common domain (page 108).
The second intelligence Schwab discusses is Emotional Intelligence, which is based on the heart. Emotional Intelligence is how one processes and integrates one’s own thoughts and feelings, making them able to relate to and, in turn, understanding what thoughts and feelings are going on in others. Emotional Intelligence echoes many of the values found in human-centered thinking, which empowers designers to be agile and resilient. This is important because it leads to humans becoming agents for change by having open and collaborative mindsets, continually forming new connections and generating novel ideas that connect with people on a human level (page 109).
The third intelligence Schwab points to is Inspired Intelligence, which is tied to the soul. Inspired Intelligence refers to how one uses their individual and shared purposes for enacting change towards the common good. As the world grows more complex, Inspired Intelligence can give humans the ability to see beyond themselves, considering the whole systems-level perspective. This intelligence allows designers to see not just how various pieces work together, but also how individual pieces are a part of a much larger and more complex puzzle.
These three intelligences can help a person cope with and benefit from the fourth industrial revolution’s disruption. This is why Schwab says the last intelligence is needed most, because it supports and sustains the other intelligences. Schwab calls this last intelligence Physical Intelligence. It is how one cultivates and maintains personal health and well-being as an employee and as a human. Schwab considers Physical Intelligence an essential trait to have in the near future because it enables one to keep the body in harmony with the mind, the heart and the soul. Schwab postulates that healthier physical bodies and minds lead to better performance at work (page 111).
In the graphic design field, it is common to be expected to work late or even overwork just to hit deadlines, but studies have shown that forming those habits can negatively affect one’s well-being
In the graphic design field, it is common to be expected to work late or even overwork just to hit deadlines, but studies have shown that forming those habits can negatively affect one’s well-being. Since the body is the matter that connects the mind, the heart and the soul together, it is vital to properly take care of one’s body, the sole vehicle for which humans work and live.
All of the intelligences Schwab highlights serve the purpose of empowering humans to take develop new ways of thinking and working to address the unpredictable disruptions that AI is ushering into the workforce. Overall, Schwab is optimistic about the future. He sees AI as a technology that will empower rather than replace them, if people are willing to participate and hone the skills that are necessary to adapt.
Human + Machine: Fusion skills
Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson, authors of the book Human + Machine, dedicate a chapter to eight Fusion Skills they consider essential for humans to flourish in an AI-powered future. Daugherty and Wilson write that each of the skills “draws on the fusion of human and machine talents within a business process to create better outcomes than working independently” (page 185). These skills provide a way for humans and machines to work collaboratively, complementing each other in beneficial ways.
The first fusion skill graphic designers and stakeholders should take note of is Rehumanizing Time, the ability and willingness to increase the time used for human-specific tasks like interpersonal interactions, creativity, and decision making (Daugherty and Wilson 186). Increasing time for these activities could give a designer more time to find new clients or develop better relationships with existing clients. Reallocating time could free the designer to dream up grand, systems-level ideas, conduct creative experiments based on interests, or research new materials, platforms, and processes.
Designers often complain that there is not enough time to learn new skills or update existing ones. Rehumanizing time could help to solve this issue. It could also allow for more volunteer or community outreach opportunities, introducing more people to the power of design and its ability to bring people together and help solve problems. In all, rehumanizing time can provide opportunities for designers to better connect with themselves and with people, which increases well-being, effectiveness, and productivity.
The second fusion skill, Judgment Integration, enables a human to decide a course of action when the machine cannot. Such a situation would call for humans to set up specific constraints on how the AI works and allows humans to serve as supervisors who can look for abnormalities that might cause the AI to be off-track or even unethically aligned with the stakeholder’s ethos. This means designers will be essential in assessing how an AI system processes tasks and produces outcomes so that issues can be evaluated before problems spring forward in the design process.
Intelligent Interrogation requires humans to gain insights by knowing how best to ask and frame questions to AI. Since AI is the more capable tool for analyzing complex systems and vast datasets, graphic designers who can intelligently interrogate an AI system, judging its inputs, processes and outputs, will better understand AI’s capabilities and limitations. This can enable a designer to gain more information to make well-informed decisions about next steps.
If an AI system is going to help a graphic designer generate options for the best content length on a webpage, or the ideal typesetting, coloring, styling, or placement for a piece of design, then the graphic designer needs to intelligently interrogate why the AI system arrived at the decisions it did, rather than complacently accepting AI’s outputs without fully understanding why it arrived at certain actions and outcomes.
For example, a graphic designer could ask an AI system which font, font size and content length it recommended for a particular design. If the AI system had vast amounts of data about the target audience, and knew about their interactions with past designs, as well as their demographic information and reading habits, likes/dislikes, when and where they read best, and for how long, etc. then the AI system could make recommendations for each of the needs requested.
The graphic designer’s next critical step would be to intelligently interrogate the AI about why it made the recommendations it did. The designer could approve the design recommendations or look for insights the AI system might have missed. AI can get many things right, but since it lacks the ability to fully understand human behaviors and characteristics, as well as nuanced situations, it can also get many things wrong. Graphic designers who can accurately judge what has been inputted and outputted and then interrogate AI’s outcomes, can make fully informed final decisions through the insights and information they have gained.
We need creatives to reimagine how things could be, not merely accepting things just as they are.
The final fusion skill I will introduce is Relentless Reimagining, which gives humans the ability to create new processes and models from the ground up, as opposed to just defaulting to automating old processes and ways of working. AI has enormous potential to improve and transform the world around us, so people will be needed who have the ability to reimagine jobs, tasks, roles, skill sets, processes and work structures. This is why the authors consider relentless reimagining the most critical fusion skill. It requires people to reimagine how things could be, not merely accepting things just as they are.
Graphic designers are already skilled at relentless reimagining because they are consistently called upon to understand problems and create solutions from scratch. As AI becomes more prevalent, accessible and democratized, graphic designers should take the opportunity to explore their skill sets and capabilities in ways that extend beyond designing business cards and websites.
Instead, designers can be the ones who innovate freely the tools, processes, principles, practices, and workflows needed in the fourth industrial revolution. Just as humans utilize a hammer, eyeglasses, and bicycles as extensions for working, seeing, and traveling, AI systems can extend a person’s senses, taking their work farther into places they have never gone before.
I believe the skills laid out in this post are worth contemplating because it is up to you to figure out how exactly they might play themselves out in your life. I encourage you to think about how you can implement these ideas to better your offerings and value to the people you do work for. It’s my hope that creatives who look ahead and properly prepare for disruptions that are headed their way, learn how to ride the wave, rather than get swept away by it.
Let me know in the comments below what skill you think is most worth cultivating and let me know what skills you think should be added to this post!