AI in Design: A Recap of DC Design Week’s Workshop

“Professor, I have a question: How will AI impact design?”

In an otherwise uneventful class last winter, that question from a student caught me off guard. It seemed to come out of nowhere since it didn’t relate to our lecture that day, yet I wasn’t surprised that AI was on my student’s mind. ChatGPT was all the rage, and with DALL-E’s models gaining steam, it made total sense that aspiring designers wondered if AI would impact or even replace the roles they’d soon compete for.

Not long after this interaction, AIGA DC hosted our own panel addressing AI in design. Both events sent a clear message: AI’s impact on our collective design practice should be an ongoing conversation. So, I was thrilled to bridge my role as an adjunct lecturer of design at The George Washington University with my role as Vice President of AIGA DC’s Board during DC Design Week (DCDW).

We hosted Kevin Patton – Director of Interaction Design Graduate and Undergraduate Studies at The George Washington University, and my current co-lecturer for GWU’s Design Futures seminar – to share practical insights on the ways that AI affects designers today. 

This is a shift in the AI conversation: Contrary to popular discourse, AI isn’t some futuristic entity that we’ll deal with in the future. It’s actually embedded in a wide range of design tools that we use today, from Midjourney (images) and Colormind (color palettes) to Runway ML (content generation) and VizCom (sketches to images). Another important shift that Professor Patton made was to refrain from “ethicizing” AI. 

When we discuss AI as inherently good or bad, we reinforce this false idea that AI can make autonomous decisions. We also shift the responsibility for AI’s outputs from its creators to the tech itself. Rather than reinforce this narrative, Professor Patton led DCDW’s audience through an overview of AI and how designers can use it to improve our work. Following this lecture, we moved from Sitar Arts Center’s main theater to their art studio. 

This is where attendees got to play with prompts, entering them into image generators to see what comes up and get more comfortable using AI for design. Lively discourse about the ethics of AI in brand design, entering client prompts into text generators, and other design queries occurred in between prompt exercises. 

Our audience for this part-lecture, part-activity workshop was twofold: AIGA DC’s members/ DCDW attendees and apprentices in ArtsAdvance, Sitar Arts Center’s workforce development program for aspiring designers ages 18 – 24. Apprentices attended this workshop for free, and Sitar hosted a networking reception for everyone to mingle once the workshop concluded. 

I’m immensely grateful to Professor Patton at GWU and Kristina Fiedgen, Nickole Best, and Marco Negrete at Sitar Arts Center. They volunteered their time, space, talents, and guidance to make this event happen. I hope this was the first of many events with both of them and one of many more on AI in design!

By Lauren Maffeo
Published November 16, 2023