Are user interfaces dead?
PLUS: Using GPT-4 as a skill power-up
Designing for Delight
A @tinystride publication
🌞 Good morning.
Here’s what I have for you this week:
Chat-based AI tools have been getting all the headlines lately. Are user interfaces (and those of us who design them) going to become irrelevant?
A few practical ways designers and makers are using generative AI tools to augment their existing design skills.
Where to go for inspiration as a designer.
Are user interfaces dead?
With all the buzz around ChatGPT and generative image tooling, I’ve seen a few people predict that chat is the future of interfaces.
I don’t think so.
Early computers were entirely text-based. Users interacted with them using a keyboard and a command line interface. The machines required specialized knowledge of low-level command prompts.
Image: Datapoint 2200 from the Computer Terminal Corporation, 1970. Via computerhistory.org
Personal computers didn’t see widespread adoption until the rise of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) like the Apple Macintosh. As mundane as they seem today, the invention of the mouse with a pointer and the graphical user interface allowed people with no technical background to use computers with ease.
Chat interfaces are useful in their own right, but I think we won’t see mass adoption of AI tooling for everyday people until this technology works its way into simple user interfaces that allow users to live a few layers of abstraction above text.
Here are a few examples:
Shape blocking for crafting an image prompt
Mickey Friedman is working on Flair.ai, a design tool that helps creators generate staged product photography (think product shots for an e-commerce store).
Mickey recently shared a demo of a new feature called “Props” that blew my mind and I think gives us a little peek into the future of design tooling.
Image: mickeyxfriedman on Twitter
Mickey’s Props feature allows users to drag simple vector shapes onto an image staging area. The props act as rough guides, like wireframes, for the generative model. When the user runs the generation, the props evolve into stylized photos.
Outputs like this are technically possible with chat-based generative image apps like Midjourney, but they require specialized knowledge and lots of trial and error.
I think interfaces like this could be the future of image AI tools.
Semantic phrase blocks for crafting a text prompt
Mariana Castilho imagined a chat AI interface that highlights semantic meaning within a chat prompt, and clusters phrases into UI blocks.
Image: Mariana Castilho on Twitter
I think this is profound.
I can imagine:
searchable libraries for semantic prompt clusters
prompt autocomplete that completes entire phrases rather than just words
drag-and-drop interfaces that allow you to block out prompts visually before you generate the response
…and lots more.
Adobe Firefly imagines AI as a creative companion, deeply embedded in the interface
Adobe announced its AI tool Firefly a few weeks ago.
Most of the product appears to be in development (aka overhyped), but if the team’s goal was to join the conversation and commit to leading in space, they achieved that.
Image: Adobe Firefly
Their promotional material shows conceptual tools that include GUI far beyond chat interfaces. Adobe are imagining a tool that makes image editing, vector manipulation, and video editing fast and easy with AI deeply embedded in the user interface.
What’s this mean for you?
The ideas here point to a bright future for designers.
First: almost every existing software tool will benefit from AI enhancements, and the creative possibilities for designers are staggering. Product designers are going to get to work on increasingly fascinating problems as we incorporate novel AI interfaces into our products.
Second: our design tools are going to get exciting, fast. What if our design tools, enhanced with AI, are able to make digital creativity feel a little more like play and a lot less mundane?
Designers and makers using GPT-4 to augment their skills
Image: dodgeblob by Josh Pigford in the Apple App Store
Since GPT-4 was released, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for ways to use the tool in my creative work. Here are few super fun examples of makers augmenting their existing skills with the help of chatbots:
Vijay Verma, a designer and illustrator, learned the basics of iPhone app programming with some weekend reading, then used GPT-4 to to fill in his knowledge gaps enough to get an iPhone app prototype running.
Kris Kashtanova is using Midjourney to make blank stock photo mockups for brands.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I’ve somehow missed this entire corner of YouTube so I’ve been binging their videos recently to catch up. I’m really impressed with how well-produced and thorough their content is.
It’s always inspiring to see how other designers work behind the scenes. This tutorial from Creative Director Tom Crate got me hyped up and led me down a few fun creative rabbit holes for reference-finding:
I was glad to learn about the curation site Savee from Tom’s video. I'm impressed with the high level of quality on the site, something that many of the crowd-sourced design reference sites lose as their user base grows.
Afraid of AI: Bryan Braun does a little self-reflection on why AI feels scary, and commits to facing the fear head-on by getting educated. I identified with these feelings, and appreciated Bryan’s open-mindedness.
Pentagram delivered a Figma plugin as a part of their engagement with Cohere. Plugins are pretty quick to spin up and are truly handy to have, so this was cool to see and something I’ll consider recommending to clients.
What’s happening to me? I used to be so excited about new technologies. Am I worried that I’ll fall behind? That I’ll lose my job? That it’ll suck all the fun out of programming?
But being afraid is no way to live.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!
My recent issues of this newsletter have focused on how designers can react to emerging technologies like AI tools.
I’m spending lots of time exploring this technology, so it will probably be a recurring topic here. I’m even considering going a step further and focusing this newsletter entirely on emerging tech for designers.
I acknowledge that these topics are polarizing for some. I’m committed to exploring this tech without hype, giving equal voice to the opportunities and risks.
Fair warning! If this sounds fun, awesome. Let’s learn together. If you’re out, I totally get it. No hard feelings.
How did you like this week's newsletter?