Celebrate Austin design through a week of workshops, talks, studio tours and events this November as the city celebrates its creative economy in the third annual Austin Design Week.

Two Design Strategists Dive Into The World of AI + Design

Austin Design Week is less than one week away, and I hope your excitement matches ours (aka A LOT)! Today, I get to introduce you to two men that are holding a workshop that explores the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it influences design. AI is one of the most intriguing and complicated ideas and experiments that I, myself, will never understand. Is AI really the new brain? Will AI replace all of human kind? Or take over the world?? Probably not, or at least I won’t be there when it happens.

Okay, so let’s move past my overdramatic opening and meet Atlassian’s design strategist Jannis Hegenwald (JH-right) and MU/DAI's Experience Designer Adam Zeiner (AZ-left).

Where do you find inspiration?

AZ: I've found that reading about more traditionally technical topics is super inspirational for me. Learning about how things are made from a programmatic standpoint, along with the history of and theory behind more pointed aspects of computer programming, like the readings for an Intro to Programming course I took in college, really do it for me. I'm not totally sure why, but they do. I am also an avid consumer of online content that I find through various Slack groups I'm a part of, from my Twitter feed, or through falling into serendipitous rabbit-holes on Medium and Wikipedia.

JH: I read a lot and enjoy learning about economics and behavioral science. However, it's not necessarily a specific source or topic, but often more of a mood. Going to museums, taking photos, and being outside with friends is usually a good start.

How do you integrate inspiration into your design?

AZ: I've noticed that I tend to bake inspiration into the workshops I design and organize, as opposed to integrating it into the interaction design work I do. In my workshops, inspiration manifests as a topic that aligns with my current interests, or as a way of trying out a new problem solving method. I've found that designing, organizing, and facilitating workshops is a great way for me to spend time with a topic of interest, and in turn calcify my thinking around it by creating a flexible framework for others to react to the topic(s) in.

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Inspiration manifests as a topic that aligns with my current interests, or as a way of trying out a new problem solving method.

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JH: Through small, scrappy ways. I'll often print something I found interesting and pin it to the board on my desk. Or I'll write it on a post-it note and stick it on the side of my monitor. At some point I may be working on something where one of those notes comes in handy, but I don't try to force it. If I come across something that really changed my perspective, I like to write a blog post about it. I may or may not ever publish it, but I've found that it's a great way to internalize newly learned things. Plus writing is a great design exercise—something that's fascinating.

What are some of your favorite designers or projects that inspire you?

AZ: I am a huge, huge fan of Onformative and all the work they're doing. I also follow Giorgia Lupi, her studio Accurat, the team at are.na, The Pudding, Nathan Curtis, Jon Gold, Daniel Eden, IDEO, Alla Kholmatova, Mark Dalgleish, Brad Frost, John Maeda, and many many others that I'd be happy to talk about over coffee or alcohol.

JH: I don't know if I really have favorite designers, but I'm a big fan of any design that challenges an assumed, established truth. For example, Transferwise redesigned international transactions by disregarding conventional thinking. The Good Judgement project is a good example of a group of people saying, 'The underlying principles of how we're thinking about prediction are wrong', and then reshaping the way we think about forecasting. Plus, Amazon and it's business model are a great example of good design. Aside from that, there are a lot of advertising and I-O psychology studies from that I've learned a lot from.

What are some of your favorite places you've been?

AZ: Northern Thailand; Pai and Chiang Mai, Big Sur, the Humboldt Redwoods Forrest, really any forest in the Pacific Northwest, and I'm going to be visiting South Korea in December as part of a UNESCO Artist Exchange Exhibition! I'm really excited about exploring Gwangju and Seoul.

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JH: My favorite places are usually connected with the people I spent time with there. When I lived in Berlin, we had a rooftop overlooking the city where my friends and and used to hang out a lot. I haven't been there in a while, but it's still one of my favorite places. Another one that comes to mind is a museum in my hometown. Whenever I am home, I go there with my mom and my sister and this small ritual makes it a bit of a special place to me.

How would you define design?

AZ: Design isn't just about artifacts. It's about Systems Thinking. Design for me is not chaos with coincidental harmony, it's harmoniously weaving disorder into flexible frameworks.

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Design for me is not chaos with coincidental harmony, it's harmoniously weaving disorder into flexible frameworks.

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JH: To me, design is both craft and approach. It's how I look at things, how I think about things, and how I go about things.

What is the best advice you have received?

AZ: "Embrace the chaos." or perhaps, "Pressure is a privilege."

What do you see as the future of AI and design?

AZ: My hope is that 'AI' in a more pointed sense, will manifest itself as a collaborating member of the Design team. In effect reducing the need for Designer time spent on tactical, at times mindless, production work, and increasing the capacity & speed at which Design teams can explore ideas. I see it playing a role in affording Designers a more declarative means of producing design artifacts; google declarative design tools. To that end, I'm gladly watching how AI is affecting the Design Tooling space. I've been eagerly following what Jon Gold and the Design Technology team at Airbnb are doing, and it's exciting to say the least.

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There's an opportunity for AI to amplify our creativity and impact as designers.

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JH: There are two developments, I think are fairly obvious: On the one hand, there's an opportunity for AI to amplify our creativity and impact as designers. As Rob Girling said: ‘A world where problem-solving bots help us see a problem from a variety of perspectives, through different frameworks. Where simulated users test things we’ve designed to see how they will perform in a variety of contexts and suggest improvements, before anything is even built.’ Exciting stuff! However, when we develop AI—or any technology for that matter—our human biases become part of it and can lead to undesired outcomes. Whether it's financial services or predicting future criminals, there's a huge responsibility to acknowledge our own shortcomings and design AI in a way that doesn't amplify the issues we're trying to tackle. We'll talk about this in the workshop in more depth.

What's the last great book you read? Any other resources?

AZ: I tend to read bits of multiple books at a time, but I did recently finish up How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert, and I'm currently picking through Org Design for Design Orgs from O'Reilly, Design Systems by Alla Kholmatova, and Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows, along with the countless Medium articles that keep piling up in my OneTab queue.

JH: David Foster Wallace – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

What do you follow to keep up with current technology and design trends?

AZ: Discussion channels on the internet. Twitter, community Slacks (shouts out to the Design Systems Slack organized by Jina Anne), Medium, etc. etc. etc.

JH: I curate my news feed, attend events, and generally try to listen a lot. I see technology and design trends as parts or symptoms of larger socio-economic developments, so I try to focus more on those than just tech news. It's easy to get sucked into every tiny fad while missing the important trends, so I don't worry too much about staying up to date with all things.

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I see technology and design trends as parts or symptoms of larger socio-economic developments, so I try to focus more on those than just tech news.

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What can attendees expect during your workshop on AI & Design?

JH: We'll explore some of the most important trends in AI right now and develop a point of view on the role of design in that context. We want attendees to take something away beyond learning about AI and design, so there'll be a lot of discussion and interaction. It'll be a lot of fun!

That wraps up our very last interview + feature before all of you guys head to design week. You can catch these two in their workshop on Nov. 9th!

Be open, be thoughtful, and be inspired. 😸

Design & AI: Defining Design's Place in the Midst of Intelligent Machines


Whether it’s machine learning, artificial intelligence, or cognitive computing, machines are becoming increasingly capable of doing certain tasks faster and more reliably than humans. The field of software design is particularly affected by this development, with new tools and bots being released almost daily. Read a about the event here!


The Austin Design Week Blog is curated and produced in partnership with Left Right Media. Left Right Media is a creative agency in Austin, specializing in branding, web design, app design and digital strategy. Their success is a result of both an analytical (left) and creative (right) approach to design.