What does AI mean for KBB designers?


Artificial intelligence is a very hot topic at the moment. It’s incredible technology, but what might it mean for kitchen and bathroom designers now and in the future? Is it going to take your job? Or is it going to be an invaluable new tool that you can use not only to enhance your skills as a designer but also your ability to give your clients what they want and more? To find out, kbbreview spoke to architect, interior designer, and self-professed AI enthusiast Alan Crawford.

Q: You don’t claim to be an expert in the field, but you’ve been exploring the potential of AI both for your practice and the profession in general. Your opinion as someone who’s such an experienced industry professional is really interesting. So, let’s start with the basics, what are you defining AI as in this context?

A: A: AI has been around in various forms for some time. The difference with the generative AI I’m exploring is that it’s technology that designers can work with. The new elements of AI give designers this amazing opportunity to explore concept design very quickly. The current ranges of AI software really free up the design process. It’s so intuitive that you’re almost working with a pencil but you’re using words to create the design concepts.

Q: Many people have seen this jump forward in AI technology as a threat. Do you think that the optimism about the potential of this will spread as it becomes clearer what elements of this we can use in our jobs?

A: I think widespread acceptance will be slow to take off. But AI is progressing with its efficiencies so quickly and I would encourage anyone that has been reticent about getting involved just to give it the benefit of the doubt. Many packages can be downloaded for free so it’s worth exploring. I think it’s the way forward in all areas of design.

Q: What can, or will, AI do to help designers at the concept design stage?

A: What AI can do, even right now, is quite frankly awesome. It allows you to take the muddle of concept ideas that are in your head and, with the addition of some simple sentences, puts them together on screen within a matter of seconds. So, it allows you to explore hundreds, maybe even thousands, of conceptual design images based on your initial input. There are also some very easy, structured commands that you can use with certain AI software that make the process even faster and you can manipulate the whole process by inputting different sentences or words etc.

It’s just incredibly useful for speeding up the developmental stage. You can use and explore these design concepts without using up a lot of your time which is a huge benefit for time-poor designers. Time is such a precious commodity and AI allows us to use it to borrow ideas very quickly from the concepts it creates.

Fundamentally, this technology is taking away a lot of administration time. That’s one of the main benefits at this stage I think.

Q: Should we be concerned about the navigation of the balance between AI-driven design and human ingenuity?

A: There is widespread concern that AI could take over completely and basically take our jobs. I have to add that there is room for genuine concern. I do think that it will get regulated but that might not come for a while as they work out how to regulate it without disrupting progress. I am concerned that it could take design jobs but that’s why I believe we must get involved now and it’s why I’m encouraging everyone to at least make yourselves familiar with what’s happening.

We live in a world where jobs change with every revolutionary era and this is just the latest. I also think it will generate new jobs as well and I think we can use AI to help our processes not hinder them. But, the key to that is getting an understanding of the software now.

Q: What AI can do is astonishing but the truth is that it doesn’t know anything. The way it works is that it draws information from other sources and the only way it can get that is if it’s been inputted by humans. So, aren’t you concerned that this leaves it wide open for people to take your ideas and designs and put their own name to it?

A: If I was to ask any of the younger designers we work with to design me a contemporary house, in a specific size and in a specific context, the likelihood is that most would go off and research ideas and get inspiration from platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. What they’re doing there is essentially what AI does. Am I worried? Not really. They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

Q: A big part of the job of a KBB designer is collaborating with other professionals in the process. Do you see a role for AI in how you communicate with others?

A: AI is going to affect all areas of design. In this context it’s going to speed up the way we as designers interact with other professions at concept stage and beyond. There are a lot of extreme conceptual images floating around the internet, but what we’re using it for already is much more down-to-earth project work.

Q: What are the ethical considerations in all this? Is there a need to control it so that it’s used responsibly and ethically in the design process? Is there a danger that anyone could use AI and then call themselves a designer?

A: There will always be an element of that, but working with this technology I believe that designers have a big advantage, because we have the knowledge and understanding of scale, materiality, ratios etc all the elements that are so relevant to design. We understand everything that goes into the process, so we can manipulate the outcomes of AI much better than just anyone.

You can listen to the full discussion on episode six of season eight of The kbbreview Podcast.

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