AI for Web Design: Should Designers Be Worried?

In web design, there’s rarely breaking news that could transform the industry. But when some sort of new technology does make an appearance, it certainly makes a stir. The arrival of AI is no different, with artificial intelligence being either firmly adopted or demonised by designers. The big question is, of course, can AI come close to replicating what can be produced by an experienced designer, or will it in the future?

This isn’t just a theoretical discussion, it’s particularly relevant right now, with AI constantly finding itself in the headlines. Not long ago, creatives were saying that AI would be the end of art and creativity as we know it. And while it seems too early to dispute that, it’s well worth investigating how it could help or hinder web designers.

In less than a year, AI has moved from doing simple tasks to dreaming up whole design layouts, marking a major leap forward in tech. But even with all these advancements, we’re left wondering—does AI boost a designer’s skills, or does it risk taking over?

In this article, we’ll be looking at how AI has evolved in web design, what it’s doing now, and whether it has the capacity to replace the natural creativity of humans. The answer, as always, will lie somewhere in the middle.

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1. The History of AI in Web Design

The story of AI has been pretty wild, moving from simple automation to the endless range of cool applications we see today. At first, AI was essentially an assistant doing the boring stuff—handling the basics of coding or throwing together some basic text—small features that made life a little easier for designers.

Then, AI started to get a bit smarter, offering suggestions on how to improve designs with tools like Adobe Sensei. Platforms like The Grid made some bold promises about creating websites that basically put themselves together, changing up based on what you feed them.

Recently, things have really started to accelerate – AI’s not just cutting corners; it’s being used to make things better. A great example is AI being used to improve website accessibility, which was once a much harder task for a web designer to execute. Let’s look a bit deeper at how AI is being used within the industry at the moment.

2. How Is AI Being Used in Web Design Today?

Whether they’ll talk about it or not, AI is being used everywhere in web design these days, from helping find the perfect complementary HEX code to cooking up content. It can be super tempting to lean on these tools since they knock hours off a project, but the real magic comes from understanding when AI makes a project better and when you really need that human touch.

Here are a few ways we’ve explored using AI in-house and what we’ve learned about these systems as tools.

Making Layouts on Autopilot

AI stepping into layout design would certainly have been a game-changer for new designers, making something that used to eat up a lot of time way quicker. Programs like Adobe XD’s Auto Layout use AI to help designers create layouts that are flexible and responsive, making sure content looks good on any screen size. For DIY websites being built by their owners, Wix’s ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) takes it up a notch by creating whole website layouts from the ground up. The user just tells it what kind of site they’re working on and any specific likes or dislikes, and ADI gets working on a design that meets the brief.

While these tools can create a sleek-looking product and certainly help new designers who don’t have much experience, they’re still playing by a set of rules. They can’t pick up on the finer points of a brand’s ethos or what a specific group of people might need like a human designer can. So, while AI is a bit like having a super keen apprentice ready to lend a hand, making sure a design really hits the mark still needs that human instinct and know-how.

Colour Scheme Selection

Picking out the perfect colour scheme is more like painting a masterpiece than following a recipe. It’s all about balancing the impression a brand wants to create with an understanding of colour psychology and what makes people tick. For some designers, colour scheme selection and “mood boarding” is their favourite part of the creative process. For others, there are now AI tools like Coolors and Adobe Color to offer palette suggestions based on what’s trending, what colours work well together or even recommendations based on a picture you input. 

These tools are awesome for sparking that initial “a-ha” moment or getting past a creative roadblock. But the problem is that the real magic of a colour scheme isn’t just about looking good – it’s about stirring up the right emotions and making a connection with visitors on a deeper level, an area where AI tools are still falling short. While AI can throw out pretty colour combinations all day long, picking a palette that tells a brand’s story and really resonates is still very much a human job.

Spinning Content

When it comes to churning out content, AI has become both a hero and a villain. With people (usually with no writing background) using it to pop out everything from product descriptions to social media posts, the cracks are starting to show. Tools like OpenAI’s GPT-4 give users a flying start, removing that blank-page writer’s block moment. But— and this is a big one—AI is not a writer. 

Yes, AI can use its language modelling to do a decent impression of a human. With the right prompts, it can even create content that’s halfway there, but it can’t bring the personality, experience or value that a human writer brings.

Image Creation

While web designers may be a creative bunch, not all of us are blessed with graphic design skills, meaning that building a website is often a collaborative process. While collaboration is awesome, it also has the potential to slow projects down and can result in mismatched imagery if the various team members aren’t working with the same vision in mind. AI design tools like DALL-E and Adobe Photoshop’s Generative Fill provide a magic wand – explain what you want, and you can create custom images to suit your site. 

These tools are great for cutting down the endless search for that one perfect picture. But, when we get down to it, it still requires the input of someone who knows what they’re doing. Picking the right concept, communicating that to AI and then fine-tuning the output to meet your brief is no small feat!

Ultimately, despite the advancements in AI, web design is still all about the human touch. At Source, we enjoy using AI as a tool to help flesh out ideas, leaving our designers free to spend more time on the creative parts, but we see AI as just that – a tool that needs to be wielded in capable hands for best results.

3. The Limitations of AI in Creativity

We’ve covered what AI does well, but let’s look at the areas it isn’t up to scratch. While AI is an amazing development in technology, it’s certainly not about to take over the creative world anytime soon. Here are the areas in which AI is limited and is unlikely to catch up any time soon.

Understanding Context and Emotion

One big barrier for AI is the uniquely human element of context and emotion. AI can crunch numbers and spot trends quicker than any employee you’ve got on staff, but when it comes to really understanding the nuance of human interactions, it’s a bit out of its league.  

We’ve heard an analogy that is spot on here, “AI knows all the words to the song but doesn’t know the tune.” Meanwhile, a human with years of experience under their belt may get the odd word wrong, but they’ll do a much better job belting out the George Michael song than our robot comrades. 

Originality and Innovation

AI by its definition, is only artificially intelligent. It’s programmed to use information it has access to, not think on its feet. For this reason, it is great with repetitive tasks or those with very clear parameters, but can’t innovate or create original works. 

In contrast, designers (and humans in general) pull ideas from everywhere, not just from examples of similar projects but from the wider world of human experience. This knack for thinking outside the box lets us go beyond what’s been done before and land somewhere totally new – AI’s just not wired for those kinds of leaps.

The Human Touch

What really makes a web design stand out is the personal touch, the little tweaks and unexpected elements a designer adds that turn “nice” into “wow.” Whether it’s offsetting an image to better balance a page or placing a button that leads visitors exactly where they need to go, human designers outshine AI by miles. 

While it can interpret a brief, AI doesn’t read between the lines to get the backstory of a brand or have a wider understanding of a user’s motivations. It can’t match the heart, the empathy, or the authenticity a human brings to the table. These touches are what make designs connect with people and why the designer’s role is something AI can’t take over.

4. The Relationship Between AI and Web Designers

As you may have guessed, we feel strongly that AI has earned a place in a web designer’s arsenal but that it shouldn’t be used without close oversight. To those still firmly resisting AI, we suggest thinking about it less as someone coming for your job, and more as the eager new kid in the mailroom. Here are a few ways you can use that willingness to make your day a little easier.

Efficiency and Speed

One of the big wins of having AI on the team is how it tackles basic tasks at lightning speed, from making quick edits to a bunch of pictures to writing code that makes websites play nice on any screen. This means projects not only move faster but also that the brain-draining tasks don’t suck the fun out of being creative.

Data Analysis and Optimisation

AI has the power to plough through large amounts of user data, giving designers the kind of insights that used to be pretty difficult, if not impossible, to get on their own. By understanding how visitors are currently using a website, you can consider ways to make things work better and improve user experience.

Accessibility and User Experience

AI’s been a leading force in making the web a friendlier place for everyone. With tools that can check if a site is up to snuff, designers can make the accessibility tweaks needed to make sure nobody’s left out. Read more about this topic in our Complete Guide to Website Accessibility

The future is a collaborative team effort between AI and the humans behind the screen. It’s this back-and-forth that will allow productivity and creativity to be dual focuses, no longer having to pick one or the other.

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5. AI and Human Creativity, The Future of Web Design

At the core of every great website is a spark of human creativity—something AI just can’t replicate. It’s our imagination, our gut feelings, and our ability to connect on an emotional level that breathes life into design concepts. 

But AI wasn’t designed to kill creativity. In fact, it can allow us to do more creating, freeing up time from mundane tasks to come up with new ideas and giving us the technology to create what we might have never thought possible.

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