2024, the End of Designers?
A teardown of a misled and clickbaity post
Last Thursday, a friend sent me a LinkedIn post that offended me so much in its lack of understanding and vision that I had to give it a proper response. The original post is in French, so, if you’re ok with the generated LinkedIn translation, here is the transcript.
“In 2024, there will be no more UX designers.
Where will the role of designers be in 2024? With the massive arrival of generative AI, the proliferation of design systems, open-access components, and nocode solutions, where will the role of designers lie?
Doing only Figma can quickly play tricks on you, because the ability of new AI-based website creation solutions will gradually make this role useless.
It will be easy for anyone to type in a prompt, and then set up a few styling elements, to generate an interface.
So what will a UI designer be used for?
Doing only research will block you more and more from accessing many companies that prefer to pay an interface designer who knows how to do research than a researcher who doesn't know how to do interface.
But more than that, will research still be necessary when we know that it is now possible to create synthetic testers to evaluate an interface?
It is therefore likely that UX designers will see their job change profoundly in 2024 and that they will have to add new strings to their bow if they want to continue to be employable:
1️⃣ Know how to properly evaluate and measure the value of the UX and the ROI it brings to a company (and, I admit that this is not easy to do, but yet more and more essential)
2️⃣ Know how to set up the right tools within their organization to produce interfaces faster and by more non-UX collaborators.
3️⃣ Know how to better exploit the possibilities of generative AI to accelerate many research and production processes (which is related to my point 2)
Am I exaggerating? Not so much. Whether at home, in France, or in the US, the world of UX is going through a serious crisis. Even its role is not to be denied, it must know how to show (unlike the coding professions) again its true value to a company.
Making mock-ups, yes, but that's not enough.
Doing research, yes, but it doesn't pay off fast enough! “
LinkedIn post by Olivier Sauvage published 5th of December 2023
My take on a misled one
So, is 2024 the end of designers? To make it short, my answer is a resounding “No”. And in opposition to this post’s allegations, I believe that the most at-risk job in tech is being a developer.
The duality of designers
When we mention designers in tech, we’re talking about both UI and UX designers.
The UI is the visual identity of the product, in addition to its objective of ensuring the accessibility and readability of a product, it is often a key element of a brand whose codes are an integral part of the company's image. When it's done well, you can recognize the product and the associated company at a glance. It's no coincidence that Google has spent the last few years harmonizing its consumer products’ design system. The UI is not just a functional factor, but also plays an important role in a company's marketing. Sure, you can generate UI with ChatGPT, but:
This UI is not necessarily in line with the brand image
The result is either flashy but non-functional, or bland and uninspired. When I generate interfaces with AI, the model uses what it has been trained on. Which for the most part, is the examples and themes proposed by the different UI libraries. And none of that will help your product stand out.
UX on the other side has a whole different scope. It is about offering the best possible user experience while integrating the company's objectives. A good UX Designer is not just someone "tinkering" with interfaces but a person capable of going out in the field, understanding the uses, needs, and problems of customers, and coming out with innovative solutions. Moreover, advanced designers regularly call on psychology during the analysis of user behavior and when coming up with solutions.
However, one of the limiting factors of AI today is autonomous context intake. For ChatGPT to come up with a solution, it must be provided with all the required information. In the context of UX research, it is a field with far too scattered, and sometimes difficult to qualify information (how do you define a user's emotion?) to be mastered by an AI. And we won’t get into the quality of the analysis provided in its responses.
The designer’s ROI
"Even its role is not to be denied, it must know how to show (unlike the coding professions) again its true value to a company." - Olivier Sauvage (translated from French)
As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. Unlike designers, development teams are the ones who struggle the most to justify their value in a company. Every company knows that they need developers but none are capable of accurately determining their ROI. It's not for nothing that MacKinsey has positioned itself in the market for estimating development productivity with an article that I won't quote as it outraged me with its absurdities. If you want to understand the complexity of the task, I invite you instead to read the response by two tech veterans.
However, a designer can have a direct product impact. There will always be more UX Designers than devs who can claim to have increased a sales channel's conversion rate by 20%. And there, the ROI is quite easily quantifiable.
Design is changing. For the better
Rather than diminishing the value of the designer, AI is going to increase it.
As of writing this, AI models already have an almost expert level in writing functional code on unit tasks. If you want to understand the extent of it, look at this video where functional interfaces are being created without a single line of code. For the moment, the limiting factor remains their ability to reason, break down, and combine tasks. But that is already changing fast. Recently, I used the latest OpenAI model with the Assistant API to develop a tool capable of adding its own features through multi-step instructions; all without any handwritten code.
In software engineering, we call this a level of abstraction. It is usually a new development language whose use is simplified and which calls on more complex underlying languages for execution. But this time, the new language is simply the natural language. And since (almost) everyone speaks, anyone can become a "developer".
So in addition to their irreplaceable job, designers will have tools to:
Do ideation more quickly by discussing with an AI
Be more efficient in user needs collection by letting an AI do the processing and aggregation of data. Surely the most boring part with little added value
Make their ideas functional without having coding knowledge and without a developer to help them
Time for change
So yes, there will be a paradigm shift. I remain convinced that today's design systems will have to be reinvented for use centered around AI. And, as in any industrial revolution process, there will be different reactions, from promoting these new tools to complete rejection.
However, the designers who will best apprehend these tools and put them at the service of their craft will see a significant increase in their value in the job market.