In Conversation with

Maggie Snoke & Saloni Bedi: Designing with GenAI

Join us for a conversation around designing with GenAI tools with Saloni Bedi and Maggie Snoke as they prepare for their Designing with AI workshop at the 2024 IDSA Women In Design Deep Dive in Philadelphia.

By:

Gregor Mittersinker

May 30, 2024

TOPICS

AI

Innovation

. . .

We caught up with Saloni Bedi and Maggie Snoke at the Loft headquarters in Providence as they are preparing for their Designing with AI workshop at the IDSA Women In Design Deep Dive in Philadelphia.

Loft: We are looking forward to the workshop and are eager to learn how these cutting-edge tools, when wielded by experts like yourself, can be demystified. Just as designers have adopted tools like Photoshop and Figma, emerging AI technologies are simply another arrow in the quiver of the modern designer. Many people in the design community are experiencing anxiety about their future careers as AI continues to integrate into the industry, taking on tasks traditionally performed by humans. What are your thoughts on the future of design and AI?

Saloni: I'm not really afraid of AI taking over jobs because I see it as just another tool. It’s often said that AI won't take your job, but people who know how to use AI tools might. This has made it clear to me that we must explore, experiment, and learn about these technologies. Currently, many Gen AI tools are still developing and aren’t fully mature yet, so we need to understand how to integrate them into our processes as designers. I believe that this exploration is very important for us as designers. I'm more excited than scared to see how the design landscape will change and evolve with these new tools and technologies coming in.

Maggie: I definitely was scared before Saloni and I started this journey. Not necessarily scared that it would take my job, but that it would take away the aspects of the process that I really love. But, after Saloni invited me to be part of the talk about this, we dove in and have been trying all of the AI tools we can find. I’ve been surprised that it feels less like it’s doing the work for me and more like I’m collaborating with someone. It’s a different process than I expected it to be. It feels very flexible in how and where you can use it, and doesn’t seem like as much of a threat as it felt like it was at first.

Loft: Many people view AI as merely an efficiency tool, but I see it more as a superpower. In your experience, what have been the most beneficial factors in adopting AI? Where do you think it adds the most value in the industrial design process?  What specific benefits did you aim to achieve, or do you expect to achieve, by incorporating these tools into your design process?

Maggie: I feel like how you incorporate AI is very flexible and personal. Along the way, Saloni and I realized that while we were working with the same tool in parallel, we would end up using it in a completely different way. By intentionally experimenting with the tools you can learn not only how to use them, but how to use them to play to your strengths. There’s no one right way to do it.

For me, I've found the AI tools particularly helpful as a materials-right starting point for Photoshop sketches. For example, I’ll put a sketch into Vizcom, render with the right materials, then bring that back into Photoshop to sketch on top of. This process cuts down what might have taken an hour to just a few seconds.

Something else that surprised me was that the process of working with AI is helpful from an organizational perspective, just keeping the work organized. When you’re using AI, you have to externalize everything, even more so than when working with a coworker who knows you really well. You have to tell it exactly what the thing needs to look like, and exactly what to change, where with which materials. And you have to be very literal. Practicing communicating with AI in that way has been really valuable. At the beginning of the project you have to externally state your intention, which we always do in some way, but working with AI takes it to a different level.

Saloni: As we discuss the best approaches to leverage Gen AI in product design, we’ve noticed that different stages of development benefit from specific tools. For instance, tools like MidJourney may be extremely useful in the initial phases of brainstorming and conceptualization but maybe less so in the later development stages. This evaluation process helps us understand and optimize tool usage throughout a project. It's almost like these tools can bridge skill gaps, enhancing our capabilities as designers. As Maggie mentioned, each designer's process is unique, I often start with a basic sketch or a brief idea of what needs to be designed. This initial step shapes how different tools are utilized. Our goal is to not only improve efficiency but also enhance our design quality. These tools have the potential to drastically transform the resources available to designers, allowing for a more immediate and visual translation of ideas. This accessibility is a powerful aid in our design processes, making it easier to achieve and translate our creative visions.

Loft: What methods do you recommend for continuous learning in the rapidly evolving landscape of generative AI? How do you ​​explore their readiness to integrate these tools into their industrial design workflows?

Saloni: We've structured our approach to incorporate new tools into our design process. As a first step, we identify and understand the various tools available—what they are, how they work, and their capabilities. After grasping what these tools can do, the next step is to integrate them into our workflow. Integration involves a significant amount of exploration since each designer might use the tools differently. In my earlier experience, I experimented randomly with various tools at different stages, which wasn’t very structured or particularly helpful. However, we've since refined our approach by treating tool integration like any other project phase, such as sketching or prototype development. For instance, we might set a specific project goal—like designing a product for a brand within two days—using the new tools. This not only gives the task a concrete framework but also helps simulate real-world applications, making the integration of these tools more structured and practical. This method has been immensely beneficial in helping us structure our process and utilize each tool effectively, just as we would in any other aspect of our design work.

Maggie: Our project approach has been helpful because they’re not “real” projects. They’re very quick. We’ve been trying to use AI for each step of the way which feels a little unrealistic because it’s very clunky, but it has helped uncover little ideas of how to use these tools that I didn’t expect. Then I can then go use those methods on a real project. Also, having a buddy has been nice. I don’t think I would have learned as much by myself. We’ve been working together in a Miro board where I’ve been keeping stream-of-conscious notes along the way of what I’m thinking, feeling, what questions I have and any insights while using the tools that have been very helpful for learning and discussions because all of this is so new.

Saloni: Co-learning has been a significant aspect of our process, particularly because it opens up new perspectives on how to use tools. For instance, I might not think to use a tool in a specific way, but seeing Maggie use it differently sparks new ideas and possibilities. This approach benefits from having an exploratory mindset and working collaboratively. Observing how someone else approaches a problem can be incredibly helpful and enhances the overall learning experience.

Maggie: I noticed a lot of the tools would be working well for Saloni, but for some reason they would generate the worst things when I used them. It was helpful to troubleshoot side-by-side and learn together. One of the things we noticed, too, was how important a tool like Miro is for this kind of work. When working with so many different AI tools and information, you need some sort of external brain to put everything in. I don’t know how we would do it without Miro, my desktop would be a mess.
Saloni: Yes, especially since you can generate so much output in such a short amount of time, documentation becomes a crucial part. It really helps make sense of everything as a bigger picture.

Loft: This is an excellent and important point. It seems the entire design process is being redefined with the availability of these new platforms. At the same time, each designer can choose their preferred way of working, leveraging the methods that work best for them. We are looking forward to your workshop at the IDSA conference. It's still time to sign up, if folks are interested.

Find out more out about the conference at: https://www.idsa.org/conference-details/women-in-design-deep-dive-2024/

June 26-27

Philadelphia, PA

In-Person & Virtual Event

About the Author

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Gregor Mittersinker

Founder

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Gregor

Austrian-born Gregor is in his element while dissecting most complex business & technology challenges and creating their next level business outcomes.

Prior to starting Loft, Gregor led a Strategy & Design team at Accenture Interactive where he helped launch new multi-billion dollar businesses for global fortune 500 companies. He also led creative teams at Rollerblade, InMusic & Cross.

Outside of business hours he teaches Service Design & UX at RISD, and hosts a weekly think tank with global business & political leaders around the world.

He has worked in the US, Europe & Asia over the past 30 years has earned numerous design awards as well as holds well over 100 patents for product innovations around the globe.

A natural motivator, leader, collaborator, and innovator, the only thing that takes Gregor’s eyes off of design for long is his love for winter sports, kitesurfing and DJing in local clubs.

Many have tried to keep up with Gregor, few have succeeded.

Next level inspiration … Japanese wood craft and joinery, minimalist forms that are functional and proportioned.

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