©EDSA | Insights | AI in the Design Process | Midjourney Map

From facial recognition on our cell phones to ride-share services powered by autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI) has become ubiquitous in our daily lives, seemingly overnight. While these technological advancements continue evolving at ever-faster rates, AI’s presence is driving transformational change across multiple industries, especially within the realms of planning and design.

As part of the 35 percent of businesses estimated by IBM to be exploring the benefits of AI, designers are looking at recent tech innovations as an opportunity to enhance workflows, decrease margins for error and heighten efficiencies. There is no question that AI is a disrupter to traditional models of building and land development, but even more so, AI allows us to push the limits of what’s been thought possible in creating and testing an array of alternatives.

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Consider relevant issues like global warming and aging infrastructure, both of which directly affect planning and development. Through technological solutions, researchers have been able to predict the impacts of climate change to help designers better plan for future builds, while organizations like the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence continue to use AI to alert government officials, planners and engineers about critical improvements needed in city infrastructure. AI has not only made such larger-than-life subjects easily digestible, but more quantifiable – allowing designers to gather key insights from large data sets to inform long-term solutions.

But when it comes to the integration of automated workflows in the design process, AI does even more. Due to the rise of the ‘large language model,’ a solution that allows for the performance of generative tasks, AI can also help produce more creative outputs. Take image ideation tools, like Midjourney and Adobe Firefly, for instance. Such machine learning platforms can create multiple iterations of unique graphics based on specified parameters. Producing life-like, computer-generated images (CGIs), these platforms are just few of the many tools being utilized as a springboard for imagination, blending designer intuition with automation to fully depict a client’s vision.

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And, though many are hesitant to incorporate such solutions into their workflows, AI has proven itself to be a powerful ally rather than a replacement for human intelligence, providing its capabilities are used wisely. While it’s clear that augmentation has a variety of benefits, designers must remain in the driver’s seat throughout a project’s life cycle – knowing when to prompt tech systems for data gathering or an artistic boost. Supplemental to the process, the real value lies in knowing when to take a step back and personally reconnect with the nuances of a space in creating an emotional response to place. Taking a holistic perspective, there must always be a balance between micro and macro efficiencies and aesthetics, where a designer’s lens of human understanding is crucial for the best outcome.

Ultimately, the development of AI will continue to evolve at a rapid pace through advances in technology, research and applications. And, though the extent and speed by which it transpires will depend on a variety of factors, such as scientific breakthroughs, regulatory environments and social attitudes, the conversation in and around AI is here to stay, further strengthening the intersection between people, AI, design and development.