Why Your Next Website Might Be Designed by Artificial Intelligence
Traditional business website design begins with a designer and ends with programmers and content providers. From conception to deployment, it's a process that might take months or even a year in some cases. Designers talk to programmers, content providers talk to designers. At the moment, each of those roles is filled by a human being. That might not be the case for much longer.
A new service called The Grid promises to revolutionize web development by using artificial intelligence to fill in the details of web design for average users. The system asks customers questions about goals and the intent of the site, then uses algorithms to develop unique websites based on common web design principles.
Alternatives to the traditional big-team process have existed for years. WordPress and other content management systems have allowed small teams or individuals without any detailed web-programming knowledge to create websites on their own. Hosting providers like SquareSpace pioneered drag and drop component site building. Off-the-shelf content providers like Constant Content and iStockphoto made it easy to pull in site content without directly involving writers or graphics designers.
At some level, however, the human eye had to be involved to incorporate basic design principles into those sites. Even if they were not a professional designer, some person was making the decision about how to lay out the modules, where to put the pictures, what order to arrange menu options.
Other do-it-yourself web designs make use of templates, where most of the elemental layout decisions were made by a professional designer at some point, with the only decision for the site creator distilled down into selecting one template over another. The Grid still allows human input but takes the details out of the process. Instead of picking templates, something called grids are used for the layout. Styles are applied based on design trends analyzed by the system's proprietary algorithms.
But can a computer replace a real live designer? The answer to that question will probably evolve over time, as algorithms and the understanding of applied design changes. At the moment, it seems most likely that computers will provide a perfectly adequate array of basic site designs for well-understood and common purposes.
The real failing of AI web design will be in the tweaking and adjustment process that almost every well-designed website undertakes. Where a human designer can sit with and interview users and stakeholders, and understand minor adjustments that might be necessary, there's no such subtlety in web design algorithms.
The most likely outcome of the trend will be a hybrid approach. Human designers may rely more and more on algorithmic design "partners" from services such as The Grid, while retaining overall control of the process and the ability to tweak design according to their own individual sensibilities and customer feedback.
New AI design trends in web design may serve to supplant human designers, with computers and algorithms taking over judgement traditionally performed by a discerning human eye. Whether or not The Grid succeeds or fails in this effort, some combination of human and computer-based design seems likely to supplant traditional processes in web design.