AI Versus Design

By: Connie Holcombe, RID, ASID

In 1962, the world’s first automation robot was deployed. Since then, employees of the manufacturing industry have decried their jobs being taken by robots. These robots were celebrated by comptrollers and environmentalists for their savings to the bottom line. The white-collar worker was happy.
Fast forward to 2023 where, almost every minute, artificial intelligence is unsettling a new class of workers. Move over white-collar creatives. AI is coming for your job.

Or is it?
Many in the creative industries fear what are the widely unknown and misunderstood capabilities of the various AI virtual brains out there. Companies wishing to capitalize on the benefits of AI are creating jobs for which there are no qualified contenders. Ever heard of an AI Prompt Engineer? This is basically someone who will get paid to know the right way to boss around the AI engine, to put it bluntly. This is because the people wanting to utilize AI don’t even know how to make it work. Imagine being given a spaceship and not having any training. And unlike KITT from Knight Ryder, AI, in its current existence, can’t offer you any advice.

This means your job is safe… for now. Self-aware AI is predicted to exist sometime in the future. Currently, however, AI is like a mockingbird. If you teach it a song, it’ll sing that song on repeat. It can’t write its own music. Similarly, AI is trained on facts, figures, illustrations, descriptions, product information, etc. It’s limited to recognizing patterns and mimicking what it has been trained on or learned.

AI cannot create.
Because AI can only regurgitate work it has “seen,” the US Copyright Office deems that no work created by AI is copyrightable. What does this mean for me?

First, the creative’s biggest fear is becoming obsolete. At one time, a tabletop draftsman was the first to be denied a job because they could not operate AutoCAD. Later, an AutoCAD expert missed out on an opportunity for not being proficient in Revit. This has mostly affected people working with or wishing to work in large contract-only design firms. For the rest of us, our challenge is accepting people’s obsession with AI and the expectation of instant gratification today’s technology offers.

The rise of visualization technology and subsequent loss of imagination development has resulted in a higher demand for not only 3D representations of project design but also ultra-realistic presentations. Fortunately, much of what is needed to create these photo-real presentations is accessible. Even more important, it doesn’t take a college degree to learn.

3D modeling
The industry standard for single-family homes and small commercial structures is SketchUp. This software is easy to learn with a built-in instructor that makes learning the commands simple and intuitive. The instructor for each tool features simple animated graphics which demonstrate how each tool is used. To be successful in using Sketchup, you only need to know one unforgiving rule: Group or start over.

Another benefit to SketchUp is its price tag. SketchUp has a free web-based version with full modeling capabilities. The full desktop version is available for download via a subscription program. The cost for one user is around $350 annually.

Figure 1 Original work by ASID Alabama member
Figure 2 Original work by ASID Alabama member

Photo Editing
The next-step up for 3D renderings would be photo editing software. Sometimes, a 3D model needs a little polishing or to be superimposed in a site photograph for zoning approval. Most people are familiar with Photoshop, even if they’ve never used it. Photoshop is priced comparably to SketchUp and has a web-based free version called Adobe Express. While Adobe products have a steeper learning curve, there exists an endless availability of online tutorials for anything you could dream up.

Figure 3 Original work by ASID Alabama Member

Ultra Finishing
For the client who wants to see their new south-facing kitchen represented at 6 pm on November 14th, you’ll need to employ V-Ray rendering.
V-Ray is software created to integrate with various design software, including SketchUp, that calculates realistic lighting, shadows, and material texture to produce high-quality 3D visualizations. While V-Ray is only available via subscription, you do not have to commit to a full year. Designers that do not have a constant need for the software subscribe one month at a time for a particular project. One month of V-Ray costs around $90. V-Ray is not as intuitive to learn as SketchUp, but several online sources do exist to talk you through some of the less obvious aspects of the rendering process.

Figure 4 Original work by Radek Ignaciuk

Our industry has gone through several changes since Elsie de Wolfe wrote “The House in Good Taste”. Be it through tragedy like the MGM Grand fire or Katrina’s wrath or innovative product development like resin panels and LED lights, we’ve all had to learn and adapt. AI is just another call for the interior designers to step up their game.

Connie Holcombe is a graduate of Southern Institute – School of Interior Design and owner of Studio H2. Since starting the company in 2018, she focuses on the residential side of the firm, specializing in new custom home design. When she’s not working or teaching algebra to her two children, she’s having fun writing best-selling romantic suspense novels.

Connie Holcombe, RID, ASID, LEED GA