Why AI Won’t Replace the Product Designer

An AI robot next to a human

In the constantly evolving landscape of technology and design, whether AI can replace human creativity, particularly in product design, is a topic of significant debate. Phil Staunton, a seasoned design agency leader with over 12 years of experience, has recorded an insightful video addressing this subject.

This article distils the main ideas from his video, offering valuable perspectives for product designers, business founders, and entrepreneurs on how AI intersects with the nuanced world of product design.

AI’s Strengths and Limitations

Despite its shortcomings, AI excels in certain areas, surpassing human capabilities. For instance, when given a clear set of criteria, AI can churn out solutions more rapidly and cost-effectively than a human designer. However, the crux lies in AI’s dependence on specific, defined criteria.

In contrast, product design often involves an evolving brief. A design team might discover new methods or additional features during the project which AI can’t handle autonomously. The creation and evolution of a design brief, based on empathy and understanding of the end-user, are best managed by human designers.

The Unique Human Elements in Product Design

Empathy and Perception: AI cannot demonstrate empathy or perceive things as humans do. This limitation is crucial because product design isn’t just about functionality—it’s also about connecting with the user on an emotional level. Designers understand consumer behaviour rationally and emotionally, influencing their feelings about a product and its brand.

Ingenious Solutions resulting in Patentable Ideas: AI struggles in areas where human ingenuity shines. It doesn’t naturally develop groundbreaking solutions or create new, patentable subject matter. This aspect is vital for protecting innovative products from being copied as soon as they hit the market.

Adaptability and Flexibility: Human designers can quickly adapt to new information, changing requirements, or feedback. This flexibility allows for iterative design processes that refine and improve a product in ways that AI, which follows predefined algorithms, might not anticipate.

Ethical Considerations and Social Responsibility: Designers consider the ethical implications of their designs, including privacy, security, and social impact. They can make informed decisions that balance technological capabilities with ethical responsibilities, a realm where AI lacks autonomy and moral judgment.

Collaborative Integration: Humans excel at working within interdisciplinary teams, offering a level of collaboration that is critical during the design process. This includes negotiating, persuading, and integrating diverse perspectives into a cohesive product vision, which is beyond the current scope of AI.

Real-World Examples: AI vs. Human Product Designer

At D2M, our exploration of the interplay between AI and human creativity in product design is further illuminated through real-world examples. The following two instances showcase the distinct differences in outcomes.

Strap Tightening System for a Harness: This project vividly illustrates the limitations of AI in creative problem-solving. When tasked with designing a strap-tightening system for a harness, AI produced visually appealing designs that lacked practical functionality. These AI-generated concepts were more about form than function, needing more helpful applications. In contrast, the human design team approached the problem by understanding the functional requirements and user experience. Their solution was effective, efficient, and innovative enough to secure a patent. This human-designed system tightened all four harness straps simultaneously, demonstrating a clear grasp of the product’s practical needs and user interaction.

Rucksack for Home Economics: Another example is a rucksack design intended for home economics use. Here again, AI’s approach was superficial, focusing solely on aesthetics. It merely adorned the exterior of the rucksack with pictures of different food items, failing to address the core functional requirements of the product. The AI needed more insight to determine necessary compartments or consider what food items students likely carry. On the other hand, the human design team delivered a product that was tangibly functional and catered to the practical needs of its users. The resulting design from the human team was not just a bag but a well-thought-out solution tailored to the specific requirements of carrying and organising food items for home economics classes.

These examples demonstrate the current limitations of AI in the realm of innovative and functional product design. While AI can generate visually stunning concepts, it must understand and execute the practical and user-centric elements crucial in product design.

With their empathy, creative thinking, and ability to comprehend and respond to user needs, human designers bring irreplaceable value to designing functional products that resonate with users on a practical and emotional level.

Integrating AI in the Design Process

The conversation about AI in product design is only complete by acknowledging its potential role as a significant asset in the creative process. While AI’s limitations prevent it from replacing human designers, its integration into the design workflow can be transformative.

Designers should view AI as a powerful ally. Its capacity to process vast amounts of data quickly and identify patterns can be invaluable in the initial design stages. For instance, AI can rapidly analyse market trends, consumer preferences, and design possibilities, providing designers with a rich, data-driven foundation to spark their creativity.

AI can significantly expedite the design process in geometry optimisation, rendering (including in context), and mood board creation. This allows human designers to focus on more complex and nuanced aspects of product design, such as emotional resonance and user experience. AI ultimately frees designers to engage in deeper creative thinking and innovation by taking over repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

Iterative Design with AI

One of the most promising aspects of AI in design is its potential for rapid iteration. AI systems can generate multiple design variations quickly, allowing designers to explore a broader range of options and refine concepts more efficiently. This iterative process can lead to more refined and user-centred designs when coupled with human feedback.

Looking ahead, integrating AI with market research tools presents exciting possibilities. Imagine AI systems that generate design concepts and test these concepts through virtual focus groups, collating and analysing feedback to iterate designs in real-time. This could lead to highly responsive design processes where consumer insights are quickly translated into tangible improvements.

It’s essential to recognise that this level of integration is still in its early stages. The technology is evolving, and so is our understanding of how best to leverage AI in design. As AI advances, its role in the design process is expected to grow, offering even more powerful tools for designers to enhance their work.

For designers and design agencies like D2M, staying abreast of these developments and understanding how to integrate AI effectively into our workflow will be vital in maintaining a competitive edge. By embracing AI as a collaborative tool, designers can enhance their creativity, efficiency, and innovation, leading to better-designed products that meet and exceed market expectations.

Embracing AI in Design: A Synergistic Approach

Integrating AI in the design process marks a new era of synergy between human creativity and machine intelligence. Rather than viewing AI as a threat to their profession, designers should embrace it as a valuable collaborator in the creative process.

AI’s ability to handle tasks like photorealistic rendering and early-stage styling direction can significantly streamline the design process. These tasks, while important, can be time-consuming and technically demanding. By delegating them to AI, designers can focus more on design’s creative and innovative aspects that require human intuition and experience.

Using AI in design can lead to exploring new design possibilities. AI algorithms can suggest unexpected colour combinations, shapes, and textures that might not occur to a human designer. This can inspire designers to think outside the box and experiment with novel design concepts.

In a fast-paced market, the speed at which products must be developed and iterated is crucial. AI can accelerate the design cycle, enabling faster turnaround times without compromising the quality of the design.

Human-Centric Design Augmented by AI

It’s clear that AI, with its specific strengths and limitations, is not positioned to replace human product designers. Instead, it emerges as a powerful tool that, when utilised effectively, enhances the design process.

The essence of product design – understanding human needs, desires, and emotions – remains a distinctly human domain. AI, in its current form and the foreseeable future, cannot replicate the depth of human empathy and creative insight that forms the core of impactful design.

Combining human creativity and AI’s computational power offers a pathway to more innovative and user-centred product design. This synergy can lead to functionally superior products that resonate emotionally with users.

The design industry must adjust to this new paradigm, where AI becomes integral to the design toolkit. Embracing AI allows designers to expand their capabilities, push boundaries, and continue to deliver products that meet users’ complex and evolving needs.

In conclusion, the future of product design is one where AI and human designers work together, each bringing their unique strengths. This collaborative approach promises to elevate the design field, leading to products that are more innovative, efficient, and closely aligned with user needs.


Can AI replace human product designers?

No, AI cannot replace human product designers. While AI excels in tasks like data analysis, photorealistic rendering, and generating initial generic design concepts, it cannot understand human emotions and create designs with empathy and deep creative insight. The role of AI is more of a complement to human designers, enhancing efficiency and offering new perspectives in the design process.

What are the limitations of AI in product design?

AI’s limitations in product design include its inability to show empathy, perceive subtleties in human needs, and develop truly innovative solutions or patentable ideas. AI depends on specific, predefined criteria and lacks the human designer’s ability to evolve a design concept organically based on nuanced understanding and creative problem-solving.

How can AI enhance the product design process?

AI enhances product design by handling repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as photorealistic rendering, iterative improvements on specific components and early-stage styling. This allows designers to focus on more creative and complex aspects of design.

What are some practical ways designers can integrate AI into their workflow?

Designers can integrate AI into their workflow for tasks like creating moodboards, feeding their creativity during concept ideation, creating photorealistic visualisations to help refine the original brief and creating different style options to guide the design process. AI can also be used to optimise designs for material usage or cost-effectiveness and develop personalised design solutions based on customer data.

Will the need for human designers decrease as AI technology advances?

While AI technology advances, the need for human designers is expected to remain the same. Instead, the role of designers is evolving. Designers ought to harness AI to augment their creative and analytical capabilities. The essence of product design—empathy, understanding user emotions, and imaginative storytelling—remains uniquely human and is unlikely to be replicated by AI.

On this page

From idea

to successful


All the resources you will need:

Bonus 40min extended case-study video!