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This design team is made up of one human and several AIs. See how the future of product innovation can work

A potential case study of a design team illustrates key things product designers need to do to innovate effectively with AI.

This design team is made up of one human and several AIs. See how the future of product innovation can work
[Source photo: JamesYetMingAu-Photography/Getty Images]

Product designers, design leaders, and organizations need to concretely look for novel ways to leverage new AI technologies to drive business-changing creativity and innovation at scale.

There are no ready-made blueprints for successfully applying generative AI in the product innovation process. Rather, designers and design teams need to determine which methods and processes work best for different industries, job roles, solution spaces, and use cases.

The following key questions need concrete answers that will only be found through pragmatic exploration and systematic iteration.

  • What are the concrete measurable benefits generative AI brings to creativity and innovation?
  • What are the innovation skills and methods needed by product design teams to leverage the powers of generative AI?
  • What conditions are required to combine the best of human and machine creativity in the most impactful way?


A founding designer of a small software startup is kicking off the next iteration of the UX improvements based on the latest metrics and marketing campaign results. They check the workspace in which the UI assistant “Zhi” and content creation assistant “Maximilian” (Max for short) are riffing off on the new designs and messaging copy that were selected yesterday.

They’ve created so many variations it makes one’s head spin but reduced them to the top 10 after running simulations on expected customer behavior and predicted media engagement. A more detailed user study is now ongoing for the top five candidates.

Over the week, the designer has also been reading the latest articles on how human brains deal with spatial presence and social connections in VR. They’ve found some relevant connections to their ongoing design work, almost by accident.

Today, the designer feels a bit lonely. In the current setup, they are the only human product designer in the team, also augmented to be a user researcher and a copy genius. They will single-handedly (well, with the help of Zhi and Max) also decide which options are presented to the senior leaders in the board meeting later in the week.

The whole design team is completely virtual, consisting of one human and several product design AIs. While the designer’s work is really exciting as it’s pushing the boundaries of any existing customer experience by fluidly bridging the gap between mobile devices and VR, the designer feels that some casual human-in-the-room team sparring would be inspiring to find any gaps in the thinking. Maybe there’d be a chance for work after, too.


Will the next Anne Wojcicki, Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington, Jack Ma, or Oprah Winfrey, be an AI model that independently through its own agency creates a lasting fingerprint on an entire industry? What kind of a leader will inspire both employees and customers alike in tomorrow’s world where humans work alongside synthetic intelligence (no one calls it AI any longer)?

Startups live from disruption and innovation. New ideas and options need to be generated iteratively as fast and cost-effectively as possible. Present day’s AI tooling, from ChatGPTs to Midjourneys and Synthesias and from Figmas to Galileo AIs and Flikis, can already concretely accelerate ideation and design iteration by quickly providing alternative examples and generated variations from wireframes and UI templates to more polished content options and advanced videos.

It is important to recognize that the more uncharted innovation territories the designs explore, the more vulnerable the AI models can become. When pushing the boundaries of innovation, the AI models might not have relevant data to use or haven’t observed such a solution before. As a result, they might come back with high-level generalizations, senseless hallucinations, or irrelevant and outdated output.

Additionally, if the usage of particular generative AI methods and models becomes very popular, it can quickly make certain solution spaces, visual styles, and design directions dominant and indistinguishable, thus decreasing the variance and diversity needed to stand out (think how easy it is to spot Dall-E visuals in your feed today). Naturally, this has happened in the past without the help of AI, but with the speed of advanced AI models, design monoculture can now emerge at an unprecedented pace.

As the history of innovation has shown us, successful and groundbreaking innovation requires different aspects of creativity. It also requires the ability to detect and leverage patterns, trends, and opportunities that span across different areas of diverse human life and fast-developing technologies. The innovation practices of product design will be key in being able to spot the opportunities and creative possibilities and realize their potential.

Therefore, the design team needs to deeply understand and own the purpose of their creative efforts as well as their potential, probable, and desirable end results. To succeed in innovation, product designers need to be able to assess alternative realities and solutions and use them to power deep creativity through “what-if thinking” and “counterfactuals” to borrow concepts from AI pioneers Douglas Hofstadter and Judea Pearl.


As deeply imaginative creatures, humans have the urge to channel creativity in a meaningful way, simultaneously seeking connections of ideas and values through human relationships. On the verge of an all-encompassing AI-augmented future, product designers are facing a deep philosophical question: Do we want to design and build a future in which product design is run by intelligent machines that produce different experiences independently turning everyone into consumers of machine-created content, and users of AI-powered experiences that are created end-to-end by intelligent AI models?

Practicing innovation is a holistic endeavor. In a world of data abundance and increasingly intelligent AI assistants in which the design and development of CX happens at an unprecedented speed, the creative environments will also require peacefulness that allows deep focus and the creation and nurturing of human connections. Creating an innovative design organization is not just an intellectual endeavor, but needs to manifest itself in pragmatic working rituals and practices as well as physical places and environments.


Expand design-driven innovation skills by developing deeper social, cultural, and scientific literacy. Develop these skills and knowledge by delving deep into diverse materials, from research studies to movies, novels, and pop culture articles, to recognize, understand, and capture emerging lifestyle, social, technological, and societal trends. This empowers you to see beyond the existing solution directions and spaces and recognize synergies and opportunities across wider ecosystems. It also gives you tools to drive differentiation and unique design language and tone.

Develop AI-augmented practices to map and visualize alternative solutions and realities. Human product designers use design scenarios and alternative realities by nature, imagining things that can be or could have been. When moving forward you should find creative ways to inject scenario-based “design fiction,” and data-driven personas into AI-augmented processes, by using textual prompting to create visuals and personal and user narratives. This enables you and the team to effectively synthesize diverse information and concretize emerging solution spaces and business opportunities.

Leverage design practices and tooling that allow testing with real customers as fast as possible. It will become even more critical that product designers can get their ideas in front of real customers as fast as possible to validate and iterate solutions quicker than the competitors (other human and designer AIs). Imagine (and maybe build!) a process or a tool that allows you to leverage the latest market data and customer insights, and use them to power the creation of a prototype that can be tested using multiple AI-generated user interfaces and flow options with varying content.

Create practices and processes that allow designer AIs to effectively learn from human behavior. In the future, human designers will work with AIs that are increasingly learning from humans, both designers and customers, just by observing their behavior. Think creatively, about how the AI tools you’re using can learn from you and your customers. For example, think about how you formulate (e.g. through prompting) your research insights and design directions, so they can be injected into AI models. Or, similarly, think what are the key things that the AI model should be able to capture regarding human behavior, to allow you to understand customer behavior more effectively.

Create digital and physical spaces that nurture and empower creativity. Ideating new products or synthesizing information into deep knowledge and insights calls for tomorrow’s design organizations to create human-centric spaces, places, and cadences to support and supercharge human creativity. Map out and develop innovation practices and virtual/non-virtual spaces that allow you to create the mental capacity for focused thinking, inclusive dialogue, and inspirational cocreation. Ensure that you or the team can focus on what you do best, rather than trying to outcompete AIs in speed. For example, think concretely about what it looks like when a product design workshop brings together both human designers and AI assistants as well as other experts and stakeholders.

Some things won’t change much in the future. By driving creativity and innovation, product design continues to imagine desirable futures and make them happen. An organization that successfully and seamlessly combines human and machine creativity, and can effectively produce the outcomes, will have an innovation advantage against competitors.

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Jarno M. Koponen is a product design and innovation leader who combines AI with product design and business to build impactful products, effective teams, and innovative organizations. More

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