Is AI a threat to designers?

Our industry is just about to be flooded with another wave of graduates. Freshly-minted designers who have spent anywhere between 18 months and 4 years studying the skills needed to survive in the creative industry. Their skills will be on display in graduate exhibitions, folio presentations and socials. Skills they hope will make them employable.

Problem is only their technical skills will be on display. The skills they need – infact the skills we all need – to build a robust, sustainable career are not easily demonstrated at an exhibition, in a folio or on socials. They’re the skills that make humans indispensable, especially to survive and thrive in the creative industry.

What are these skills? They’re non-technical human skills like:


AI and technical skills

The technical abilities proudly displayed by many graduates are skills an AI system is capable of learning and improving over time.

Quoting a post Luke Heilbuth, CEO at BWD Strategic wrote on LinkedIn:

“This may sound grim. But we shouldn’t be worried. Our professional efforts will be diverted from ‘creating’ (e.g. coding) and ‘advising’ (e.g. contractual law) to ‘narrating’ and ‘caring’.

“Narrative jobs will be incredibly creative — tell the AI what you want to build, from a house to a movie — and it does the rest. Caring jobs like nursing and aged care will increase in status and fulfilment — humans will value the counsel and compassion of other humans more than ever in a labour market dominated by machines. We ‘win’ in the exponential age by becoming more human.”

Soft skills

So, the fact we need these skills is inarguable, but what is hotly debated is calling them ‘soft’ skills.

Shelly Johnson shared a strong piece in LinkedIn earlier this month. Paraphrasing Shelley, she said:

“Labelling these skills as soft skills waters down their impact.
Soft implies easy and comfortable.
Light and fluffy.
Soft doesn’t do them justice.
Soft skills take courage discomfort, vulnerability, and grit to develop.”

Leadership skills

Problem is even though the large studios/agencies make the headlines, the creative industry is actually made up of a plethora of small businesses – many with fewer than 5 employees. That means the founder – most often a designer by trade – becomes a manager, a leader by default.

Good creative leadership doesn’t come from exemplary Adobe skills.
Good creative leadership comes from strong human skills.

Strong human skills are not traits often included in a design education. Design education often emphasises the technical (hard skills) above human (soft) skills because hard skills are easily assessed. It is much harder to give feedback about empathy or behaviour than it is to give feedback about technical skills. Problem is, technical skills don’t translate into leadership prowess, infact technical skills without the ability to share, communicate or mentor others can be divisive in a collaborative studio

Traits vs skills

Shelley argues human skills are often considered personality traits rather than skills – traits you are born with as opposed to learned — but human-centred skills can be learnt and developed.

Here’s the problem:
To develop human skills (like all skills) we need feedback.
Feedback is difficult because judgement can be subjective.

Building a sustainable design career

The first step to build a sustainable, robust career and survive against the threat of AI is to respect and hone your human skills.

Many argue AI will replace the designers of today, not the designers of tomorrow. 

The second step is for employers to respect how hard it is to ‘get’ good human skills. They can do that by acknowledging and including them in job descriptions. And we stop assuming they are character traits and help designers learn or hone their human skills by including them in feedback loops.

Thirdly, let’s call them what they are: human skills, people-centred skills, core skills or behavioural skills. Maybe they’re your super power skills.

Take away

Yes, AI is a threat to traditional design skills, but it’s not a threat to careers built on skills like compassion and empathy. Designers with these skills will work alongside AI, guiding the use rather than being replaced by technology. Graduates need opportunities to grow these skills early in their careers.

Good news is I’m not alone in this thinking.

Here’s the link to a post Luke Heilbeth, CEO BWD Strategic wrote on LinkedIn.

Take a look at this LinkedIn Post from Nick Lehrain, Founder and Creative Director at Oliver Grace — Nick has shared his no. 1 tip on surviving in the creative industry.

And this LinkedIn post from Justin Oberman, LA based Copywriter and Creative Director about the criteria Bill Bernbach used when he started DDB. Justin proves the value of human skills is not a new thing.


Want to continue the discussion? Email Carol.


Carol Mackay

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About Carol

After 30+ years running a design studio, I accumulated a pretty special network of fellow designers. One thing most have in common: a dislike for the ‘business’ side of design. Most are impatient with any task competing for time spent doing what they love – designing.

Not me. I love that intersection between design and business. I built a career working with Ombudsman schemes, the Emergency Services sector and the Courts. My special power has always been an ability to use design to translate the difficult to understand or the unpalatable message.

I now use exactly the same skills with creative business owners. I translate the indigestible into bite-sized chunks of information. I share insights, introduce tools and embed processes to help others build confidence business decision-making skills. More confidence makes it easier to grasp opportunities. More confidence makes it easier to recognise a good client from the bad.

Outside DBC I have mentored with Womentor, AGDA and most recently with The Aunties.
And I’m a proud board member of Never Not Creative. Ask me about internships 😉

Always happy to chat, I can be contacted here.


For a short while, an archive of my design work at
My current work can be viewed at and

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