9 September 2023

How are university design courses adapting to incorporate AI?

New principles for how AI could be used ethically in universities have been published by the Russell Group institutions, looking at its impact on learning, teaching, assessment and access.

University of Leeds associate professor in graphic design Dr Catherine Stones

“Design education faces similar challenges to other academic subjects in terms of AI technologies. Design educators also have to respond to the impact of, say, AI image generators on creativity, ethics, and future professional careers.


There are certainly new creative skills to teach, such as ‘Prompt Engineering’. We can maximise efficiency and inspire students to develop their own prompt literacy. Students though still need high levels of visual literacy to interpret and curate AI generated images. Vital critical skills rely on an excellent grounding in design knowledge, practice and understanding.


We will encourage students to question AI – do AI generated images propel stereotypes? Who holds copyright? Can all students, of all backgrounds and abilities, access technologies fairly? We also need to be transparent about the use of AI so both tutors and students know where/how it is acceptable to use it.


Design has a long history of embracing technological change.  As a member of staff leading the development of our School’s AI policy, I believe the answer is to support staff and students to learn, question and stay AI-agile. By doing so, we enable our graduates to strongly contribute to a design industry that is equally challenged by change.”

Falmouth University head of graphic design Bryan Clark

“It’s a hot topic of debate on the higher education field but our understanding and use of AI is accelerating all the time. The guidance signalled by the new Russell Group policy is in fact most welcome and the fundamental point made about ‘appropriate use’ is a rational approach to any technology used in creative practice.


Our journey into its application at Falmouth is developing across all areas of student learning and in graphic design, we’re embracing the potential of AI as a creative tool. Here, its power and speed can support and enhance the design process and given design’s curiosity to seek new ways to envision the unknown, its generative ability to create new visual languages is incredibly exciting.


As tutors, we can use AI to explore innovation in pedagogy but importantly we will need to reconfigure and acknowledge its use in written assignments carefully. This may include reflective writing about practical project submissions, to limit AI infiltration but either way the need for strengthening our student’s critical reflection is key. This will help build the essential analytical skills for their professional careers but also give them the ability to evaluate the ethical use of AI in the years to come.”

Ravensbourne University London associate professor and head of Creative Lab Derek Yates

“If you are worrying about your students using AI to solve the problem you’ve set, then you’re probably setting them the wrong problem. Academics trying to ban Chat GPT, is a bit like art teachers telling their pupils not to use tracing paper. AI has the potential to take the grind out of the creative process and supercharge ideas by allowing us to prototype them more quickly and through infinite options. It will allow us to prioritise conceptual development, understanding, analysis and engage in a more informed interrogation of the visual languages we make use of. It will shift creative practice from the hand to the mind and our assessment processes will need to reflect this. My hope is that this will lead to assessment processes that focus more on thinking and ideas and less on technical skills and authorship.


This is a transformative moment, and it brings with it risk and opportunity in equal measure. Yes, we need to be aware of the risk, but we also need to embrace the full range of opportunities. My feeling is that AI has the potential to open up our industries to a much wider range of voices. The importance that traditional creative craft skills play in creative education often provides a barrier to those whose upbringing has not valued those skills. In the new world of AI if you’ve got something to say, you won’t need to be able to draw or use cameras to give your ideas form. As educators we will need to learn to harness and shape this raw creativity and I wholeheartedly embrace that challenge.”

Kingston University associate professor and acting head of School of Design Rachel Gannon

“As design educators we can only navigate the complexity of the introduction of AI into classrooms and studios by acknowledging that students and staff have diverse intelligences, knowledges, voices, and bodies. This means designing educational experiences that are inherently inclusive, dialogic and develop students’ capacity for relationship building.


Design educators promote critical engagement with all technologies by creating space to collectively question how these tools and technologies function, for whom they were designed and how they are used. As designers we learn by taking things apart, inspecting their constituent parts and trying to put them back together again.


At the centre of the discussions on the impact of AI on design education are AI Image generation tools (e.g. MidJourney and Dall-E). However, the final outcome of any design project forms just a limited part of a wider process. Design thinking, criticality, imaginative extension, speculation, observation, storytelling and empathy are just a few of the skills employed by designers that are, for now at least, unreproducible by AI.


At Kingston University our Future Skills strategy forefronts these attributes and actively works to develop these in students and provide them with the vocabulary to advocate for themselves in a fast-developing technological landscape.”

Manchester Metropolitan University deputy head of design David Grimshaw and reader in design Ian Whadcock

“At Manchester School of Art we are very aware of the impact of AI, but it’s certainly not something we’re going to stop our students using. On graduation it’ll be their new reality, an integral part of future creative design practices where the use of AI has already permeated the tools they use and the futures careers they take. The more we integrate AI into student design practices, the more we will understand how to leverage its power as a new creative tool, but we also have a responsibility to work with students to explore and understand the creative and ethical challenges these tools create.


As a tool for ideation AI will act as an accelerator, however students will need to take this baseline information and use their own creativity to develop original and individual approaches. When it comes to assessment, the documentation of research and developmental processes will be integral to academic integrity, and it will be very apparent if work is submitted without this support and the critical and reflective framework that informs it.


Ultimately AI is a tool, and as with all tools it will demand students and staff to develop their skills and judgement in its application. As a quantitative not qualitative tool, students will need to use their knowledge of wider contextual social, environmental, and functional issues to ask AI the right questions. This knowledge coupled with aesthetic judgement will help them develop high quality, original and individual outputs. It is this knowledge based, human, and qualitative approach that is central to design education, and as such AI will support this process and raise standards even higher.”

Glasgow School of Art interior design lecturer Dr Dave Loder

“In the Interior Design department at The Glasgow School of Art, we have conducted learning activities in partnership with students to explore the potential for AI imaging tools such as Dall-E and Midjourney for both pedagogy and practice. These encounters have explored how AI image production might be creatively integrated into a research and design development process, learning the opportunities and limitations of the tools and how to critically identify any embedded bias in that which is visualised.


By engaging with experimental learning approaches, students have been able to innovate to deploy AI imaging tools as collaborators and as a communication or mediation interface between multiple human (and nonhuman) actors, to cultivate new methods in spatial design practice. These approaches, supported with essential teaching on risks of technological bias, provide students with confidence to engage with new AI tools ensuring authorship and decision-making is centred upon the designer. These practices enhance the skillset for the graduate interior designer, in adopting tools and techniques that may become essential in the increasingly digital design industry, as well as promoting sophisticated and creative approaches to collaboration.”

Royal College of Art Dean of the School of Design Paul Anderson

“We need to fully embrace and understand that the world is constantly changing, recognising that new design tools are constantly developing as are our human values, ethics, behaviour adaptability, resilience and exposure to greater risks.


In a largely data driven design world generative AI is becoming a co-creation tool that should be fully understood and embraced by designers and educators alike where rapid translation and design prototyping is significantly increasing safety, resilience and offers tailored intelligent solutions for different creative contexts.


AI is not just about the automation of repetitive tasks, increasing productivity, suggesting improvements, debugging, creating multiple exhaustive testing scenarios or optimising intelligent layers in systems and products.


Deployed wisely, AI is about providing a platform for fully utilising our imagination to select the best ‘human’ approach or context to science, engineering and design problem solving.  AI can be deployed as an intelligent predictive tool to create, understand and de-risk.


In design education terms AI will rightly take us into new spaces, new futures, new challenges – I believe it will allow us to ask the next series of questions for humans and our planet.  These questions are extremely complex, multidimensional and culturally significant – as educators AI will help us see ourselves differently.”

Cardiff Metropolitan University graphic communication lecturer Carol Breen

“The influence of AI technology can be seen across sectors and design is no exception. With the rise of no-code platforms that would previously have required programming, everyday users can now quickly classify information, perform data analysis, and create accurate data predictions with models. In the field of design AI can be used to predict patterns in user behaviours allowing designers to predict future user actions, needs and preferences.


As a design educator my main concern is to ensure that students understand the ethical implications of incorporating AI into their design practice. Young designers need to be reminded that people choose the data that algorithms use as well as writing algorithms and, unfortunately, people have biases. These prejudices can and do change what a program does, and without extensive testing it is easy for unconscious biases to enter machine learning models.


Therefore, it is important to have conversations about the various methods of production in the field of AI and to make students aware of Open Source AI models as well as programmers and designers who are attempting to democratize access to AI technology and foster more inclusive and diverse communities.”