The Evolution of Design Tools: The Future of AI Tools in Design

Photo of Mateusz Czajka

Mateusz Czajka

Updated Apr 2, 2024 • 12 min read
High angle view of an artist drawing something on graphic tablet at the office

The appearance of your website reflects your brand identity. It's crucial to identify the most effective design tools available today to ensure a favorable first impression.

By working in design I've witnessed firsthand the rapid evolution of design tools. In an industry where innovation and adaptation are paramount, staying ahead requires embracing the changing landscape of techniques and technologies.

In my experience, I've seen how crucial it is to swiftly produce prototypes for client collaboration and feedback. Prototyping tools provided by Adobe, Figma, and Sketch have revolutionized the UI/UX design process, allowing for seamless iteration and communication.

With a staggering 70% of companies investing heavily in digital design, it's clear that its role in customer engagement and brand success cannot be understated. What first started as a differentiator for the product, turned into an unskippable market standard.

From the rudimentary sketching tools of yesteryears to today's sophisticated design software, the evolution has been monumental. We've transitioned from basic line drawings to tools optimized for designing digital interfaces and complex design systems.

Reflecting on the past decade, Adobe Photoshop once was the primary tool in the market, offering unparalleled control over image manipulation. However, as the industry shifted towards digital platforms, new players emerged offering new features and diverse options for designers.

When it comes to modern times, the emergence of AI tools in design has posed an intriguing question: Which tool will dominate this new era?

As InVision CEO Clark Valberg aptly puts it,

“Deca-billion-dollar SaaS categories aren’t born everyday… the majority of investors are still trying to understand the ontology of the space, while remaining sufficiently aware of its current and future economic impact to eagerly secure their foothold. The space is new and important enough to create gold-rush momentum, but evolving at a speed to produce the illusion of micro-categorization, which, in many cases, will ultimately fail to pass the test of time and avoid inevitable consolidation.”

It is clear that the dynamics of this sector are still unfolding, with investors eager to secure their foothold in this rapidly expanding market.

As we reflect on this new era in graphic design, marked by intuitive AI tools and groundbreaking software algorithms, the possibilities are endless.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, I want to outline the ever-evolving landscape of design, according to my experience, outlining the innovation and evolution of every turn.

Three big shifts in design tools

1. Adobe Creative Cloud era:

Reflecting on the early stages of my design journey, it's impossible to overlook the towering presence of Adobe Creative Cloud, particularly Adobe Photoshop.

In its initial years, Photoshop wasn't just a tool; it was the cornerstone of digital design. Its comprehensive suite of features empowered designers to create everything from intricate user interfaces to stunning visual compositions. However, beneath its surface lay a set of challenges that designers grappled with daily.

Despite its undeniable utility, Photoshop came with a hefty price tag and an overwhelming interface. For many designers, mastering Photoshop meant navigating through a labyrinth of features, the majority of which remained untouched in day-to-day UI/UX work.

Nonetheless, its usefulness in the design world was undeniable. Clients were familiar with its output formats like PSD, and front-end developers often found themselves slicing designs created in Photoshop into code. Therefore, despite its flaws, Photoshop retained its throne as the go-to design tool, primarily due to its widespread adoption and entrenched position in the industry.

2. Sketch emergence:

The design landscape experienced a shift with the emergence of Sketch in 2010. Sketch wasn't just another design tool; it was a revelation—a breath of fresh air for designers weary of Photoshop's all-for-one approach.

Unlike its predecessor, Sketch was purpose-built for UI/UX design, with a focus on simplicity and efficiency. Its clean interface, reminiscent of Apple's design ethos, resonated deeply within the design community.

One of Sketch's most significant contributions was its introduction of multiple artboards, which revolutionized the design process by allowing designers to work on various device mockups simultaneously. Additionally, Sketch's responsive resizing capabilities addressed a longstanding pain point for designers, enabling them to create designs that seamlessly adapt to different screen sizes.

With Sketch, designers found themselves liberated from the shackles of Photoshop, embracing a tool that prioritized their needs and streamlined their workflow.

3. Rise of Figma:

Just when designers thought they had found their holy grail in Sketch, along came Figma—an innovation that would redefine the very essence of design collaboration. Figma was a digital workspace where designers could collaborate in real time, regardless of geographical barriers.

Unlike traditional design tools, Figma was web-based, transcending the limitations of operating systems and hardware. Its multiplayer functionality allowed multiple designers to work on the same file simultaneously, fostering a collaborative and inclusive design process.

Furthermore, Figma's prototyping capabilities elevated design interaction to new heights, blurring the lines between visualization and immersion. By enabling stakeholders to experience designs firsthand through interactive prototypes, Figma streamlined the feedback loop and expedited the iteration process.

In essence, Figma was a catalyst for innovation—a testament to the boundless possibilities of design collaboration in digital acceleration.

Each phase—from the dominance of Adobe Photoshop to the rise of Figma—represents a distinct chapter in the evolution of design software. While Adobe Photoshop laid the groundwork for digital design, Sketch and Figma, as well as other unmentioned software, have redefined the standards of efficiency, collaboration, and innovation in the modern design industry.

The next winner: AI in design

Now, looking towards the future of graphic design, it’s important to note the significant pivot towards AI-assisted design, as digital acceleration continues to drive innovation in unimaginable ways.

Anticipating a future where technology increases productivity, seamless integration with AI will provide boundless opportunities for design.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been revolutionizing the design industry with AI algorithms becoming indispensable in crafting aesthetic and engaging visuals. Through automated design tools, designers can swiftly produce high-quality projects, while AI-powered accelerate the process. Moreover, AI analytics provide valuable insights into audience behavior and preferences, empowering designers to refine their strategies.

With AI's ability to recognize visual patterns and styles, designers can harness this intelligence to their advantage. AI-backed tools enable style transfer, transforming images while preserving their unique characteristics. Also, machine learning automates repetitive tasks, freeing up time for designers to explore new avenues of originality and innovation in their day-to-day.

However, here are what I think two most likely directions AI in design will take:

1. AI Copilots

AI Copilots will mark a significant advancement in the realm of design, offering the potential to enhance day-to-day design tasks and streamline design-to-code conversion processes.

Drawing parallels to AI advancements in development, such as Github Copilot, AI Copilots hold promise for revolutionizing the way we work. I envision AI Copilots playing a pivotal role at every stage of the design process, from analyzing user feedback and generating mood boards to facilitating bulk updates in large design projects.

In the times of AI, successful designers will evolve into more than just creators; they will act as Art Directors, harnessing the capabilities of AI Copilots to deliver superior results quickly and efficiently.

Designers who fail to adopt AI Copilots may risk being outperformed by their AI-enabled counterparts, highlighting the imperative for integration of AI into design workflows.

2. Design-to-Code Conversion

Another outcome worth addressing is the perennial challenge of converting designs into functional code. However, the integration of AI presents a promising solution.

Previous attempts and current experiments, exemplified by initiatives like Locofy and Codejet, showcase the potential of AI in automating design-to-code conversion tasks. Seamless integration of AI toolsinto existing workflows is crucial for its success.

Design-to-code conversion, often regarded as a mundane and time-consuming task, is essential yet does not directly contribute to a business's competitive advantage. By leveraging AI for this task, designers and engineers can redirect their focus towards aspects of the product that truly differentiate it in the market.

Incorporating AI tools for design-to-code conversion is imperative, as this stage is ubiquitous across all projects, and AI positions itself to excel in it soon.

Figma stays on top

As I reflect on who will be the top tool in the market, I have in mind my primary bet. Figma's commitment to innovation, coupled with its collaborative environment, and seamless plugins, sets it apart in UX/UI design.

The introduction of Figma's Dev Mode feature, alongside its strategic focus on catering to both designers and developers, underscores its adaptability and foresight. Kris Rasmussen, Figma's Chief Technology Officer, showcases this ethos perfectly when he highlights the company's mission to bridge the gap between design and development. In his words, "I think it’s worth noting that we don’t necessarily want to draw a firm boundary between design and development… developers are receiving those designs and working to implement them in an existing production codebase.”

This sentiment resonates deeply with Figma's approach of engaging the entire product development team in the design process, emphasizing the importance of collaboration within teams – which is also one of the primary reasons for Figma’s initial success.

Figma's success lies not only in its advanced features and user-friendly interface but also in its unwavering dedication to facilitating collaboration and pushing the boundaries when it comes to digital acceleration.

The future of design tools

As I look to the future of AI in design, the possibilities seem boundless, yet two potential outcomes stand out in my mind: AI Copilots and Design-to-Code Conversion.

AI Copilots hold the promise of enhancing day-to-day design tasks and streamlining design-to-code conversion processes, much like their counterparts in development. These AI assistants could revolutionize the design process, enabling designers to navigate complex projects with ease and efficiency. On the other hand, the integration of AI into design-to-code conversion presents an opportunity to automate tedious tasks and free up valuable time for innovation and creativity.

These possibilities already seem to be applied by Figma, making it my bet as a frontrunner. With its commitment to innovation, collaborative environment, and seamless integration of AI tools, Figma has set itself apart as a leader in the industry.

However, these are just my speculations, so my question to you remains: Who will emerge as the ultimate winner when it comes to design tools?

Photo of Mateusz Czajka

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Mateusz Czajka

Chief Delivery Officer at Netguru. Mateusz is responsible for delivering top-quality, innovative...
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