The rise of artificial intelligence in interior design: industry experts give us a glimpse of the future

If you experiment with generative artificial Intelligence (such as ChatGPT or Midjourney), your experience might be something like this: 

Phase 1: Wow! Fun! 

Phase 2: Uh, oh, will this take my job? 

Phase 3: This isn’t actually any good? 

The more you play around with free AI tools, the less impressed you are likely to be as its limitations become apparent. Much has already been written about the redundancy of AI-generated copy and imagery. I won’t take too much time here to labor on that because all of that changes again once you get serious about adopting AI as a core part of your interior design or manufacturing business and that is far a more interesting and useful jumping off point to begin our exploration.

You may become astonished all over again or you may become overwhelmed. We asked experts in design and tech to dispel the mystique around artificial intelligence. The experts I spoke to range from designers who use artificial intelligence in their design process, a coach who specializes in teaching designers how to use AI tools as well as app developers who specialize in tech development for manufacturers and designers. They break it down:

  • Is artificial intelligence worth the hype?
  • What should I be using it for right now?
  • Where is the tech not quite ready yet?
  • Is AI a powerful tool for the design industry or a looming threat? 

First thing’s first: Is AI a replacement for interior designers?

Stacy Throwart, founder of The Intelligent Designer, an AI training program for interior designers is a steadfast –and reassuring — advocate for artificial intelligence’s role in interior design. “AI is in no way a replacement for a designer,” she says, “It is another tool designers can and should have in their arsenal. It should be considered as a starting point, not the end point in a design process. Designers and architects have incredibly complex jobs, which means the possibility of their roles being replaced by AI in the near future is highly unlikely. The bigger concern should be around other designers who are adopting AI to get ahead. They will be the ones who replace those who are not embracing it due to the efficiencies and competitive edge they will gain.”

The bigger concern should be around other designers who are adopting AI to get ahead.

-Stacy Throwart

“If you think of what a designer’s brain is doing, we are essentially pattern matching experts,” says Angela Shen-Hsieh, the co-founder of Alcōv, an AI app for Gen Z interior designers, “We tap into our knowledge and experience of similar past situations or conditions to match to solutions we draw from experience and our creative intuition. AI has the potential to help with this pattern matching process by quickly generating ideas and iterations based on the patterns and solutions provided by the designer through prompt engineering…I’m definitely in the camp of people who think that AI is going to augment human designers rather than replace them! Human + AI = Human 2.0 (or maybe it’s 3.0 now!)”

Much of our conversations dealt with determining the right time to introduce AI tools as part of the process. How useful you find AI seems to depend greatly on when you choose to use it as part of your workflow as much as how good you are at prompting it. To help make that informed decision, let’s explore what AI is already good at, so you can start implementing the tech in your own business today.

What is AI already good at?

All of the experts agreed that AI has been monumental in the rapid-rendering process, allowing real-time modifications to existing designs, and generating inspiration and mood boards. 

Kitchen generated in Midjourney by Stacy Throwart
Kitchen generated in Midjourney by Stacy Throwart

Michael Lamarti, founder of Jola Interactive says, “Instead of manually creating [mood] boards, designers can input their concepts into AI engines like MidJourney, generating designs aligned with their vision. This method significantly decreases research time and expedites the conceptualization of client designs. It’s akin to having an additional designer in the room, rapidly contributing numerous ideas…Designers can leverage these AI-generated conceptual ideas for inspiration to develop their designs, thus mitigating potential issues with intellectual property rights.” 

Mood board created by Stacy Throwart using Midjourney AI

AI’s current benefits span beyond the visual

Brian Pinkett, principal of the Landry Design Group echoes the same sentiment regarding idea generation. He also emphasizes AI’s efficiency for an architect’s workflow and communication  “AI can…assist architects in project management tasks such as scheduling and workflows… AI can interpret, generate text, and do code research, making it easier for architects to communicate design ideas and specifications.” 

Since client communication and decision-making is one of the largest hold-ups in the design process, utilizing AI can get you on the same page faster. 

Shen-Hsieh recognizes other horizontal problems that AI has the solutions to like marketing or sales or operations for furniture manufacturers. “For example,” she says, “creating large volumes of product images and descriptions for online catalogs and marketing campaigns, using AI/ML for sales and website optimization and forecasting and supply chain optimization, to try to get closer to just-in-time manufacturing (like Zara did in the clothing industry).” 

“I know a designer who uses an AI personal assistant that attends (phone) meetings for her and sends her summaries,” she says, “Horizontal capabilities like these are generally adopted first because they get integrated into existing back-office systems or new companies emerge to address a specific part of the process and fill a gap…They [also] have bigger markets [spanning beyond the design industry], more to invest and can more readily get to the specificity necessary to be useful (and worth the cost to the user.)”

Lamarti is most excited about the future of natural language AI, which refers to artificial intelligence systems designed to understand, interpret, and generate human language in a natural way. Though it still has a long way to go, he says, “Natural Language AI will redefine how we engage with shopping and using home furnishings websites… As natural language AI evolves, I anticipate AI taking on a more significant role in assisting customers online.” 

“Picture yourself visiting a website, clicking on chat, and engaging in a conversation over the microphone with AI, much like a phone call, as it interacts with you as though it were a real person. Whether you seek product information, assembly assistance, or wish to initiate a return, this seamless interaction promises to make online shopping incredibly efficient and user-friendly. Moreover, it substantially decreases companies’ customer service costs.”

The space to watch

“In the near future,” Stacy Throwart says, “we will start to see AI embedded into more design tools to allow designers and architects to space plan more efficiently. Tools that will allow you to create hundreds of optimized floorplans in a matter of minutes already exist. And they will become more mainstream, freeing up designers’ time to focus on more creative work.” 

Throwart brings up an interesting point here: The operative word being “embedded.” This speaks to something arguably even larger than AI (if you can imagine): the seamlessness with which technology will be “embedded” into the world around us in the near future. 

This can be difficult to visualize while we have a world built around technology in silver boxes of varying sizes (phones, computers, TVs, etc), but the future will hide the seams. An example of this that we’ve already begun to see is with the Art TVs at this past year’s CES and tech-integrated furniture that keeps cords and outlets out of sight. From a built-environment perspective, this means more tech integrated at eye level to do away with slouchy-posture tech-neck. Words like hidden and undetectable, subtle and seamless will be used to describe desirable technologies, including AI. That is, once it is good enough or, rather, once the people trained on it are good enough at prompting it; because as we know, “it looks like it was generated by AI,” is shorthand for “it looks bad.” But everyday, that becomes less true.

The client/consumer experience with AI

While artists, designers, and manufacturers are still getting their footing integrating AI as part of their development process, something that everyone I spoke with unanimously agreed on was that artificial intelligence enhances the client/end consumer experience. The consumer wants AI.

Lamarti spoke about Jola Interactive’s ongoing work in website development for furniture manufacturers, “We are witnessing a significant shift towards integrating AI-driven solutions [which] enhance the user experience by providing personalized product recommendations tailored to individual shoppers. What’s particularly noteworthy is the depth of customization these AI-powered systems offer.” 

“These solutions can accurately predict and suggest products that align with each shopper’s preferences and needs by analyzing user shopping habits, demographic information, and geographical locations. As technology advances, we anticipate even more sophisticated AI-driven features to emerge, further revolutionizing how consumers interact with home furnishings websites and expanding sales opportunities for home furnishings websites.” 

Stacy Throwart thinks clients are going to soon start expecting firms to use AI as part of the process because of how pleased they’ve been with the results. “[AI] allows for better and more efficient communication,” she says, “and perhaps most importantly, it helps designers get aligned with their clients goals earlier in the design process. 

See Also

In what ways is the tech not ready yet?

There are some ways the tech is not quite ready for showtime yet including: creative decision making, materiality, and documents. This is because the machine does not understand creativity for creativity’s sake, does not have senses with which to “touch” anything, and thus does not experience the repercussions of physics or regulations. To put it another way, humans shouldn’t try to be computers- they still need to be human to make things for humans.

Humans shouldn’t try to be computers- they still need to be human to make things for humans.

Creativity and aesthetic judgment are at the top of the list of ways that AI technology is not quite ready yet,” Pinkett says, “While AI can generate design options based on specified parameters and prompts, it struggles to match the creativity and aesthetic judgment of architects in producing truly innovative and compelling designs. AI also lacks the ability to create an effective plan and the corresponding construction documents.”   

Throwart agrees, “The tech is not yet capable of creating design documentations or specific room dimensions. As an example, if you wanted to upload a rendering and have AI produce 10 new options from it that held to the exact dimensions of the space, AI would struggle with that. You also can’t specify exact materials and furnishings yet, but there are a lot of developers working to build tools that will make those things possible in the future.”

One such developer is Isla Porter, a new brand founded by Sharon Dranko, and Emily Arthur whose AI software is built for custom kitchen cabinetry, one of the last frontiers to explore emerging tech. They have found arguably some of the whitest of whitespace to fill in the luxury kitchen market, dealing in both custom architecture and materials, specifically. (Stay tuned as we’ll be publishing an interview with Isla Porter soon that delves into luxury kitchens and AI).

Still in its beta phase, Isla Porter, like Alcōv.AI follows the old start-up adage to do one thing really well. Both are focused on how consumers can make inspiration a reality – for Isla Porter, that is bringing the customer’s dream custom kitchen to life and for Alcōv.AI that is to get furniture that fits their style, space, budget and timeline and use tech to get them there. 

Shen-Hsieh has played around with generating instant room renderings, but says she hasn’t seen outputs she would show to a client. “I find the results are too generic or antiseptic, and the renderings can be low-quality, messy, and with mistakes (like Kate Middleton’s doctored family photo!)” For a fun experiment, she used this prompt in Dall-e to produce the two images below:

Render a serene and sunny bedroom with three double hung windows on the left wall, a white oak floor with a pale pink oriental rug, a dark grey BluDot Nook bed across from the windows on the right side wall and a cream leather Eames chair by the windows. 

She wanted to see whether Dall-e knew what a double-hung window was (It didn’t get this right in either image), whether it could get the placement of left and right (no), and whether it could render specific products (no, on the Bludot bed, kind of, on the Eames chair.) She also notes that, to be a useful output, she’d want that image to be able to export into her 3D layout and design software so that she could tweak it and add her own touches. While this could be used for a lookbook or moodboard of inspirational images, it wouldn’t be something she presented to a client. (My experience as an early Adobe Firefly AI tester was similar, but it is worth noting how much better generated AI imagery – and now video, with Sora – gets everyday)

The challenges interior designers and manufacturers face with AI

I asked each of the experts how urgent AI adoption is, given that it is in its experimental infancy. They had this to say:

“Embracing AI is essential for everyone. It’s not just a future prospect; AI is already shaping our present and is a dominant force in our lives,” says Lamarti, “Its impact is as transformative as the internet’s influence on society. To remain relevant, companies must adopt AI across all operations. While AI might seem daunting due to its novelty, organizations must embrace its potential and seek ways to integrate it into their daily routines” Lamarti suggests starting with a basic email service that uses AI to coach the right sentence structure to generate marketing ideas, product design ideas, and online product recommendations.

Throwart says, “One of the biggest challenges designers will face is staying ahead with AI because it is constantly changing. They will need to adopt a lifetime learning mindset and be open to exploring new tools. Making time for learning via podcasts, newsletters and webinars will be time well spent to ensure they stay ahead. The time is now to start embracing it as many designers already are gaining a real competitive edge by being an early adopter.”  

Stacy Throwart’s AI for Interior Designer’s online course

An option to get started is to enroll in Stacy Throwart’s AI for Interior Designer’s online course. “The course is what I wish had existed when I was trying to learn AI online the hard way,” Throwart says. That is something she hears a lot. “It was also important to me to offer lifetime access to the course because AI tools are constantly evolving, so the course will evolve over time as well. One of the aspects I think designers love the most about it is the private Facebook community. It’s a very active group of designers from around the world who share with one another inspiration and ideas for implementing AI into their design workflow.” The course is broken down into 8 modules and 21 bite-sized video lessons. It is self paced and highly actionable, so busy designers can move through it at a pace that works best for their schedule. To learn more, visit The Intelligent Designer AI online.

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