Warning: Adobe Sensei is Trying to Kill Off Web Designers (or Maybe it Isn’t)

Adobe Sensei

Well folks, it’s finally happened. It seems the end is here for web designers as we know it. So pack your things and say your goodbyes because Adobe is doing everything it can to make web designers redundant with an AI platform that’s going to craft better experiences than your puny little human mind could ever dream up.

Or at least that’s the assumption from AI doomsayers who predict the apocalypse every time a new platform powered by artificial intelligence and/or machine learning comes out. But this isn’t quite what Adobe has in mind for its snazzy new design tool.

Introducing Adobe Sensei

Later this year, Adobe will debut its new AI and machine learning platform, Sensei, at Adobe MAX 2017 and I have a feeling people are going to freak out about it. I’ve already seen articles over at Web Designer Depot and Fast Co Design posing the question whether Sensei is going to strike web design at the heart with an artificial (but intelligent) once-inch punch.

In fairness, neither of those articles go as far to suggest that Sensei will render web designers useless but I’m sure there will be plenty of articles predicting just that once the tool debuts. Mostly because those kind of headlines are damn good at getting clicks, more than there being any merit to them.

But who knows, maybe Adobe sees some business value in putting creatives (basically its entire customer base) out of a job.

Web design, but a lot less mundane

Let me start by making it clear that Sensei isn’t specifically web design tool. It’s a project that combines artificial intelligence and machine learning with the goal of helping designers create better experiences.

Here’s Adobe’s explainer video that says absolutely nothing about killing off web designers or any other kind of digital professional:

So what is Adobe saying about Sensei? Well, here’s how the technology firm chooses to describe the platform:

Great experiences don’t just happen. And nobody knows that better than us. Using our decades of knowledge in creativity, documents, and marketing, Adobe Sensei harnesses trillions of content and data assets — from high-resolution images to customer clicks — all within a unified AI and machine learning framework. From image matching across millions of assets to understanding the meaning and sentiment of documents to finely targeting important audience segments, Adobe Sensei does it all.

That’s a pretty optimistic description really, considering Adobe Sensei doesn’t do all that much at this stage. What is can do, though, is automate a number tasks designers are often bogged down by. For example, it recognises eyebrows and lips in images so you can change the facial expressions in portraits by simply turning a dial. You can also use it to scan a paper document and instantly turn it into an editable digital document, including selectable form fields and font matching.

In terms of web design, Sensei is able to choose layouts, colour schemes, design elements and make recommendations to designers. This is the part that might scare a lot of people in the industry, but it shouldn’t. Machine learning isn’t going to replace web designers; it’s going to empower them to cut out tasks that can be automated, allowing them to spend more time focusing on the tasks that can’t.

So Adobe Sensei is no more of a threat to us than WordPress was when it first hit the scene.


The official tally of web designers put out of work by WordPress stands at roughly zero.

Will AI ever replace web designers?

Artificial intelligence and AI are going to shake up every industry, that’s not up for question. Machines are already writing articles on behalf of journalists and, of course, many are predicting the end of articles like this that are written by human beings. But here’s the thing: much like design, writing is a time-consuming process and automating every part of that possible will be a welcome thing for writers.

Your typical web designer is handling more tasks than ever these days and the workload is only going to increase. Why should a designer be cropping multiple images to the same size when an algorithm can to it instantly? No designer will complain about a piece of software taking care of that for them.

Of course, this kind of automation isn’t what gets people worked up. It’s more the notion of a computer choosing the layout of a page or designing a logo. If there comes a time where machines are better at performing these tasks than we are, what happens next?

In some cases, this may actually happen, but for AI and machine learning are yet to prove they’ll ever be able to consistently outperform human being in the creative side of design. By its very nature, machine learning can only create things based on what it already knows, which means recreating or combining things that have already been done.

In theory, AI could one day become intelligent enough to make creative decisions, but even the most optimistic AI enthusiasts will have doubts about machines someday surpassing human intelligence. Then again, some would argue web designers, on the whole, aren’t at their most creative right now so maybe the bar isn’t as high as it could be.

On a side note, another argument that’s gaining traction is there’s little place left for creativity in web design. We now work with an internet built around UX guidelines, user expectations and best practices, where breaking the mould tends to cause more harm than good. But this has nothing to do with artificial intelligence or any new product released by Adobe. The state of web design will continue to be debated but it’s a safe bet Sensei isn’t here to leave web designers – one of Adobe’s core customer bases – queuing up at the employment center.