Artificial Ignorance
Artificial Ignorance
Bridging AI and human creativity
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Bridging AI and human creativity

A conversation with Harrison Telyan, co-founder of NUMI.
Transcript

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Something that I’m often thinking about is AI’s ongoing impact on the arts. Clearly, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion have unlocked a new engine for creativity, but it’s just that: an engine. Most of us wouldn’t get much value out of a V8 if it was just dropped in our garage, and most professionals probably can’t go from diffusion model to productive workflow without some extra steps. So designers, especially UX and Figma designers, are still safe from AI for the time being.

But there is a lot of change on the horizon - and one of the best people to discuss that change is Harrison Telyan, the co-founder of NUMI, which offers startups access a guild of vetted, professional designers for a flat monthly subscription. Before founding NUMI, Harrison was the founding designer of Imgur, and graduated from the RISD - the Rhode Island School of Design, a world-class design program.

Harrison and I talked about his experience rapidly scaling a prior business in Africa, how AI is eating the design world (and the jobs at risk of being eaten), NUMI’s unique, engineering-esque approach to providing a design service, and much more.

Three key takeaways

Real feedback comes from paying customers. In Harrison’s experience, founders can be reluctant to reach out and talk to their customers directly - and sometimes are even reluctant to charge customers at all.

[Something] that I see a lot in founders is how unwilling, maybe not even unwilling, but they have forgotten to actually start the business at some point. I always recommend you chop up your customers in half and start charging them - you will see very quickly the type of feedback that you'll get when you try to separate someone from their money. That's when the real feedback comes.

AI has a ways to go before replacing talented designers. Harrison is bullish about AI’s impact on the design community - but he also admits that areas like entry level graphic design work (as opposed to higher level brand identity or UX work), is going to be at risk from AI pretty soon.

The real problem that I see though, is none of these [AI] companies have design leaders behind their prompting or their code, and so naturally they're capped. … I'm looking at the landscape and I'm quite bullish on how AI is going to serve the design community. We hear all the time from Guild members at NUMI, is AI gonna replace me? No. It's just gonna allow you to do work faster, more efficiently and you know, it's gonna take away the kinda like rote administrative stuff of design.

Not all design agencies are the same. At first, it’s easy to think of NUMI as just another “agency.” But Harrison pushes back on that label - first, because they think of their design community as a guild, not as independent contracts, and second, because they’re building tools and education for the guild to get better, rather than subcontracting work.

We always cringe at the word agency when someone's describing us because on the surface, call us whatever you want, but we know what we are. And what we are is a company that was started by designers for designers. And that may not mean much, but when you look at our competition, all of them were started by people in marketing, and then they just create these commodified versions of us that ask for the lowest price at the highest quality with the most communication.

We just take a different approach, and that approach is: how can you lift up the designer through technology? How can you remove all the BS from the admin side of what they have to do so that they can get back to designing? It comes down to leveraging tech to remove the BS, to make the designer move faster and put them up on a pedestal. It's actually very similar to how Airbnb thinks about its hosts. Put them up on a pedestal and the rest will work itself out. And that's what we do.

And three things I learned for the first time:

  1. Boda bodas are bicycles and motorcycle taxis commonly found in East Africa.

  2. Figma plugins suffer from bit rot - they need to be regularly maintained to keep up with the underlying platform changes.

  3. Many founders seek design services too early, when they really need to be experimenting and talking to customers as much as possible.

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Artificial Ignorance
Artificial Ignorance
Interviews with founders, investors, and deep thinkers on artificial intelligence and its impact on our world. For more deep dives and news stories, visit www.ignorance.ai.
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Charlie Guo