Values-Led Prototyping for Next-Gen Creative AI

Values-Led Prototyping for Next-Gen Creative AI

Matt Callahan
Wendy Wang
Takashi Wickes
Takashi Wickes
Alicia Duvall
read time:
4 minutes

When we first started exploring the possibilities of creative AI products with a group of Gen Zs, they were clear about what they want: tools that scaffold the creative process, lower the barriers to entry, and connect creative communities.

If you missed the first installment of our Gen Z + Gen AI prototyping series, you can catch up here.

“I could see myself starting up a business someday,” one high-school senior told us. “So say I wanted to make visuals, or ads for that—I'll want to have an AI guide me through the creative process.”

To find out what that really means in practice, we prototyped a set of creative AI tools and asked a cohort of young people between 13 and 24 to test them in their own work and lives. 


AI Creator vs. AI Collaborator

We built two contrasting prototype experiences to test the breadth of roles, capabilities, and personalities that a creative AI might have. On one end of this spectrum, we have an AI that is designed around speed and efficiency. Its interface is meant to feel highly-optimized to get you the best, most suitable output possible in minimal time.

On the other end, we created a hyper-collaborative creative partner more focused on helping you express your own unique style. This AI can not only create content, but share inspiration—helping Gen Zs discover new styles, see what’s trending, narrow down likes and dislikes, and gain insight into their own personal tastes.

We then customized our prototypes to fit each participant’s life context.

Exploring the values behind our designs 

In testing our range of prototypes, we found that no AI creative tool will work for everyone in every moment. Gen Zs have a wide spectrum of values when it comes to what they want from creative tools—some value speed and efficiency, while others value deeper collaboration and personal expression, and their values may fluctuate as they go from one context to another.

For quick, everyday creative needs—efficiency is key.

We heard from Gen Zs whose lives are extremely busy—from managing social media for multiple school groups to starting and running their own businesses, and keeping up with school, family, and social circles. There isn’t always a lot of time or energy left over for lengthy creative processes. "Social media doesn't feel meaningful to me, only the end goal,” a college freshman told us. “So I love that this AI can help me reach that end goal faster.”

To design for users like this one, the challenge lies in getting to a satisfying creative output faster, in minimum time. The distance between prompt and output should be short, and UX should offer visual templates and clear parameters that help people to create quickly in a well-defined style.

For creators, aspiring professionals, and artists, AI should show up as a more nuanced collaborator—offering tools for inspiration, personal expression, and a greater depth of creative control.

On the flip side, we heard from Gen Zs who aspire to create original and expressive work. "I think the ability to re-edit to make it have a more human touch and connection makes it a good tool. I want a good combination of AI and human—in graphic design at least,” Cole, one of our Gen Z collaborators, told us.

For Gen Zs who value craft and personal expression, the distance between prompt and output needs to be longer. Future collaborative AI interfaces will need to allow for more rounds of feedback, create more opportunities for humans to give direction, and be capable of working with multi-modal inputs—such as reference images, sketches, font files, CAD files, and more. These more collaborative AI experiences should still offer tools for humans to create and customize by hand. The challenge here is not to replace human craft and creativity, but to design interfaces that help AI augment our creativity to deliver output nuanced enough to match the richness of personal expression that Gen Zs want, alongside tools for them to add their unique vibe by hand, too. 

An AI-enabled creative future 

So what does all this mean for the future of AI? AI experiences themselves should continuously work to establish user intent, and to understand what good means in different moments—does a user need a quick solution, or a creative partner? As a rule, designers should offer multiple options for how their AI shows up in terms of tone, role, capabilities, and suggestions to users, and put in the work to continually listen, discover, and elevate the most relevant options for their audience. 

Creativity is just one of the many spaces where we are listening, discovering, and experimenting with how to prototype future AI experiences; we are also exploring how AI should show up in education, mental health, work, social media, and more. Stay tuned for our next piece, which dives into how Gen Z feels about AI personal assistants entering the group chat.

Parts of the images in this article were created/altered using generative AI.

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Matt Callahan
Senior Design Lead
Matt is a Senior Design Lead at the Play Lab where he works as an Industrial Designer and Design Researcher. He is passionate about designing experiences that spark joy, and believes a playful approach to design is the best way to unlock creative solutions to tough problems.
Wendy Wang
Senior Design Research Lead
Wendy is a Senior Design Research Lead with IDEO’s Design for Play where she leads quantitative and qualitative research to co-design with youths around future technologies and experiences that bring delight and foster community.
Takashi Wickes
Interaction Design Lead
Takashi is an Interaction Design Lead with IDEO’s Design For Play team, focused on prototyping and playtesting to take ideas from early concept to tangible designs.
Takashi Wickes
Interaction Design Lead
Takashi is an Interaction Design Lead with IDEO’s Design For Play team, focused on prototyping and playtesting to take ideas from early concept to tangible designs.
Alicia Duvall
Design Lead
Alicia is a jack of all trades and has actually managed to master quite a lot of them. She combines concept, design, illustration, lettering, motion and strategy to tell beautiful stories.

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