Think in 4D
Think in 4D: Design Futures
Think in 4D with Kēlín Carolyn Zhang

Think in 4D with Kēlín Carolyn Zhang

30 minutes on generative AI tools, processes, and adaptations

As I continue to refine my design practice in a very disruptive era, I found myself wanting to ask some smart people how they’re dealing with… everything. Then I thought other people might enjoy the answers too, so here’s the first episode of the Think in 4D podcast! The general idea is “5 questions on design futures” — 30 minutes to hear how creative people are adapting to the current world and thinking about the future.

My first guest is Kēlín Carolyn Zhang, an independent designer in NYC, currently building novel AI interfaces and collaborating with AI startups. We had a great conversation about how GenAI is impacting design at a picnic this summer and so I wanted to continue it. Her latest projects include:

Press the big button above to listen here / in the Substack app, or watch the video on YouTube (forgive any choppiness, it’s me quickly editing out the filler words etc.)

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5 questions and some favorite quotes

Listen to the episode or read the transcript for full context and more great insights!

  1. Looking back to maybe 3 years ago, what was your general design process then, and what does it look like now?

    Especially as the world is changing more and more, I think that it's so important to very actively push back against that instinct to just do what feels familiar and has worked in the past. Because what got me here won't get me there, won't be the thing that can keep me sharp in the future.

    I think the biggest change has been the code side of things and collapsing the number of different people required to make a project real… Whereas before it was like a product person, a designer and an engineer and then other people as well — because of all the better tooling and infrastructure that's out there now, it can all just be kind of collapsed to one person.

  2. As an educator, if you were teaching an interaction design class right now, what skills would you be telling students to learn?

    With AI products, the main experience of the product is how you're interacting with this other non-human, non-sentient being, with this computer that can now talk back at you in certain ways. And whatever the interface is has to encourage certain types of interaction between you and the computer, or highlight the strengths of the model that you're working with or, work around the limitations. So it becomes kind of impossible to evaluate those trade offs without actually constantly working with that raw model itself.

    I feel like a newcomer to this just like everyone else. All I've been doing is just talking to ChatGPT and being like, yo, I want to build this, how do I do it?

  3. What issues or trends are you seeing in design consulting?

    I was making a bet on myself that in the next five years, the way software gets built will just be so dramatically different that I have to throw away everything I know and start from scratch.

    I think the thing that surprised me this year was things feel like they're changing a lot more slowly than I expected.

  4. How are you balancing making art with making money?

    The really great thing is to be able to work on client projects that also help me advance my craft and my understanding of the state of the art, because everything is changing so quickly that if I were just sitting in a room by myself, trying to keep up, I wouldn't be able to. It's so much easier to keep up when there's a bunch of other people also working towards that goal or making new advancements themselves. And then they could just tell me.

  5. Who else are you following and learning from these days?

    I actually have been looking towards a lot of history, a lot of the history of technological development and how it shapes culture and humanity… I view AI as kind of the digital equivalent to physical synthetic materials. Obviously right now plastics are a huge villain in our society, but they also are completely unavoidable, and they shaped the development of modern society. So, I've been looking back towards the earlier stages of its development and being like, Oh, how did people react then? And were they aware of it? And why did plastic spread?


Tools and people mentioned:

Where to find Kēlín:


Please let me know if you enjoy this interview series, or if you have people you think I should interview. I’d also love to hear your own personal answers to these questions. Drop a comment on Substack or your social network of choice.

Brought to you by 4D Thinking Studio in sunny/cloudy Brooklyn. To learn more about product experience design, get the Think in 4D book!

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Think in 4D: Design Futures
5 questions on the future of design practice, education, and thinking
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Erica Heinz