If you’re of a certain age – Hello, Boomer! – artificial intelligence may call to mind a malignant AI antagonist from 2001: A Space Odyssey named HAL 9000 that refuses to open the pod bay doors for astronaut Dave. And while it’s possible that some of the technology being introduced five-plus decades after that landmark 1968 Kubrick film can cause harm to society, many in the kitchen and bath industry are discovering there’s also tremendous capacity for AI to produce very positive outcomes.
To get a sense of how it’s being used now and what’s next, I reached out to seven pros:
- Leslie Carothers, a digital marketing consultant specializing in the home design industry;
- Alex Capecelatro, CEO of smart home automation firm Josh.ai;
- Austin-based interior designer and AI app developer Maria Martin;
- Hudson Valley, NY-based interior designer and remodeler Michael Gilbride;
- Public relations and integrated marketing agency owner Jocelyn Hutt;
- Smart home technology integrator and CEO of Caregiver Smart Solutions Ryan Herd;
- Dawn Haynie, research fellow with the American Society of Interior Designers.
So what exactly is artificial intelligence? Stanford University describes it as a term coined and defined by its emeritus professor John McCarthy in 1955 as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines. Much research has humans program machines to behave in a clever way, like playing chess, but, today, we emphasize machines that can learn, at least somewhat like human beings do.” It’s this ability of machines to learn that enables them to help us in our work, homes and everyday lives.
AI can create space plans and product designs, as well as promotional materials. It can be used in homes to provide water and energy efficiency, deliver aging in place support and enhance voice control systems. Industry pros and their clients are taking advantage of all of these capabilities. How are you using it?
“These tools improve your business processes. They establish and execute a brand voice and create continuity among a team across the brand,” Martin declares. AI can also give you feedback on your marketing approach and generate images to use as inspiration (as print and online photos used to do), she adds. OpenAI is the leader for business AI needs, Martin shares. It is already being used in Canva, a popular promotional tools platform, and can be quickly adapted into others.
Gilbride would likely agree. “Running a lean studio, I devote most of my cognitive energy to my clients, projects and staff development, but when my brain doesn’t have the juice to draft out a job description, interview questions or even write a compelling email subject line for marketing purposes, I’ll prompt a large language model (LLM) AI to brainstorm a few for me that I’ll use as a starting point to refine into its final copy,” the designer comments.
He’s also incorporating other AI-based tools into his work, he says. “I use a combination of Notion and G-Suite for my business. Both use different LLMs, so as this nascent industry develops, it’s helpful to see how they progress in their competition against each other. It’s promising to see how both can take meeting notes (written or audio), extract key takeaways, next steps and build a fast follow agenda efficiently.”
These tools come with limitations, however. “Incorporating AI into my business is very much like hiring an intern to work in your office: Enthusiastic, helpful, but some need more coaching to get what you need,” muses Gilbride. “Some of these tools are great to recap meetings and next steps without much oversight. Since these LLM are making educated guesses for the next string of words in a sentence or imagery in a picture, you will need to apply some critical thinking to shape what it produces.”
“The ability for designers to use ChatGPT to help with ideas for articles, newsletters, blogs, etc. is enormous, and many designers I know are using it exactly that way,” Carothers observes. They can also create an AI section of their website showing a prospective client the possibilities for their project, she suggests.
Haynie adds, “Many designers are using ChatGPT to create quick drafts for social media posts that can be easily edited afterwards. Some designers are using AI as a search engine to research topics.”
AI can be a boon to retailers too, Carothers points out, as they use it for both marketing and enhanced customer service with 24/7 chatbots. Retailers can also purchase AI-designed products, display them in their showrooms and create events around them, she suggests. Young consumers are very interested in this concept right now, the marketer says, suggesting that “an event celebrating and educating about AI-assisted products will help retailers draw traffic into their showrooms.”
Manufacturers can also use chatbots for their customer service needs, Carothers observes. Hutt adds, “There are myriad ways for manufacturers to leverage the technology; from supply chain optimization and inventory management to identifying inefficiencies in manufacturing and automating procedures. If AI can help determine efficiencies – more power to it!”
Josh.ai, which creates smart home technology systems, has been using AI to develop its products since 2015, says Capecelatro. “From LLMs to automatic speech recognition (ASR), we offer advanced voice control and natural language interfaces for the home. In addition, we use AI in generation of our marketing material, inside sales tools and much more.”
“When ChatGPT was first introduced, I viewed it as a slightly more evolved version of Wikipedia,” recalls Hutt. The pro now uses it as a jumping-off point, “meaning if I was working on a blog or presentation and needed background on the relevance of Italian design (for example), I could ask ChatGPT, and it would throw back paragraphs of information.” It’s also a staffing tool, she adds. “You can have it quickly write job descriptions and analyze resumes based on your input.”
Hutt sees potential in email marketing as well. “Platforms are incorporating AI into their systems to identify and segment demographics and provide more detailed analytics. List building and list management are time-consuming but necessary, and if AI can help identify weaknesses or strengths, I see that as being very useful,” she suggests.
Herd says he harnesses AI’s power across his caregiving technology firm’s marketing programs, as well as for web development and research.
Manufacturers are already using AI for product design, Carothers points out, citing a collaboration she has with Thompson (formerly known as Thompson Traders) for a bathroom sink she designed using AI. The fixture firm is manufacturing this lav and will debut it at KBIS in February.
Designers can use AI to help them design a custom product, Carothers suggests, get a quote from a manufacturer to produce it, and set up an ecommerce shop on their own site to sell that product. The creative and income potential here is truly extraordinary – especially if there’s on-demand capability that doesn’t require inventory or storage costs.
Designers are most excited about “using 3D modeling and rendering software to study multiple iterations and help clients visualize the designs, facilitating easier client decision-
making,” ASID’s Haynie observes. AI provides interior designers with recommendations and customized solutions, she adds. The technology showed up in ASID’s 2023 Trends Outlook Report and will also trend in the 2024 report, she notes.
Gilbride points out that communicating design ideas to clients is one of the most important things a designer does. He uses Midjourney and Stable Diffusion for that purpose. “We can create imagery, sketches or other concept assets and apply it to a photo of the clients’ home,” all without the expense or waste of ordering samples.
AI is already enhancing the technology we have in our homes (and our clients’ homes) – or are being considered for their potential. Smart cameras and locks can keep strangers out of our homes and medicine cabinets. (When it comes to security-related applications, Gilbride smartly says he’ll test them in areas of his own home before recommending them to his clients.)
“I am most excited to see how someone like Martha Stewart will train all their books, programming and other content into a large language model,” the New York designer enthuses. “It can simplify prep work, shopping lists, entertaining work and more for a dinner party or a weekend of home entertaining in a few minutes. If widely adopted, a tool like that could change the way many consumers interact in their homes and have an impact on the needs of a new kitchen, bar or other entertaining spaces in their projects,” he predicts.
“Designers are specifying features with built-in AI, like Alexis [and] Sonos connected to apps like Pandora, Lutron lighting systems, water, energy and air quality monitoring, along with appliances that connect to apps developing and monitoring grocery lists, and grills connected to apps that monitor and adjust temperature,” Haynie says.
Martin loves “the perfect world where your refrigerator keeps an inventory and the AI can generate recipes for you. The tech can already do it. It’s just a matter of time ‘til it’s done.” Gilbride expects to see those models hit showrooms in the near future, along with AI-enhanced cooking appliances. He also lets customers play with user-friendly AI tools like CollovGPT or HomeAI and share their ideas that way with him.
On a more profound level, AI can also support remote caregiving. If you’re working on any aging-in-place projects, this is a tremendous resource for your clients. “Our AI analyzes daily living activities to help prevent falls as well as promote independence and dignity for elders living alone,” shares Herd. That means a client’s kitchen can get appliance sensors to communicate to a remote family caregiver whether they opened the refrigerator or cooked dinner. “If someone is not eating, the system will detect that and advise a loved one. It can also use bathroom sensors to alert if there are more bathroom visits than normal, which can give early notice on health issues like urinary tract infections or worse.”
Capecelatro says, “Our clients use the AI built into Josh to control everything from security to entertainment to environmentals. Get notified when someone is at the house, ask Josh to surprise you with music you might enjoy, or even get help with recipe ideas based on your dietary needs. The sky’s the limit!”
The Josh.ai CEO wants to see kitchen and bath pros educate themselves on the technology’s potential. “They should be learning about the different capabilities and benefits for their clients,” including the many features an AI assistant can provide for their clients. Then specifiers should ask their tech partners how to achieve their goals as simply as possible.
“AI-powered voice assistants allow homeowners to control various aspects of their home hands-free, which is particularly useful for individuals with mobility challenges,” suggests Herd. One notable example is window coverings in hard-to-reach locations like above a deep tub. “AI powers smart home devices that adjust lighting, temperature and even music based on personal preferences and routines. It creates a living space that adapts to the homeowner’s lifestyle,” he comments. AI can also monitor a home remotely, ideal for both caregivers and vacation or rental property owners. They can get alerts about freezing pipes, break-ins and other issues that can imperil their loved ones, properties and/or tenants.
“I think predictive maintenance for appliances could be the most useful: AI applications can analyze data from appliances like refrigerators, HVAC systems and washing machines to predict maintenance needs, preventing breakdowns and extending the lifespan of these appliances,” suggests marketer Hutt. “That would have warned me before my hot water heater exploded!”
Another important use of AI involves resource conservation. AI algorithms can optimize water usage, like when to water different plants, and detect leaks in real time. “Along with predictive maintenance, homeowners should be able to see actual savings (I hope!),” the PR pro adds, predicting, “I think we will continue to see advancements, such as AI-enabled appliances that learn user habits and adjust settings for improved efficiency and convenience. This includes AI-enabled refrigerators, ovens, faucets and lighting systems.” Energy conservation benefits from AI capabilities too.
“I don’t ever want to have information with my or my company’s name on it that isn’t written by us! Authenticity and expertise still matters,” Hutt declares. “Given the intricacies of many of my clients’ products, I wouldn’t trust AI-generated text to fully articulate what makes [them] unique.” She believes it takes people who understand products in a much deeper way to write about them.
Herd agrees, “It’s crucial to approach AI with a blend of enthusiasm and caution. While AI offers innovative solutions, its output requires careful review for accuracy.”
Marketer Carothers points to ethical challenges facing the industry: “AI imagery does not mean a designer has the capability to produce a design. It is very important for all AI-assisted images to be labeled as such, and for designers to band together to hold themselves accountable for transparency so consumers are not misled.”
Designer Martin agrees that not disclosing the use of AI is an important issue for the design profession. She also notes that the tools currently in use are imperfect: “AI does not understand space planning codes and human interaction with spaces.” There are resources in development to address its shortcomings, she shares. Be careful of your reliance on technology in lieu of your expertise and instincts!
On the end user front, “Homeowners are definitely concerned about the privacy aspects of smart devices, which all utilize artificial intelligence, but they nonetheless continue to buy them,” Carothers comments. She sees these users still wanting human connections and support from the companies they do business with.
Gilbride’s clients are less concerned about a malicious smart home becoming sentient and burning them in the shower, he says, “but [are] very conscious of where the very private data of their personal home could be used without their consent.” So am I – and so should you!
“Technology is becoming more pervasive in both the design process as well as products,” Haynie declares. “We anticipate the use of AI will enhance technology and products for increased convenience and improved usage.”
Adoption is essential, Carothers accurately, in my opinion, declares. “Any technological advance that saves people time, money or both will see worldwide adoption, as we saw with the internet, and then social media.” AI is the next iteration of this phenomenon and is already seeing adoption and acceleration. “Companies that manage the balance between AI adoption and human connection well will be the ones that will thrive in 2024 and beyond,” Carothers predicts. Will yours be among them? ▪
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an author, wellness design consultant and NKBA Chapter presenter. Her award-winning third book, Wellness by Design (Simon & Schuster, 2020), has a new Bonus Chapter: Lessons for How We Live Now, published October 2023. Learn more about her Wellness Market presentations, books and consulting services at jamiegold.net.