Image Search: A New Tool For Designers

Designers have a new tool to add to their bag of tricks.

Image recognition means that computers gain information and understanding from digital images or video and they also analyze and categorize image data. Designers can now search their files by image instead of just text and automatically add metadata tags to images in their libraries — for example, a hideaway door on a kitchen cabinet. A meta tag or metadata is information that is not shown in the image but is attached to the file such as descriptions, keywords, document authors, last modified dates, etc.

Image recognition, a type of artificial intelligence, is more advanced than just identifying an image; it also has the capability to identify context. Instead of identifying “two people in a kitchen,” computers (like smartphones) can recognize that the two people are at the kitchen sink with plates in their hands and the water is turned on; thus understanding and conveying that people are doing dishes.

Below are some areas where designers can benefit from image recognition, which is just in its infancy.


Automated Image Tagging. You can have your image files tagged with meta-data automatically by a cloud service like Google Drive or Box so they are easily searchable. You can literally dump tons of photographs into one of these cloud services, and it will attach meta tags for you using artificial intelligence. I was stunned to look at my image files recently and see all the added meta tags. If you’ve ever been in a design meeting with clients, and you know you have the perfect image to share with them – but you can’t find it right then – image recognition will be a game changer for you.
 

Reverse Image Search. You can now search online by uploading an image to a service like google reverse image search. I have use this to find manufactures of wallpaper and ceramic tile in less than 30 seconds. I’ve also use the search to identify products such as Kohler sinks and metal finishes like copper for hoods.
 

Discovery. Designers love discovery and new inspiration, so for this example, I’m going to compare a search for a piece of cabinetry hardware by text and then by image. By text, I type “cabinetry hardware” and all my results down at the bottom of the page are cabinetry hardware (below).

 
Image Search: A New Tool For Designers  |  Dream Kitchen Builders
 

Next, I’m going to upload a piece of hardware to start the image search, and although cabinetry hardware does come up, check out what else the computer found based on the image and the “nickel” meta tag .The screenshot of other nickel images is well down on the page, but on the way there, I see images and shapes that I’ve never thought of using for cabinetry hardware (below).

 
Image Recognition  |  Dream Kitchen Builders
 

For the whole history of computing searching has been just by text, which is narrow because you’re searching for something very specific. Just the opposite is true with images because images can convey many things all at one time. Image search has open the door for discovery.

Artificial Intelligence In The Kitchen

SMART KITCHENS AND HOME AUTOMATION are crossing over into the mainstream. Kitchens are the biggest work places in the home so we can use this new technology to minimize our work in those spaces and provide ourselves with more free time. We can now control hundreds of new devices for the home remotely and wirelessly.

Artificial Intelligence In The Kitchen  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

It'll be interesting to see how kitchen designers manage the opportunities and challenges all this new technology brings with it. We will need to be fluent in smart technology but most of this technology seems to be DIY, so what's in it for us? Smart kitchen technology is a proficiency kitchen designers can offer their clients as a service and those designers who are fluent in home automation and smart kitchens will have an advantage. The following are some products, trends and potential issues I see affecting home automation and smart kitchen design.
 

TOYS TO TOOLS.

Inventions can look like toys when they first come out, but if they are adopted and productive they become tools. Corporate America made fun of the Apple mouse at first but then adopted it once Microsoft designed software requiring a mouse. Most of us thought Snapchat was just another cute app - nothing more than a gadget that lets us glimpse photos and then makes them disappear. Snapchat is actually the first mobile native app to go mainstream and is now worth billions; Snap now also offers a desktop app and snap spectacles which is little camera/computers embedded in eyeglasses that are helpful for taking hands free photos and videos. This could be useful to designers who produce their own marketing content. Designers can walk through a project while narrating and the spectacles record it all. 

This year's big "toy" is the smart speaker, the Apple HomePod will be vying for home automation market domination with Amazon Echo and Echo Dot as well as Google Home. Smart speakers can be used to control functions in the kitchen like lighting, music and appliances to make those spaces more efficient. They can help unlock our doors and turn on our lights when we come home, they can help us buy our groceries and deliver them they can help feed the dog and let them out; and they can provide the evening's music or movie entertainment.

Smart speakers can make our homes better in so many ways but they can also have negative outcomes. Some voice assistants are always listening and recording conversations, and some send your personal data to the cloud - which you agreed to let them do. Now you no longer own all the rights to the conversations that took place in your home.

Another concern is that TV commercials have been known to trigger smart speaker assistants to make phone calls for you to online stores or even to the sheriff. It's cute when Alexa, Amazon's assistant talks to you but I don't think it's such a good idea that anyone within hearing range of the Echo smart speaker - children, for example- can order merchandise that will be charged your account. Amazon is currently working on the ability to understand different voices.

 

VOICE REPLACES TOUCH.

Touch screens are being replaced by our voices because speech recognition technology has reached an accuracy level equal to humans. Computers can recognize our speech at about 95% accuracy. Say "turn on the exhaust fan" to your assistant or "light up the prep area" and almost magically these things can happen.
 

PRIVACY, SECURITY AND LEGAL CONCERNS.

Battle lines are being drawn around our privacy in the home. On one hand Amazon needs your data to be a leader in sales, Google needs your data to be a leader in search. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, is willing to sacrifice profit for privacy. Apple does not send your data to the cloud like Amazon and Google do. As a professional designer I won't be recommending smart kitchen systems that use my data and share my personal information. There are no laws to protect personal data ownership once across your threshold and goes to the cloud. Read the fine print to see who owns the rights to conversations taking place in your kitchen and your clients' kitchens.


MACHINE LEARNING AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.

Smart speakers (machines) can learn from us and from our behaviors, and voice recognition is just one aspect of artificial intelligence. Image recognition is another and that's the reason Amazon just introduced the Echo Look, which is a $200 hands-free camera that doubles as a smart speaker.

Artificial intelligence (AI) specifically speech recognition, is making our connection to all things digital and online less abstract. Instead of keyboards touch screens and mice, we can just talk to computers. AI will be a big benefit for us and our clients as we age in place our voices will be able to do things that arthritic hands can't, and folks with shaky hands will be able to use voice to operate things in the kitchen instead of using a keyboard or a touch surface.

Smart kitchen technology has the potential to provide us and our clients with huge benefits - especially when it comes to saving time and ease-of-use. Fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a big ride, as smart kitchens are now front and center in the race for home automation.