The topic of Artificial Intelligence is a hot one when it comes to industry, government—even civilization. Its rapid development has made what is possible seem limitless. What does that mean for creatives? The answer is in the eye of the beholder.
I started as a graphic design intern in Boston during my junior summer in college, 1997. My first task was to take many camera-ready art boards for different surgical blade types and digitize them using Adobe Illustrator. Needless to say, I had some mad bezier pen tool skills by the end of my stint. This job, however, was a milestone not just for me, but for the design industry as a whole. We were turning a corner, moving beyond paper and pen to monitor and mouse. Many senior-level practitioners struggled to accept this new toolkit; many design schools still resist incorporating digital art into their curriculum.1 But, most embraced it, valuing its relative speed and ease, taking busywork our of the equation in order to open the door for bigger brainstorms. Over time, and despite the frustration with QuarkXpress’ tendency for quitting mid-layout without saving changes and Photoshop’s seemingly hourlong rasterization, designers came to appreciate the benefits of this modern-aged toolkit.
Today, the toolbox opens itself further to automation—the gifts of AI. Instead of spending time trolling the internet for various images that fit the idea in our brain and cobbling them together in Photoshop, we can just plug our criteria into an AI engine and, poof! Dog on a tricycle with a bird on its shoulders in no time. So, what is to stop our brilliant computers from replacing us as creatives all together? Simple. Who came up with that canine scenario to begin with?
A recent article featuring Scott and Jake Friedman addresses this very subject. Storytelling: the challenge with which clients task writers and designers. Take a message and communicate it in a unique and meaningful way that captures the attention of its intended audience. The best creatives do this with an elegance and innovation that we define as good taste.
I am not afraid of AI because of what I experienced in those early days of moving from camera-ready to digital files. We’ve been through this before. AI can not make something out of nothing. These engines pull from existing knowledge inputted from humans and their experience. Though ChatGPT may be able to create some stunningly witty copy for that next ad campaign, AI won’t have the nuanced skill and context to impart that essence of newness, individuality and experience that only humans can bring. As Jake Friedman puts it, creatives are the conductors of taste: “It’s a delicate skill but it’s utterly human—it’s the conductor who sets the tempo and brings everything together, making something cohesive out of a jumble of inputs.”
There may be a few years of adjustment, just like when digital layout tools were made widely available. Everyone will think they are a creative, because AI did what they asked it to do. Soon, however, clients will realize they do not have the same intuition and specificity we creatives hold. All of these plug-and-play logos will start looking the same, ad copy will keep using the same tired puns, and it won’t be long until we hear that familiar knock on the door. They will open their eyes to the limits of AI. Me, I’ll just see it as another tool in the box, one that hopefully won’t freeze my computer.