Design & AI: All tooled up!

By Ryan McElderry • 14 December 2023 • 4 minutes reading time

Has there been a more polarising term in the creative industry than AI? Probably not since the digital revolution of design in the mid-2000s. Back then, traditional designers specialising in movable type and hand-drawn layouts threw their hands up in outrage at this new technology. Adobe Creative Suite? What’s that and why should I care?! Well, they did end up caring, and we find ourselves in a similar position now.

In this post, I look at the reality of integrating this new era of technology into our day-to-day design workflow (while also using my dog Juno to represent the relentless, oncoming wave of AI).

The times they are a-changing?

I’m just about old enough to have been urged to buy sets of Pantone markers and giant paper portfolios at college. We were sitting there on the cusp of this new digital age, with one foot respectfully learning the craft and proper working processes of traditional design, while the other was boldly messing about in Photoshop and Illustrator CS2. We baffled our brains learning these slick, creative tools.

AI might be the word of the moment, but if you’re a designer, chances are you’ve already been using it for most of your career. Whether you’ve been filling in the backgrounds of images or smart-editing components, the computer has been doing some of the heavy lifting for a while. After all, that’s what these tools are for, and history suggests that designers are accustomed to organically adopting new technologies as they evolve and seamlessly incorporating them into their toolkit.

Why embrace AI for design?

As a creative, you can often feel a sense of guilt for using tools that can essentially make your job easier. But what do we mean by easy?

It depends on how you define the value of your work; is it purely the time spent toiling away at a piece, cutting out, colouring and composing? Or do you value the core creative thought that drives the work and the vision that you’re aiming to achieve? You might fall somewhere in the middle, but there’s no denying that the adoption of certain AI tech can vastly improve your efficiency.

When it comes to ideas, clients are essentially paying for our brains – our creativity and unique skills. Using some AI doesn’t change that, but I’ve found it can help you get to the solution quicker, saving internal resources and providing added value for clients within a shorter timeframe.

Design and AI

The human touch

The human presence in all of this is key, and the purist in me maintains that nothing can replicate that messy, sporadic process of human creativity. If you take a tool like MidJourney, it uses Human Reinforcement Learning Feedback to generate effective creative visuals: humans are indeed feeding the tech, but not just any humans. A curated set of art directors with compositional knowledge and experience were given Alpha access to train the software and ensure levels of quality. The very peers we admire are not only embracing it, but are also determined to enhance and refine it.

When we examine our working process, AI tools serve as an effective mid-point, aiding in the generation of innovative experiments and conceptualisation of ideas. The communication of what an idea could become has never been more seamless than it is now, whether that’s to an internal content team or to a potential client in a pitch.

Playing their part

While tools cannot substitute a brilliant core idea, nor independently execute the creative solution, they can streamline the laborious aspects, affording you more time to focus on what you excel at—being creative. It’s the adoption of them, in tandem with more traditional tools and techniques, that can give you optimum results. And who knows, you and your team might upskill yourselves in the process.

Of course, as with any tool, some are better than others and shouldn’t be leaned on too heavily. In this rapidly evolving landscape, it’s up to us to be vigilant.

Where do you stand?

When it comes to adopting AI, we all need to decide our own stance. Whether that’s utilising technology that sources charity-owned free images or restricting usage to specific activities, one thing is for sure, it’s not going away any time soon. Understanding the broader ripple effect is also crucial; it’s a factor we must take into account as we continue to evolve. As a business, we have to approach anything new and disruptive with caution, but I for one am enjoying the wild ride it’s taking us on. I’m learning at a quicker pace than I have for the previous decade and together with the team, applying that knowledge to offer even more engaging pieces for our clients.

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