This is a question those in the creative industry have probably asked themselves in the past few years.
Hugo Evans, senior designer at We Are Tilt has a decade-long career spanning branding, print and digital. The arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) is certainly something that has made him question what impact it’ll have on his future.
AI is no longer something we only see in films depicting a dystopian future ruled by robots. It’s here. It’s arrived. It’s become a utility.
But don’t worry – the human race isn’t hurtling towards a future enslaved by robots. For the most part, the films are wrong.
There’s no denying there’s a lot we still don’t know about AI. And that’s created a healthy dose of uncertainty and scepticism. But AI is ultimately super-powered decision making based on multiple inputs and sources. Put simply, it’s exceptionally good at assembling things or reassembling things it has already been given – by us – the adults in the situation.
In fact, our ability to think creatively is the biggest differentiator between us and machines. The (frankly) chaotic, sometimes transcendental nature of creative thinking is one of the hardest human behaviours for computers to replicate. Only you can come up with an idea that pulls on your unique set of lived experience, influences and points of reference. That’s what makes your way of thinking entirely irreplicable.
And as all creatives know, creative thinking isn’t easy. It takes a huge spectrum of abilities. Yes sure, it takes imagination, open-mindedness and a healthy dose of communication skills. But it also takes restraint, diplomacy, and the ability to think analytically. To take an insight and turn it into something that captures the hearts, minds and imagination of many is a true skill.
This is the very core of what we do as creatives. And this is the thing that protects us the most. The AI tools available to us today are undoubtedly very clever, and extremely fast. In many cases – faster than we could ever be. However, these tools are here to help the creative workflow, not replace it.
We’re in an age where we have a set of ever-evolving AI-powered tools at our fingertips. But as a designer, I’m not threatened by them. Here’s why.
Automation tools and AI design tools offer us the gift of speed: they can help us work faster, smarter and ultimately more efficiently. When used correctly these tools can help us in our endeavour to create better, more useful experiences for other people. But they couldn’t do it alone.
AI tools have the ability to ‘learn’ behaviour. This is one of their greatest gifts to us. The tools can essentially create an ‘artificial knowledge base’. The more you use them, the bigger it becomes. The bigger the knowledge base – the better the tools.
But they need us to power the knowledge base.
And this is why I’m a supporter of AI design tools. Because even on the most basic level, these tools have the potential to understand the individual nuances of each designer, and adapt automation to support these individual ways of working.
So not only could AI carry out all the mundane daily tasks of a designer at twice the speed – leaving us more time for the creative part – it can also learn just how we like these tasks to be completed. But it’s still working for me. Not the other way around.
New ways to create
If you’ve been on Twitter in the last year you’ve probably come across some AI-generated artwork. And for good reason. One of the most impressive and fastest growing areas of AI in design is image generation software like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney. They have the ability to create entirely unique images from text descriptions.
They essentially analyse the relationship between words and images, creating unique image outputs based on text the user inputs. And they’re scarily good.
Here’s some stuff we made:
AI image generators have allowed designers, artists and illustrators to create millions of unique images at rapid speeds. These images can help the creation of mood boards, reference material and even stunning artwork – some of which have gone on to be sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
These tools have proved especially useful for both our design and animation departments here at Tilt. Where previously we would spend hours scouring the internet for imagery, we can now put together completely unique mood boards and reference material in half the time. Leaving us more time to focus on the fun bit – the work!
Tools like DALL-E 2 and Midjourney take time to master. Which is why there’s so many awful AI art examples out there. Like any creative tool, you need to have a previous understanding of artworking to get the true spectrum of possibilities from it. It takes time, practice and skill to master. But once you’ve got the hang of it, the benefits to the creative workflow are incredible.
One thing I’m particularly excited to see is how we can use these tools to optimise the design process for more rapid prototyping. Tasks like wireframing and user testing are seriously time-consuming. To have an option to automate these processes would be pretty useful when short on time or budget.
When designing a website for example, we have to create a set of wireframes inclusive of all the variants we want to test, make those wireframes into clickable prototypes and then send those prototypes on for user testing. We then wait for the test results to return before we can proceed. This whole process can take months to complete.
With the ability to pull information from countless data points at speed, AI means we can create incredibly accurate personas that we could use to create limitless artificial ‘users’ on which to test different designs, without the need for – dare I say it – much human interference at all.
Coupled with the ability to generate numerous variations of not just wireframes but full user journeys, we could click a button and run a complete cycle of test-learn-iterate almost entirely through AI – carrying out multiple user tests in an incredibly short space of time. Producing both qualitative and quantitative data that helps designers design higher-performing experiences based on the best converting designs.
This is an exciting idea of how AI could be aiding design teams in the future – reducing time consuming processes and lending more space to play, ideate and build based on solid data. Rather than being bogged down in process it means we have more time to think of better ideas.
Everyone stop screaming, we’re going to be just fine
AI shouldn’t be seen as threatening. It’s fun to consider how robots might eventually take over the world and enslave us all in their dystopian barren wasteland, but ultimately, boringly, it’s just the next useful human tool. Like the wheel. Or the internet.
AI offers us new tools to help us design better experiences, work more efficiently and ultimately save time. Time that can be spent on more important stuff – reading that book about New York street photography, or that blog post on the history of the Berlin graffiti culture. You know, the stuff that updates our unique points of reference and lived experience. Stuff to make us better creative thinkers.
It feels like we’re at the start of a really interesting shift in the creative industries. I’m excited by what AI has brought to the table so far and I’m excited to experiment with all the things it could do.