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AI in the Design Industry: Friend or Foe?

AI… is not a new thing.

AI brings up a variety of emotions for people: some are excited about the possibilities, others don’t want anything to change. At the end of the day, AI has been around for a long time, in everything we’ve been doing, from online shopping to systems in our technology. So what’s the difference now? Everyone’s talking about it like this is the first time we’ve been given direct access to asking a computer something. We’ve had Google and predictive keyword searches for a long time, so AI is not shockingly new, but tools like ChatGPT take it to another level with “assistant” capabilities. 

AI changes in the design industry: is automation a good thing?

In design, AI can be used as a tool, with caution. Actually, we are starting to see a whole proliferation of tools that can automate the design process and that’s where it gets a little bit scary for me as a designer. Currently, Adobe has a lot of AI tools built right into the programs, some in Beta, and some are part of the full-on app. It allows us to remove the background or extend it, or tell it specific requests like “put a pink car on a rainbow” and it will do that. 

What’s the authentic source?

Sure, some of it is just for fun — we’ve seen our designers have fun with it during the day and see the capability. But there have also been a lot of problems where people try the automation features, like extending the background, and the end result really needs a lot of work. 

This leads to questioning the authenticity of the actual source. What is the AI using to pull from? For example, if we were to have a Victorian room with a painting and we wanted to extend the background, AI would think about it and create something but it doesn’t really know the context. That bothers me as a designer: I like to use stuff that’s authentic. If someone created out of their imagination, even with something like stock photos, we know that someone has an intention and created an environment. But with AI, we are using a robotic brain to pretend it knows what’s back there. I have a problem with that — we’re faking reality in a way that’s never been done before. 

Legal considerations of designing with AI

I also have issues with AI being used in design when people come into the program and say “Make me a logo” and then people actually use it. Folks should ask themselves: 1) What’s the source of the artwork? 2) How do we know it wasn’t taken from someone else’s logo? 3) Is it a trademark or legal violation? The logo uploaded online could be the final design or concept of a student that is now part of someone’s commercial design, creating a host of licensing and ethical issues.

The personal approach to design will never be present in AI

At its core, automation and AI take away from the process inherent to who we are as designers. We always do due diligence in learning about the company, and who our clients are. What are their favourite colours? What logos do they like and don’t like? What websites do they like and don’t like? The logo has to represent the company or the individual correctly. 

When we use AI to get three logo concepts, it’s like saying give me 3 concepts for whatever, with no background or personality check. How does it know? It doesn’t. 

So what’s the use of AI in design?

I think we can always use it as a tool in our box, to generate ideas, create concepts, or double-check things. At the end of the day, I see it as a tool and not as a designer. I fear people will see it as a mechanism to get their designs achieved. This may be people who are looking to cut costs or people who don’t yet understand the value of professional human design work. While it may be virtually impossible to differentiate an AI design from a human one, the repercussions on brand loyalty, brand awareness, and overall communications will be vast because the AI option will lack context and the human touch.  

Will AI replace human designers?

I don’t think it’s ever going to replace us. There have been big conversations about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) that eventually faded and now we don’t hear as much about these topics. I think AI is super hot right now because it can make our lives easier and we have access to it. But I don’t think it will ever replace good writers and good artists. We need people to truly write and to create substantively and with validity.