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In the ever-changing landscape of digital design, the undeniable influx of constantly advancing AI technology is evident. As creatives, producing unique and purposeful design solutions is our area of expertise, skills that we have worked long and hard to perfect – so, of course, we must be skeptical of its artificial outcomes. However, its potential to elevate and further evolve our creative ideas is enormous, and is something that we can’t ignore.

It’s here that we find ourselves needing to trust in its capabilities and use it to our advantage – working with it, not against it. In this blog, I will review the ways we are utilising AI in our design processes, and how we’re finding a balance between open-mindedness, and a cautious understanding of its capabilities and limitations.

Benefits of AI in design

Here are some of the ways we’ve found AI can help us within design.

Greater efficiency

 AI can automate and speed up tedious and often time-consuming jobs such as image editing, extending, and background removal. As we’re often working within Adobe Suite, the AI advances of Adobe Firefly mean that these frequent tasks are made so much simpler with the in-platform tools, meaning you can make the changes as you go, rather than having to leave the platform and import images back in.

Enhanced creativity

 A whole range of AI tools can generate innovative concepts from simple prompts. Although ideas will often need refining, it’s a great way to provide inspiration and new ideas as a result of the process. This is particularly helpful when experiencing ‘designers block’, and you’re in need of some alternative perspectives.

High quality, polished visuals

There’s no denying that when producing visuals through tools such as Dall-E and Midjourney, the quality and finish of the images is excellent. Specific prompts also allow you to add textures, effects, and specific lighting, meaning the level of detail is impressive – something that would take considerably longer to produce if designing by hand.

Creative copy and prompts

We use ChatGPT for several day-to-day tasks, but it’s particularly helpful for writing detailed Midjourney prompts. It can provide you with a thorough and well-crafted prompt, which you can then input into Midjourney, typically resulting in an image that closely aligns with your original idea (although not always – I’ll go into more detail on this later).

Prompts for image generation is a whole skill within itself, and it takes a lot of training and experience to get right, but ChatGPT is a good starting point prior to image generation, which you can then adjust as you go.

Visualising concepts for briefs or pitches

AI image generation tools can produce initial visual concepts quickly and efficiently. This process is highly useful for when we are pitching a new idea to a client or colleague, without the need of investing too much resource into this early stage. Having a visual aid, even if it’s just a nod to an idea, is great for bringing ideas to life and helping a client or colleague understand the direction of the idea we are putting in front them.

Limitations of AI in design

Of course, where there are benefits, there are drawbacks too; and these are just some of the challenges we’ve found when working with AI.

Lack of human and emotional perspectives

The most significant point of all, and something that will always stand firm in the conversations surrounding whether AI will replace designers (it won’t). AI will never compare to how designers can make intuitive creative decisions, and our ability to resonate with human experiences and emotions. The issue of originality also fits well in to this point; as its algorithms are based on patterns and existing data, it means that no output is truly original, therefore we cannot rely solely on AI as there needs to be another level of human adaptation.

Not a short-term solution

AI can often end up adding more time to the design process due to substantial time required for learning and integrating it into workflows. As mentioned above, understanding how prompts work for image generation is a whole new skillset on its own, so like any other creative skill, it takes time to learn and perfect.

Additional time is also needed to edit and refine designs generated by AI to achieve the desired outcome. It’s very rare that you will generate an AI image that you are completely satisfied with. So here, we must emphasise that AI in design is a long-term investment, not a short-term fix.

Dependency on AI

A big risk, particularly in design, is becoming too dependent on its automated solutions. Relying on AI to be a part of your creative ideation and production processes might result in losing the initiative to develop manual design skills and creative problem-solving abilities. Over time, this dependency may lead to skill erosion, and the ability to produce unique and original outcomes.

It’s obvious it’s AI art

Although AI image generation offers such a vast range of effects, lighting variations and styles, the outcome always retains a distinct AI aesthetic. There is a certain polished, airbrushed look and feel to the images that sets it so far apart from human-created art. This ties back into my point of its lack of human perspective, and how the technology shows clear limitations when it comes to replicating human creativity. It’s often the imperfections and uniqueness that we appreciate the most when it comes to art and design, and that it something that AI cannot currently replicate.

Misunderstanding AI’s complexities

Based on the points I’ve covered in this blog, it’s important to highlight how these issues may impact AI’s role in the design process, especially when producing work for clients. Without appropriate education on its capabilities and limitations, clients or colleagues may encounter challenges in aligning their expectations with the reality of the complexities involved in generating and refining AI-generated designs.

To conclude, while AI offers significant advantages by enhancing our creative processes and outputs, it also presents us with some challenges of which we must be wary. Embracing its qualities and adapting it to suit our needs is essential, whether from the perspective of an individual, an agency, or a brand. However, it’s crucial to prioritise human expression in design, ensuring that creativity and emotion remain at the forefront of our creations, and that we do not become overly reliant on these tools simply to save time or money.