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Should designers worry about AI Generative Design tools like DALL-E 2?

Over the past week, I’ve read a lot of discussion about the future of creative careers in response to DALL-E 2 graphics spreading across social media platforms. There’s a lot of fear about what AI could do to the creative job market–as well as a lot of designers embracing these AI tools and trying to incorporate them into their workflow. 

If you are an individual worried about what this could mean for you as a designer, remember one thing. The tool doesn’t make the designer. 

You have a trained mind, design is a process you work through. Programs, materials, medium–they're all tools. What matters is how you, the creative, get the idea in your head into reality. How you, the designer, solve the problems in front of you. 

Is the job market going to look different? Most certainly. Designers work on a lot of bullshit. Design work is filled with menial tasks that are handed off because most people just aren't trained to do it. If AI can speed up a step in the design process, you should take it. We want a world where people have access to good design. Paying hundreds of illustrators to make the same illustrations over and over again isn’t a good use of labor. If we can use an AI to make endless amounts of meaningless corporate graphics, we should do that. 

When that happens, which it will, I don’t think it will last long. Art and design doesn’t just “work”, it has a life behind it that gives it meaning. Even if AI can match the visual aesthetic of your work, it can’t replace the human meaning the creator puts behind it. Do you really think big tech companies that constantly chase after clout are going to be satisfied with graphics made purely by AI? Absolutely not. Now a graphic designer that has complete artistic mastery over an AI generative tool? Silicon Valley is WET at the thought. 

Does this mean you are going to lose the ability to do your favorite work? Not necessarily. We have the ability to digitally print signs of any shape or size. Yet, we still pay people to hand paint signs all across the world. Your work is not going to disappear overnight. People thought magazines would die off, but they responded by targeting more niche demographics. Really you’re just going to be given a new task to take up your time. You don’t need to worry designers, you will learn to work with AI datasets soon enough. Just one more skill to check off on the endless list of things clients expect you to do. Think of it like a spotify playlist, but instead of a dozen songs–you get to switch on and off 6.5 million images for the AI to read. How fun.

What does the future of design tools look like with AI integrated into them?

I was at a used bookstore the other day and found a copy of Grid Systems by Kimberly Elam. It’s a foundational design book from 2004 with some great examples of how to start your design process with a grid and end with your final product. I actually thought it was a perfect representation of what future AI supported design tools could look like. 

Say you’re working on a poster design, you have a nice compositional idea in your head. You sketched out some drafts and ended up with this grid. You could easily draw this grid in something like Illustrator or Indesign. Now what if the AI could recognize the shapes formed in this grid? What if you told the AI where you wanted text, shapes, and patterns?

Something like this perhaps? Now what if you could select each shape, each piece of space in your grid and add in your content. The AI can take your body copy and just format it for you, it could even edit your body copy to make it cleaner for spacing or make your headlines punchier. You’ve given the AI your content, you’ve given your AI the grid structure, maybe you even give it a color palette. 

Boom, your poster is created. Kerning is perfected, body type legible, and if the AI makes any mistakes–you could edit it yourself. Contemporary tools like Canva already use basic templates to give people access to reliable design work, this is just the next step. 

Do I really have no worries about AI affecting creative careers?

Well…no, there are still a lot of questions I have about how these tools work and where they should be usable. New technology gets to hide behind the idea of being in the “wild west”, where there are no rules or regulations because the “tools and ideas are new”. I’m not worried about AI replacing me as a designer. I’m worried about the ethical use of these tools and the implications they have for our workforce.

What are going to be the rules around intellectual property used in datasets? I mean don’t get me wrong, in a vacuum–these generative AI only work because so many of our graphics are made accessible and free. However, images generated by DALL-E are free to use commercially. People are going to generate images they expect to profit off of. You want to post your portfolio online, well now DALL-E can use that portfolio to take work from you. You didn’t even have the chance to apply. 

These generative tools claim to have safeguards in place to remove violent, sexual or hateful content. They claim to have automated and human monitoring systems in place to catch repetition and popular faces being generated. Which is great to hear, but I’m supposed to believe any of these companies have the ethical or moral backbone to properly monitor these tools? Where is the point of consent for designers uploading their work online? If these AI don’t have transparent datasets, that’s a problem. 

There’s an argument to be made that since we as humans learn how to make art by observing others do it, that AI should be free to use any image to learn and generate work from. If we were talking about purely personal and creative use, then I think I could be swayed to agree with that. However, when these AI are used to create commercial assets that provide profits for a company, I don’t think this argument makes sense. A designer is now forced to consent to be in a graphic generative database simply to post their work online. Is this providing culture to the world or just money in other people’s pockets? We are born into a world where we are forced to be wage slaves to live, to exist, and to survive. Do we have the support tools to just drop our creative workforce? The same workforce that did all the labor to make this AI possible and wont receive any financial support from it? No, we don’t. 

Frankly, this should be a wake up call for designers in the commercial field. In the field of commercial art, the focus has and will always be on commercial–not the arts. It’s a noble cause for designers to put so much creative energy behind their commercial work. However, it is work that will be lost to anyone, but themselves and their direct collaborators. You will be left in the dust as soon as possible, milk these companies for as much as you can. These tools will spit in your face and laugh you out of the room. Good Luck Designers. 

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