Takeover Tuesday: AI Technology – A graphic designer’s view

Are you curious about AI technology? Have you used it in your work at all? If so when / how?

To answer ‘Am I curious about AI technology within the work I do’ I firstly must ask myself (as I imagine most designers have done over the last few years) am I worried about AI technology within the work I do? I’ve had many people ask me the question ‘Does it worry you that AI will one day take your job?’ or ‘Are you worried clients will turn to AI rather than coming to you?’

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, followed by researching the pros and cons of how AI can either help or hinder my career and the solid resolution I always come to is that we need to look at AI as something to help us rather than as a threat. It can be a vital tool within our armoury.

If I look closely at the ‘tools’ I currently use to create my designs, it’s clear that AI has been around for a long time, and I’ve been using AI for years without even knowing it. One feature that instantly springs to mind within Photoshop is the ‘Content-Aware Fill’ tool – introduced way back in CS5 (2010). The Content-Aware Fill tool uses AI technology to blend and replace pixels and allows me to move a selected object within an image, expand the width or height of an image without distorting the subject, or integrate new objects into an existing image. I’ve been using this tool for over a decade - 13 years in fact! Has it helped me or hindered me? The answer is it has 100% helped me. Many times. Most recently, I used this tool in a recent campaign, where the client supplied us with a selection of images so we could create graphics to promote their new fleet of ships. As the images of the ships were supplied in a landscape format, I needed to increase the sky above and the sea below to centre the subject and allow room for us to use text content above and below. The tool made it a quick, relatively easy solution, saving a lot of time.

Content-Aware Fill tool (Before)

Content-Aware Fill tool (During)
Content-Aware Fill tool (During)

Content-Aware Fill tool (After)

There are a few other tools I use regularly - one I use almost all the time is Khroma. Khroma is an AI led colour tool which is awesome when starting a new branding exercise – you type your preferred colour i.e., ‘green’ and this free website will collate lots of shades of green, not only that, but it also shows colours that work best together, as well as the colours that contrast the most. When creating a colour palette for a new project this has been a game-changer!

Khroma ai tool

I assume that software is only going to get better, stronger, and introduce more AI technology. This must be a good thing for designers and creatives in my opinion, so to answer the initial question – am I curious about AI Tech, yes, absolutely!

As a graphic designer do you find it easy to make sustainable choices?

I guess the biggest change I’ve made over recent years is to only print when essential. In the past I’ve felt guilty printing out client briefs, emails, or amendments to projects. I did this to try and help separate my design workflow from one screen, but I now use an iPad as a second screen which has drastically reduced the need to print anything out.

Similarly, rather than having desks filled with sketch pads, paper, notebooks to brainstorm ideas at the conceptual phase of a project, we can now do this digitally - which is not only cleaner to the environment, but quicker and easier to collaborate with colleagues and clients.

How the artwork will be produced is a big part of the design process. Again, as much as possible we try and offer digital solutions to clients…but that said, print is certainly not dead! There are lots of ways we can continue to print and still be sustainable. Some examples include using recycled materials/inks, ensuring we work with printers and producers that share sustainable values and offer sustainable products, and aligning ourselves with clients who are conscious of being as sustainable as possible.

Considering the above answer, do you think that AI technology is going to help design become more sustainable?

Decisions that affect sustainability in design has most impact at the conceptual phase of a project. It’s where we’re thinking about how we want a design to look and work. Does it do what we want or need it to do? We’ve been trying variations and gathering research. A huge part of starting any project is benchmarking, gathering inspiration, and seeing what others are doing in the same space. If we can use AI to help with this idea generation or help us visualise an idea quickly which we can then build, tweak, and refine, it will save time and energy and allow us to focus on how to make a design the best it can be. For me it’s all about speeding up the mundane workflow. In short, AI can free up time to focus on creative work and/or to focus on finding more sustainable solutions within the design piece.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role as a graphic designer?

• Working to tight deadlines and managing time.

• Balancing personal style/preferences with a client’s preferred direction.

• Idea generation/visualisation.

• Laborious tasks such as resizing a lot of images.

• Proof-checking content.

Considering the above answers, do you think AI technology can help with any of these challenges?

When used correctly, AI can help with a lot of the above – firstly, it allows us to generate ideas quickly which we can then spend time considering and developing. I’ve recently been looking into the new Adobe Firefly, which is Adobe’s new AI-led product, and it looks pretty cool! It’s still Beta phase but a couple of features I’m really looking forward to checking out is the ‘Sketch to Vector’ feature. This allows you to scan in a sketch and it then turns that sketch into a vector, not only that, but it also gives you variations of the sketch! This will be an awesome tool, especially when working on branding projects – although I wouldn’t consider using it for final designs, it could speed up the idea generation stage and allow me to focus on the design refinement phase. With Firefly, you’ll be able to easily identify a subject and can replace it with anything else at the click of a button. As well as ‘Sketch to Vector’, another feature is ‘Text to Vector’ – by typing in simple prompts, Firefly will be able to generate unique images on demand. This will still of course require a human element to interpret and evaluate the appropriateness of the AI generated output, but it would be a great starting point to work from when creating initial concepts for a project.

The automation of routine tasks is one of the most exciting elements of using AI – as mentioned above, resizing a lot of images can be a time consuming and laborious task and one that many creatives find challenging… AI could also potentially be used for checking designs for consistency and checking for compliance with branding guidelines, etc. If AI can help with this kind of task to allow us more time to focus on creative tasks, then I’d welcome it with open arms!

Again, touching on something we’ve all used many times but don’t necessarily look at as being artificial intelligence, is spell checking. This is now much more than just clicking a button and the computer telling you what you’ve spelt wrong or where you’ve put a comma in the wrong place. There are whole AI programs that completely re-write full sentences, paragraphs and even blogs. Although one thing I have learnt from using sites such as AdWord and Jasper is that the best results come from taking care with the inputs which can be trial and error.

What do you believe are the main benefits using a graphic designer, like yourself, over AI technology?

Human curiosity will never be replaced in my opinion. As great as AI is, it still needs humans to use it right. The more time we put into AI, the better the result. We’ve still got to ask it the right questions, we’ve still got to have creative minds to think of those questions. From what I’ve seen, AI is far from being ready to replace the human way of thinking and creativity. Our brains are full of possibilities and ideas, we’re constantly asking ourselves why? How? Emotion and empathy are also central to what we do and many of the things we design use emotion as a starting point – how does the design make us feel? How do we want others to feel? What message do we want this specific piece of creative to portray?

In short, Artificial Intelligence does not have the ability to listen to clients, have empathy, observe real-world situations, frame problems, and then find appropriate solutions. A computer can't read between the lines of communication or infer what the outputs will mean to your target audience. Despite advances in technology, graphic designers still offer these core elements of creativity. Of course, clients might well be tempted to create a logo through an AI logo generator for a fraction of the cost, but without the input of a skilled designer, there’s no certainty that it will convey the desired messaging or resonate as intended with target audiences.

Laptop graphics design

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