AI is just a tool, y'all

A Designer’s Thoughts on Working with AI

Hi, my name is Craig Hansen and I am a visual designer and animator. Perhaps like many of you, I have a lot of curiosity and a dose of concern surrounding Artificial Intelligence. It seems like we went from nascent technology to omnipresent career/species killer overnight. Earlier this year, I was listening to the On Design podcast with Justyna Green and her guest said, “Don’t be afraid of AI taking your job, be afraid of the creative who learns AI taking your job.” This really struck a chord, and I began looking for classes to better educate myself on the topic and hopefully start to utilize AI in my own work. 

I don’t identify as a writer (sorry in advance to the editor). I normally bring you the fun animations that accompany Artisan’s expert copywriting here on the blog, but they gave me the green light to write a post. I completed a course on AI & Creativity at Parsons, via Coursera, and I have some thoughts…

So is AI creative? That was the premise of the course, let’s let ChatGPT answer:

“Yes, AI can be creative. While creativity has traditionally been considered a uniquely human attribute, advancements in artificial intelligence have enabled AI systems to exhibit creative capabilities. AI models like GPT-3, which I am based on, have demonstrated the ability to generate original and imaginative content, such as creative writing, poetry, artwork, and even music.

AI's creative process often involves analyzing vast amounts of data, learning patterns and trends, and generating novel output based on that knowledge. Although AI systems lack subjective experiences and emotions, they can simulate creativity by combining existing information and generating unique combinations or interpretations.

However, it's important to note that the creativity exhibited by AI is different from human creativity. AI creativity is often a result of pattern recognition and optimization algorithms rather than the deeply introspective and emotionally-driven processes that humans experience. Nonetheless, AI-generated creative content can still be valuable and inspiring in its own right.”

Isn’t this technology wild? Not bad, B+. 

Surprisingly (to me anyway) AI has actually been around for quite a while. Alan Turing gave possibly the earliest public lecture in London in 1947 to mention computer intelligence. In this lecture, he said, “What we want is a machine that can learn from experience,” and that the “possibility of letting the machine alter its own instructions provides the mechanism for this.”

In 1956, the term Artificial Intelligence was officially birthed when John McCarthy at the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence investigated ways in which machines could be made to simulate aspects of intelligence. This is the key idea that continues to drive the field forward ever since. More relatable to what was released publicly last year, in the early 1970s, an artist named Harold Cohen developed a program called AARON, which was able to create large abstract drawings and paintings based on a set of rules and instructions that he provided. Not too dissimilar to the prompts we use today, right? 

The ChatGPT answer, as well as the brief history lesson above, both mention “simulation” and I think that’s where this gets interesting. Is a poet simulating every poem they’ve ever read when they formulate a new poem? Is a photographer simulating photographs they’ve seen as they snap the shutter? Or through lived experience and emotional responses, do humans tap into their knowledge and use intuition to create wholly new products? Until AI comes up with the prompt, I think we are in the realm of simulation of creativity. 

But also as ChatGPT said (with a twinge of existential concern), “AI-generated content can still be valuable and inspiring in its own right.” And that to me is really the crux of the matter. Currently, it is a tool. A paintbrush doesn’t imagine the painting. A block of marble doesn’t spontaneously crumble into The Thinker and AI doesn’t need to be creative. It needs to aid us in our creativity, and it’s doing that brilliantly.

Adobe recently launched AI enhancements to Photoshop. Watch this quick YouTube video to see what cool things are possible. But really, Photoshop’s Healing Brush Tool has been using AI for years, creating a believable background patch based on an examination of surrounding pixels. 

I conduct monthly webinars with Career Foundry an online UI/UX program. This past week, just for fun, I installed a new AI Figma plugin a few minutes before the workshop began. I tried it once, felt it was intuitive enough to use in the live webinar, and incorporated it into my presentation. 

AI is easy to use and it serves us far better IMO than a lot of the preceding technology. A few weeks ago I wanted to generate ideas for marketing typefaces I designed. I prompted ChatGPT with “I designed two typefaces that are for sale online. Can you tell me how to market them to grow my audience please?” Be nice, just in case the robots do, in fact, take over someday 😉. Unlike a Google search with innumerable pages (some relevant, some not) on how to market things online, the ChatGPT prompt resulted in a bullet list of actionable ideas. For example, join type forums and promote your fonts there. Contact typography blogs and podcasts and offer a free weight of your font as an incentive. Promote across all of your social channels and use these hashtags. Yes, it gave me the hashtags! I followed a little more than half of the suggestions and sales are growing. 

Maybe ten years from now we’ll all be unemployed and I’ll read this blog and think how cute, how terrifically naïve. But I don’t think so. AI is a powerful tool, so it’s worth it to investigate this technology. Take a class. Install some plugins. Play with it and learn to use it to your advantage in your chosen creative field. Without a doubt, there will be disruption. Do what you can to mitigate that disruption to you personally. As a friend described it, imagine you’re surfing and AI is a massive tsunami wave on the horizon. You can sit in the water and yell at the oncoming wave. You can tell it you don’t like it and that it shouldn’t exist all you want, but it’s still coming. Better to turn and paddle and try to catch it. You might still get overtaken and pushed under, but at least you rode it for a little bit. 

TLDR; this article is just one designer’s semi-narrow perspective on the current state of Artificial Intelligence and creativity. In my opinion, AI is a powerful tool to be learned, not feared. 

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