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Before I start, let me preface this by saying I am not an expert in AI-Generated Art. These platforms are still in their infancy, and nobody knows what the future holds for them or their effect on the graphic design industry, but I doubt they’ll ever replace graphic designers.
I’ve experimented with various platforms, read articles, and watched videos. I’ve seen both sites of the debate argued. Some people don’t see AI-Art as a threat to our industry, while others are all doom and gloom, saying designers should start applying to work at McDonald’s as flipping burgers will soon become more lucrative than designing things.
I don’t see AI-Generated art as a threat to the graphic design industry. And I’ll get to why in a bit. However, I’m not so sure about artists and illustrators. If that’s your profession, I suggest you pay close attention to how AI-generated art matures, as it will affect those creative people much more than it will designers.
As I said, I’m no expert here. And these AI Art Generators are evolving fast. So what I say today may change soon. Who knows?
I also haven’t tried all the various platforms nor used the ones I have tried to their fullest potential. So some of what I say today may be wrong. If that’s the case, if you know something I don’t, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to be educated more on the subject.
First, a story.
Before I begin my discussion on AI-Generated Artwork, I want to tell you a story that will help put my beliefs into perspective.
I entered the three-year Graphic Design program at my local college in 1989. The first two years were spent learning and applying design principles to our projects. We learnt things like design history, colour theory, using grids, layout hierarchy, typography and more. And we were taught the different tools of the trade, most of which are no longer in use and are considered archaic by today’s standards.
It wasn’t until our third year, once we were familiar and comfortable with what being a graphic designer was, that we were granted access to the computer lab. Computers were still new to the industry back then, and very few design agencies used them. When I started working at the print shop after graduation, the first two years of my employment were spent designing everything by hand before I convinced the owner to invest in Macintosh computers.
I don’t remember what year it was, but during school, a few of my classmates and I made a trip to Toronto for a graphic design trade show. It was the largest show of its kind in Canada and the third largest in North America. All the big names were there, including Adobe, Quark, and Microsoft, to name a few.
I remember overhearing a conversation between two design agency owners at a demonstration put on by Adobe. They were talking about the introduction of computers to the design industry. Both were concerned that computers would harm the design industry by minimizing what they considered a particular skill set, that of a graphic designer. To them, computers took the “Art” out of being a “Graphic Artist.”
With today’s mindset, It’s kind of crazy to think that back then, design agency owners thought computers would harm our industry. You can easily argue that computers have made the industry better.
Having lived through that period, I can tell you that even though computers didn’t harm our industry, they did change it. Drastically, in fact. QuarkXpress, Photoshop and Illustrator replaced the standard tools of the trade, such as wax machines, no-repro blu pencils and Letraset rub-on type. And I know a few designers who left the profession because they couldn’t grasp the use of computers.
So computers were introduced, the industry evolved, and the graphic design industry persevered.
Fast forward a few years, and personal computers are becoming more popular, with Windows-based machines outselling Apple. And Microsoft released a program called Microsoft Publisher that introduced an affordable means for anyone with a computer to “design” their material.
Quark and Adobe software costs thousands of dollars which weren’t feasible for most people. But Microsoft made Publisher affordable. And what do you think happened? The graphic design industry started to panic. With “design” software now available to the masses, designers would lose their jobs.
But you know what? Microsoft Publisher was introduced, and some people changed their thinking about design, yet the graphic design industry persevered.
Around that same time, an innovation emerged called the World Wide Web. Businesses started embracing the idea of having a website—a way for people to find them over the internet.
Computer programmers created the first websites. They were functional but lacked design aesthetics. And graphic designers worldwide took notice and realized an opportunity to apply their skills to something other than paper.
Some learned to code, while others embraced WYSIWYG software, allowing them to build websites without coding. A whole new side of the design industry was created.
And then WordPress arrived. This new platform allowed people to build websites using pre-built templates called Themes. The arrival of WordPress sent web designers into a panic. If people could build websites using a pre-built template, our design skills would no longer be needed. WordPress was going to kill the web design industry.
But you know what? WordPress stuck around, designers evolved and changed their view of the platform, and the graphic design industry persevered. I’d say most web designers these days design using WordPress.
Fast forwards another few years, and 99designs is introduced to the world. For a small fee, clients could submit a design brief to the platform, and multiple designers would compete by submitting their designs and hoping the client chose theirs. The selected designer would win the contest and be paid for their work. The others received nothing.
99Designs was all the talk back then. It was an industry killer. Why would anyone pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to a single graphic designer when they could pay a much smaller fee and have multiple designers compete for them?
Many designers worldwide tried to offset this intruder by lowering their rates, hoping to lure clients back from the dark side. But you know what? Designers quickly learned that to attract clients, they needed to sell the value and the relationship of working with them, not just the design deliverables. Because the designers on 99Designs didn’t care about the client, they only cared about the subsequent contest they could enter.
In fact, 99Designs helped weed out the most undesirable clients making it easier for the rest of us to grow. The graphic design industry persevered.
Not long after that, Fiverr was launched, putting our industry into another tailspin.
Whereas a design from 99Designs might cost $100 or more. Fiverr’s claim to fame was that all tasks were only $5. It didn’t matter if you need a logo, a poster, a web banner, or a booklet. Everything was $5. How was a graphic designer supposed to compete with that? The design industry was doomed.
And yet, 12 years after its launch, Fiverr is still around. However, nowadays, people on the platform are charging much higher than $5, and graphic designers worldwide are still thriving despite the “competition” of Fiverr.
The graphic design industry persevered.
Adobe Creative Cloud
In 2013 Adobe launched Creative Cloud, replacing their Creative Suite platforms.
Whether you like the subscription model or not, there’s no arguing that Adobe changed the creative landscape when it introduced Creative Cloud. Software that had previously cost thousands of dollars to own was now available at an affordable monthly rate, making programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign, the bread and butter of most people in the design industry, accessible to the masses.
Designers were no longer a unique breed with our special tools. Adobe opened the floodgates. Now anyone who wanted to tinker with their programs could do so. This created a whole new breed of graphic designers who lacked formal education. Even kids as early as kindergarten started learning Photoshop.
For all our education and skills, being a designer didn’t seem as prestigious as it once was. Clients would no longer need our expertise since anyone with a computer could be a “designer.” And the industry started to panic.
But you know what? Giving people access to tools doesn’t make them an expert. Clients appreciate the years of dedication and knowledge we have when it comes to design. It shows in the work we produce. So even though these tools were available to everyone, the graphic design industry persevered.
A couple of years later, Canva emerged. It was touted as yet another graphic design killer.
Canva not only makes it easy to create beautifully designed materials, but you can use it for free if you don’t want to pay for their premium offerings. And there’s a lot you can do on the free plan.
Whenever you see a social media or forum post where someone inquires about hiring a graphic designer, you will find at least one comment suggesting they do it themselves on Canva.
Did Canva steal potential clients from designers? Yes, it did. But did it kill our industry? Far from it.
I’ll argue that Canva made clients appreciate us more. I’ve had numerous people hire me after dabbling in Canva and realizing their creations lack that professional touch.
So even Canva, the closest thing to a design industry killer, hasn’t made that much of a dent in our industry. We still persevere.
BTW, Canva recently announced their own incorporated AI Art generator.
There will always be new design industry killers.
It seems like something new comes out every few years, making designers panic. Do these things affect some designers? I’m sure they do. Just like everything else, there will be some people affected. But none of these things have made an impact on our industry. Or at least not in the way the nay-sayers believed they would.
You can almost argue that these things have made our industry better. Can you imagine what it would be like if computers were never introduced? Or WordPress? And I’m sure many freelancers couldn’t afford thousands of dollars for Adobe’s software if they hadn’t switched to a subscription model.
This mentality dates back to Guttenburg’s invention of the printing press. I’m sure caligraphers of the time panicked that this new invention would ruin their industry. But graphic design perseveres.
The only people it ruins are those unwilling to evolve with the times.
Now back to AI-Generated Art.
By this point, you probably know my stance on AI-Generated Art. This innovation may seem like an industry killer. But only if you allow it to affect you.
I see Artificial Intelligence as another opportunity for our industry to evolve. It’s up to us to embrace these tools as just that, tools.
I already see designers putting AI-Generators to good use. Katie, a Resourceful Designer community member, recently shared how she needed an abstract pattern for a background of a design she was creating. Instead of searching for a stock image or making one herself, she turned to AI. She told it what she wanted, and it produced something she could use.
Katie also used it as inspiration for an annual report project. She asked it to produce a report cover design using blue and yellow triangles. It gave her a few options that she used as inspiration to create something herself.
Andrew, another member of the Resourceful Designer Community, experimented with AI on a couple of real projects. His takeaway is that AI isn't quite up to being a reliable design tool for us, but it's getting there.
And these are just a few examples.
As for creating full designs using AI, I think the technology is still a long way off. And no matter how good it gets, it will never be able to replicate the emotions we designers bring to a project or the empathy we feel towards our clients.
I like to meet every client I work with. If I can’t meet them face to face, I at least want to get on a video call. I do this because I want to get to know them. I want to see their personality and understand how they act and think. Because these things will help influence my design decisions. No artificial intelligence can do that. At least, as far as I know. And that’s why AI will never replace a live graphic designer.
And don’t forget relationships. How often have I stressed the importance of building relationships with your clients over the years? Not only does it help you understand your clients better, which allows you to design better things for them. But relationships build loyalty. It keeps clients coming back to you, regardless of your price.
AI-Generated Art has limitations.
At this point. I see too many limitations with AI-generated design to affect us as an industry.
Since every piece of generated art is uniquely created, it’s tough to replicate should you need to.
Say you’re working on a marketing campaign and need several images. You ask an AI-Generator to create an illustration of a rocket ship flying through space, and it produces something you like. But now you need a different image of the same rocket ship landing on the moon. And maybe another of it returning to Earth.
Every time you enter a prompt in an AI Generator, it creates a unique image, so there’s no way to ask it to use the same rocket ship in future creations. The rocket ship will look different in each image. Even the style of art might look different.
Plus, these prompts, the instructions you type into the generator telling it what to create, are very subjective.
These two prompts
- “An elderly man is sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons.”
- “An old man is feeding pigeons in a part while sitting on a bench.”
To you and me, they both mean the same thing. But to the AI, they could be vastly different. How does artificial intelligence interpret “elderly man” vs. “old man”? The smallest detail can drastically affect the output.
Also, from what I can tell, It’s tough, if not impossible, to adjust an image.
Say you like the AI-generated photo of a woman sitting on a chair with a cat on her lap. But you decide you want it to be a dog instead. None of the systems I tried would let you make that sort of change. The best I could do was change the word “cat” to “dog” and rerun my prompt, producing a new batch of images with different women and chairs. There was no way I was getting the same woman in the second set of images.
Again, maybe this is possible, but I couldn’t see it.
All of this to say. Don’t panic. There are people out there leaning on both sides of the fence. Some say our industry is doomed, while others say we have nothing to fear.
I’m just one voice. But I don’t think we have anything to worry about. And I have the history I just shared with you backing me up. Fiverr, Canva, WordPress, Creative Cloud. These “design industry killers” are now part of my design toolbox. Instead of taking work away from me, they allow me to do better work and do it more efficiently.
I see AI-Generated Art as no different. I plan on embracing it and using it in any way I can.
And don’t forget—no matter what new “things” come out. Clients will always appreciate what a good designer can do for them.
You can be that designer.
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