I recently had the genuine privilege of giving a talk to a range of creative industry students at UAL (University of the Arts London) on the subject of Artificial Intelligence, and whether it’s likely to put an end to a lot of promising creative careers before they even get started.
A while ago, Elon Musk said that “Generative AI is the most powerful tool for creativity that has ever been created. It has the potential to unleash a new era of human innovation.” In some ways that is absolutely true. But personally, whilst I am incredibly excited about the opportunity that it gives us, and believe that Midjourney and Chat GPT can take you “from zero to beautiful in the blink of an eye”, having that sort of ‘cheat code’ available to young designers and creatives isn’t an entirely good thing.
Why is that? Because, across the entire spectrum of the creative industry, neither imagery nor writing can ever be the complete answer, if they aren’t supported by the right strategic thinking, unique point of view and creative intuition; two things that are far beyond AI at the time of writing.
Taking the ‘cheat code in gaming’ analogy a little further, while Midjourney, ChatGPT and a host of other AI options can get you past the early, easy levels of the creative process, straight to something that may look or sound convincing, this is only one dimension of what we do and what any project needs. Worse, using AI as a cheat code means that you will have bypassed all of the entry level learning experiences you are going to need when you reach the higher levels of the game/your career.
My background is as a designer and animator. I love any new tool which can help me achieve a creative vision. However, I’ve always been of the opinion that the tool should never design the artist. As anyone who’s tried using AI image generation or animation software will tell you, it rarely produces exactly what you want it to. It will create something that looks great. But not necessarily the thing that you were originally after. By sitting back and letting AI dictate what the vision is, we side-line our own instincts and experiences. Often experiences that have been hard learnt. I’m a big fan of the Mark Twain quote, “Good decisions come from experience. And experience comes from making bad decisions.”
All I can tell for sure is that some things, I believe, are beyond AI, certainly for the foreseeable future. In the creative industries at least, the ability to “zig while others zag” is something only humans can currently do, based on a strange mixture of intuition and experience.
Many of our clients are ‘change makers’ in fields such as life sciences, fintech and sustainability. Our job is to help them future-proof their businesses by embracing positive change. Life sciences in particular is an area in which AI offers incredible possibilities, with some scientists hoping it will help to enable 25 years’ worth of medical breakthroughs in the next five years alone. That’s an incredibly exciting prospect, for all of us.
The key is having the best minds in the field, working with the best tools available. The tools on their own are not enough. People often highlight Jarvis from the Iron Man movies as the destination for where AI is heading: the perfect digital assistant that is able to turbocharge and bring any vision to life. In Tony Stark’s case, that means making the Iron Man suit. But when asked “Take that (suit) off and what are you?” He responds with “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” Sure, it’s a little arrogant, but he makes a valid point. Artificial Intelligence, as it currently stands, without the right guidance won’t produce something great.
In the design industry, we don’t make art. “Art”, by its nature, is subjective. What one person thinks is priceless, another person may think is rubbish. But “Design” is objective. Whether it is good or not is measurable. Often, we measure design by blunt metrics such as likes, views or ROI. All of which are usually the result of many factors, of which design is only one. But the greyer areas are the ones that fascinate me. Design is usually the aesthetic result of strategy, problem-solving and creative ideation. Does it look good? Sure, that’s one thing to consider. Does it fulfil the brief? Does it resonate with the target market? Is it something that sparks a reaction? A change? Does it open our eyes to a new concept, or adjust the way we think about a subject?
AI is an incredible tool in so many different ways, but the way it has been designed is to aggregate the knowledge of all humankind: in effect, taking anything and everything that everyone else has ever posted online and then feeding that back to us. It is up to you to use that information to help give oxygen to your voice. To help you present your own personal view in a way that resonates with others. Creative greatness doesn’t come from taking everyone else’s views and blending them together to sound convincing, and it doesn’t come from just making something look nice. It comes from taking your personal experiences and your personal thoughts and combining them with the right tools to make something completely unique.
Follow your heart, follow your gut, use the right tools, but create what you are passionate about because that is where longevity comes from in what we do, and that survives technological change of all forms.