Data & Tech

How much should graphic designers worry about DALL-E 2?

New AI tools have designers questioning their job security.
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· 5 min read

“Has technology gone too far?” is a question you may ask yourself as you scroll through the latest meme, where people use an AI tool to generate images ranging from “lo-fi nuclear war” to “Shrek the Redeemer.”

The simplified tool is based on a real AI application called DALL-E 2. Developed by R&D company OpenAI, hype has been swirling around it for months as the company tests the software and people join the waitlist to try it out. Last month, Cosmo used it to make the first AI-designed magazine cover.

As the technology for creating images becomes more advanced and instantaneous, questions will likely arise about certain creative roles. With AI already being used in copywriting, what are the chances of graphic design becoming fully automated?

Putting the art in artificial intelligence

Some in the graphic-design field seem concerned about what AI could mean for their careers. One student posted on Reddit wondering whether they should continue studying art at all.

In a blog post, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman wrote that while he believes “AI will create lots of new jobs,” it’s “important to be honest that it’s increasingly going to make some jobs not very relevant.”

Andrew Mayne, science communicator at OpenAI, told Marketing Brew that their “hope is that artists will use DALL-E 2 as a tool to support their creative process” and sees it as potentially useful in illustrating scientific concepts or as an artistic brainstorming tool.

Kyle Li, assistant professor of communication design and technology at Parsons School of Design, told Marketing Brew that he’s watched his students use tools like the Dream by Wombo app, which makes AI paintings, as a way to inspire designs and speed up brainstorms.

Li said AI can also make “communication between designers and clients more fluent because I don’t have to describe to you [what I’m thinking], I can pull something up really quickly and have you see what’s in my head.”

He noted that there are already certain AI processes built into graphic design. One example is Photoshop, which enables users to fill in gaps in images with its content-aware function.

“If we can create a [symbiotic] relationship between humans and machines, that will only help us push our graphic-design forward,” he explained.

But sometimes AI can do more than just help a designer. Alibaba’s Luban tool can generate 8,000 banner ads per second, according to the company. In 2018, it “produced more than 6 million banners” for 200,000 merchants as part of Alibaba’s Double 11 Shopping Festival.

C.J. Yeh, professor at FIT’s Communication Design Foundation, told us that while “none of these banner ads generated by Luban are masterpieces,” that doesn’t mean they don’t serve their purpose. “The real question is whether [they are] effective as banner ads, and the answer is yes.”

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While Yeh doesn’t believe AI will replace all designers (after all, Dall-E 2 can’t do everything), he does think it will reduce the number of them needed in the future as AI streamlines workflows and automates simple tasks. “Frankly, the great majority of graphic design produced by human designers is mundane work that doesn’t need to be masterpieces anyway,” he said.

Anastasiia Raina, an assistant professor at RISD who works in machine vision and computer-generated forms, said she sees the automation of banner-ad creation as a way to potentially free up designers’ time.

She also pointed out that AI has a limited imagination: it can only work with images that already exist.

Shiny new object

At present, it’s not clear if or how agencies or creative studios plan to incorporate AI into their creative process. One London-based agency, 10 Days, recently unveiled a project called “Ad Intelligence,” featuring ads generated with the AI tool Midjourney for brands like Colgate and KFC.

Jolyon White, 10 Days’ co-founder and creative director, told us the project was not brand-affiliated, but rather an opportunity for the agency to join in on the AI conversation. “[It’s] been around for a while, but it has seemed to step up a hell of a lot [in] the last few months,” he said, adding that the agency “saw an opportunity and went for it.”

Based on his experience with AI, White said he also sees AI as a tool for designers, not a replacement. One reason? It’s hard to make the same thing, or variations of the same thing, twice. “I went back and I tried to recreate [images] by inputting exactly the same data. I couldn’t get anywhere close,” he said.

Beyond the project, White said his team has been using their monthly Midjourney subscription to help think of ideas for creative briefs, but it’s not ready to use for things like storyboards.

Still, he’s excited about how his team could potentially use AI to “shake up” the industry: “We did joke around with [if] we just pretend, in some weird world, that we have an AI art director as part of our team,” he said.

At the end of the day, White said he’d like to think AI isn’t a threat to his work, partly because there isn’t “strictly a formula” for design.

If there was, he added, it would “make creative really easy.”

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