Friday, August 11, 2023

Create || The Impact Of AI for designers


As you know, my main work right now is design work, with 99% of it being seamless pattern design. I work every hour I can in the day and night to contribute to our bills and keep food on the table, so anything that takes that work away is incredibly scary. 

You've probably all heard about AI now and for those that haven't, it's basically typing some words in to a computer to make it generate something, this could be a photo, video or pretty much everything you can or can't imagine. There have been swarms of AI pictures and videos on social media, to the point where you sometimes wonder whether something like a nature video is real or yet another fabrication. Most of it is being used in a kind of satire 'how weird is this' kind of way on socials, with things like videos of Arnold Schwarzenegger singing Barbie girl, or pictures of grannies with ten foot knitted cats.

Currently, it's pretty easy to spot most AI productions especially on video form, as you'll notice that it creates pictures of humans with too many teeth or fingers (shudder) and already we are seeing images and styles repeated despite the fact that every image should be different. It looks creepy, bizarre and just not right, but it can only get better. As annoying as it is in some ways, you have to admire how bloody clever it all is and the potential available.

Straight away as this thing picked up traction, I noticed one of the designers in my network listing designs for sale that had been made with AI. This was so so disappointing to see, and again on a market night another designer admitted to using AI to create the main elements which they they constructed into a fabric pattern. More annoyingly, they were even charging far more than me for a mere fraction of the work. To the trained eye though, it was easy to see those weird elements that weren't quite right, the AI look to the characters and the poorly executed joins in the patterns. They did get sales though, so straight away this thing was a threat to my business.

For designers, this is a worry. Although it's not a huge threat right away as most things look pretty crap, knowing how quickly technology can advance means that this can only get better. 

Although we have loyal customers and new ones all the time, if a client can head to a site and generate their own one off patterns for a small fee or maybe even for free, then why on earth would they pay us for one off designs? 

There is a glimmer of hope though as even though the computer does all the work, it does still rely on a human to input the idea and execution. Some of us designers come up with truly unique ideas and styles that would be hard to replicate artificially (for now), so there will always be people I presume that would rather have proper work from a proper human and aren't just looking for the cheapest work out there. It's also questionable where the elements are pulled from and always that chance an element has been used from another artist, so we need to question how unique everything is. 

With times being hard and money stretched for all though, it is a genuine concern where all this could lead. Luckily most people seem to be pretty anti it at present and the designs that went up were very soon called out and pulled down, but there's always that possibility that the technology advances significantly and does our job for us. 

So what can we do? 

I've heard of designers in different fields actually using the AI software to generate ideas, so it can be useful to us in some ways if we're wondering how something could look, or to research styles or even just see what stage the tech is at and whether we should feel worried yet. Some people use it to generate images for clients to show potential ideas, or generate design ideas for things like furniture or architecture that would take hours of work for our little brains. It's all scary, but if it's gonna be here we may as well find a way to make use of it too. 

Diversify our income

With the potential threat of loss of earnings, it may be a good time to look at diversifying our income. If we focus on just one area of design work such as fabric design in my case, then this could very quickly get taken over by other 'designers' ploughing out computer generated work in seconds, not giving a f but taking in the cash for little work. So it may be worth focusing on other areas of design that require a human touch such as greetings card design or personalised prints, things that require the emotive element of our brains that can't necessarily be chucked together with a quick AI sentence or at least not yet.

In short

AI does pose a real potential threat to us designers, but at present it's obvious and a bit shit - so although it's not a huge worry right now, it is something we need to bare in mind. We need to not put all our design eggs in one basket and instead think about how we can either use this technology to our advantage such as for inspiration etc, and look at other ways to use our skills that cannot be affected by AI. We can save a lot of time right now by generating images for inspiration that may take us a long time to sketch out otherwise, so there are some advantages even if this feels like scraping the barrel a bit for me.

If you're a designer is AI something that worries you long term or do you think it could never beat the human touch?