Can AI ever be a creative?

May 2024, Written by James Packer

The spectre of artificial intelligence looms large over many professions, and designers are no exception. Will AI ultimately render human creatives obsolete? It’s a valid concern, especially given the design industry’s history of technological upheavals—from the printing press to desktop publishing, and from the rise of the internet to digital photo libraries. Each innovation has reshaped the landscape, but the essence of design has remained resolutely human.


The hidden hero in your toolkit

Will AI take over? In a way, yes: but not as we might fear. We as designers have seen AI creep into our day-to-day work almost unnoticed over the last five years. AI has already embedded itself into the designer’s toolkit, often without much fanfare. Thanks to AI, we can now cut out subjects in Photoshop with ease by asking the AI. We can upscale low-resolution images with the likes of Gigapixel and turn images into animations with Photo Vibrance. These advancements have been incremental rather than revolutionary, enhancing productivity without raising alarms about job security. It was platforms like Midjourney that sparked a new wave of contemplation about the future role of AI in creativity.

Tomorrow’s AI: creative collaborator or artistic overlord?

Fearing that AI will entirely replace human designers is, in a way, akin to fearing that electric guitars would replace rock ‘n’ roll. Much like the advent of graphic design software didn’t eliminate the need for designers but rather expanded their capabilities, AI is poised to do the same. The core of creative work—art direction, vision, ideation—remains inherently human.  Designers will continue to curate the best resources, whether they are human experts or AI tools. Be it the best logo designer or typographer, selecting the right photographer, or choosing the right print medium or web developers. The principle of “rubbish in, rubbish out” holds especially true for AI: the quality of output is directly tied to the quality of input, a process that demands human judgement and expertise.

The human touch in the machine age

So what about the future? Will clients hire creatives to program AI? Quite possibly. Or will they just have a go themselves? Quite possibly too. After all, they already do!  Even in engineering, where AI has designed components like Hyperganic’s rocket engine, human oversight, vision, and testing are crucial. The AI may generate designs, but humans set the parameters, evaluate the outcomes, and provide the creative spark.

A creative director or designer is always iterating, developing, rethinking, and challenging the expected, looking at things from a different perspective. That’s design thinking. When AI outputs something unexpected or subpar, it will be human creatives who refine and challenge the results, ensuring that the final product meets aesthetic and functional standards. The skill of crafting effective prompts and providing AI with the right reference points will itself become an art form.

The creative agency conundrum

The notion that AI will eliminate the need for human creatives is overly simplistic. Businesses will likely prioritise hiring individuals who can distinguish good AI-generated design from bad, ensuring that the role of the creative remains secure. An AI may assist in generating ideas and visuals, but the human touch will always be needed to judge, adapt, and perfect these outputs.
Could AI ever evolve into a full-fledged creative agency, making decisions about photography, messaging, and more? Perhaps: but if we reach a point where AI can replace design, that’s a world where AI has replaced human creativity – and if we reach that point, that means AI has replaced just about everything in the world we take to be human.

Where to next?

So, what’s our verdict? While AI will undoubtedly transform the design industry, it will do so by augmenting rather than replacing human creativity. The future will see AI as a powerful tool in the designer’s arsenal, but the vision, judgment, and ingenuity that define true creativity seem to be safely in the hands of humans only. At least for the foreseeable future.