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What AI really means for designers and brands

When you start playing with generative AI tools to dream up images—think Midjourney and Stable Diffusion—plenty of thoughts start swimming around in your brain.


By Bill McCool, Managing Editor at Dieline and Andrew Gibbs, Founder at Dieline and Co Chief Creative Officer at Print Magazine

Andrew Gibbs

This is amazing! No, wait, this looks stupid! Um, that’s weird! And cool! No one will be able to decipher what’s real or fake anymore! Never mind, take a look at these grotesque hands! Oh, it can do hands now, awesome! It took me just ten seconds to get an image that looks this good! It took me all day to generate an image that finally worked for this project! I’m changing my job title to “prompt engineer!” I can Wes Anderson pretty much anything now! AI will destroy everyone I know and burn the world to the ground!

Also, am I out of a job?

That’s a fairly non-exhaustive list of things you likely said to yourself in the past few months while you were tinkering around with some of these incredibly powerful tools.

When Branders asked to work on this issue focused on AI, we used it as an opportunity to have fun and experiment with some of these pieces of software. In fact, we created the cover photo entirely with AI tools, including a virtual photoshoot with an AI headshot generator, Adobe Photoshop’s generative fill, and Relight by Clipdrop (Stability.AI’s set of tools). It took one solid afternoon to generate the photo—meaning we didn’t book a traditional photoshoot or get deep in the weeds with the post-editing process that comes along with that.

Sure, AI brings about a lot of uncertainty for designers, but what was readily apparent to us after working on this issue was that the next revolution in design is here, with new tools, updates, and advancements happening on the hour, every hour. The sooner brands and designers acclimate themselves to many of these programs, the better, as there isn’t a single part of the industry these tools won’t touch. For all of the controversy and ethical quandaries swirling around AI, that’s starting to become the general consensus.

So, we posed a question to a few of our design friends (an educator, an agency founder, a packaging designer that has worked for a handful of CPG brands, and the founder of a software company that uses AI to train on brand guidelines) that have been playing in the AI sandbox—where are you at with AI right now? How will it affect brands and designers in the short term, and what future impact will it have?

What you won’t find here is doom and gloom. There’s plenty of that in the general media ecosphere on AI. Instead, we wanted to hear how it’s starting to transform designer workflows and what that really means for the future of design.

Gerardo Herrera, Director of Packaging Design at ArtCenter College of Design

My advanced packaging design students are in the preliminary stages of experimenting with the tools I’ve introduced to them. They are familiar with AI platforms like DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and ChatGPT. Still, there’s a wealth of other tools by various developers that offer our students the opportunity to explore different techniques to incorporate into their workflow.

For instance, platforms like Viscom.ai, PromeAi, or Control.net, which allow designers to input their sketches and articulate materials or backgrounds, have given my students increased control over bringing their drawings to life. Within a few weeks, the students will be ready to utilize AI to create models that can be transformed into printed 3D mock-ups, using their ability with 3D tools to be more efficient. How cool is that!

However, at this early stage of their design process, their use of AI is grounded in the design basics. They’re applying knowledge gleaned from prior classes: target consumer visualization, photo and illustration style boards, texture, material, and pattern styles, and thematic directions. This knowledge informs their package design ideas and sketches. They’re learning to articulate their work visually through language, thanks to their rigorous study of fundamentals and the constructive critique culture we foster in our classes in receiving and giving.

My goal is for my students to hone their unique perspectives and design articulation skills. Such training will enable them to guide AI collaboratively and effectively, resulting in innovative outputs that are distinctly their own.

AI is set to become a powerful catalyst for brands, driving innovation and efficiency. While data utilization by large brands has been happening for some time, AI enables smaller brands to catch up and leverage these potent tools. It allows brands to understand consumer behavior and market trends even more accurately, thereby creating targeted and impactful designs, very much in the way performance marketing has been doing. With a solid foundation in design principles, designers can utilize AI to explore uncharted realms of creativity, streamline processes, and speed up design workflows to test through failures and successes.

However, designers must maintain a strong understanding of their craft to avoid an over-reliance on AI. Again, this reminds me of the arrival of the Mac computer and desktop publishing when everyone became a typesetter. Those with a deep understanding of typesetting could use the tool more thoughtfully and effectively and experiment in ways that propelled the industry because of their deep knowledge of the craft.

I foresee a thrilling symbiosis between AI and human creativity in the long term. A well-versed designer with knowledge of trends, art history, typefaces, materials, color, packaging types, environments, experiences, and fundamental design and brand principles, should provide solid inputs for AI and transform AI outputs into something tangible and meaningful. The ability to synthesize all this information into a unique set of data inputs or queries will be crucial in maintaining ownership and uniqueness of each individual and is vital to not being the same.

The future of design with AI holds limitless potential. It’s where human creativity and AI can coexist and push the boundaries of what’s possible. However, the journey towards this future begins with a firm grounding in traditional design principles, continuous mentorship, and fostering imagination and creativity. Without that, tools are just tools waiting for those who can wield them beyond what’s imaginable.

Alex Center, Founder of CENTER

A lot of people talk about AI and its impending doom for the future of designers and our industry. Maybe I’m an optimist, or I’m just naive, but I see these advancements as incredible new tools for us to work with.

I’m old enough to remember early versions of Photoshop and outdated tools like Quark Express and Adobe Flash to appreciate how far technology has advanced over the past 15 years. I see AI as just another massive step forward.

While these advancements will allow designers to do things previously much more complicated and time-consuming, I see these as new tools for the designer toolbox for us to work with, not against. Having ChatGPT help with copywriting is great, but it still requires us to input our specific needs and edit the results. Using Midjourney to create photorealistic granola bars shot from above with a chocolate drizzle is helpful for early-stage mock-ups. But we still need to hire a photographer to shoot the real product and a retoucher to make it look print ready. Will these processes change? Only time will tell.

What I do know for sure is that these tools are instantly making our lives easier and will only get better. We are still in the early stages of integration, so designers must stay current as things move quickly. But remember, these tools are only as good as the questions we ask of them. We are working on getting better at asking the right questions.

Adey Efrem, CPG Brand and Packaging Designer:

I’m still very much in the experimental phase with AI right now, and my goal is to gain as much control over my outputs through better prompting.

If I ask AI to design something “modern” it may look very different from my interpretation of the word modern. I’m learning to become familiar with AI’s language and how it defines words, that way, I can consistently get the look I’m going for. As a designer, this is important to me for one obvious reason; when a client asks for something, I must be able to provide it reliably.

In the short term, I think designers will begin incorporating AI into their work in small ways. What if you’re creating a chocolate bar packaging design and need color scheme ideas? AI can produce appropriate color selections based on data from countless other chocolate packaging designs. What if you’re designing a poster and need composition ideas? AI can create endless iterations. Designers will start turning to AI to see what ideas it can generate for these particular needs.

Brands will also begin incorporating AI into their creative workflow and overall brand strategy—Coca-Cola is a great example. They recently launched their Create Real Magic initiative, allowing them to be at the forefront of AI and creativity while giving everyone a chance to create their own AI-generated art that could potentially find its way on Coca-Cola’s billboard in Times Square. They also recently appointed their former Head of Global Creative Strategy & Content to Head of Generative AI, a clear sign that they’re thinking long-term with AI. I think we’ll begin to see more brands follow suit soon.

Sho Rust, CEO and Partner at Sho.AI

Over the past six years, we have meticulously honed the process of fine-tuning the world’s most powerful AI models using our proprietary generative AI platform. Our journey began with the generation and scaling of brand guidelines through AI, and in 2020, we revolutionized the experience by enabling users to communicate with their brands directly.

As the AI landscape rapidly evolves, new models emerge daily, and we simplify the process for brands by training a single, unified source. We tackle the daunting task of selecting the most suitable model for each job while swiftly mitigating risks and ensuring the security and confidentiality of your data.

Today, our software is utilized in esteemed institutions like ArtCenter College of Design, where students learn to integrate these cutting-edge tools into their workflows. We’re also collaborating with influential figures like Chris Do from theFutur to create the world’s first ultimate AI business coach, utilizing over 10,000 minutes of Chris’s footage. Moreover, we’re actively working within the innovation labs of numerous enterprises, augmenting pioneering teams unafraid to embrace new tools.

In the long term, AI will continue to transform the branding and design landscape. As AI becomes more sophisticated, it will enable brands to become living entities that automatically self-optimize and evolve based on consumer engagement metrics, sentiment analysis, and other actionable inputs. That will lead to a more dynamic and responsive brand experience for consumers and a more efficient and effective branding process for businesses.

Designers will need to adapt to this new landscape by embracing AI as a tool to augment their skills and expertise rather than viewing it as a threat. By leveraging AI, designers can focus on higher-level strategic thinking and creative problem-solving, ultimately leading to more innovative and impactful brand experiences.

For designers and brands, AI is best viewed as merely a tool to power and enable you to unleash your creativity in new ways never before possible—think of it more as a companion and not a replacement for creativity. It’s the modern equivalent of going from print to digital, the next set of instruments designers and creatives the world over will need to embrace.

But, as with all technological wizardry and advancements, there’s a pretty decent chance you don’t feel ready. And that’s OK. Just remember, don’t be afraid of it. But you also can’t ignore it because the AI renaissance has arrived. And it’s here to stay.

Now has never been a better time to be in the design industry. The doors are open, and you only need to walk through them. As this new era unfolds, remember we are all starting at square one, and with new tools, that means new opportunities. A whole new world awaits. What are you waiting for?

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