Revolutionizing Creativity: The Impact of AI on the Creative Process

In this article, I want to address a highly sensitive topic in the design industry. The term “creativity” has been trivialized to a great extent, with many using the word for work that doesn’t deserve such recognition. On the other hand, it has also become somewhat of a sacred concept.

There are numerous definitions of creativity, but I personally resonate with the one provided by Linda Naiman:

“Creativity is the act of transforming new and imaginative ideas into reality. It is characterized by the ability to perceive the world in novel ways, discover hidden patterns, make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, and then producing. If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”

The creative process encompasses ideation and execution then. When we, as designers, talk about creativity, are we genuinely referring to these two elements working in harmony? When we develop a new brand identity or design the interior of a restaurant, are we creating designs that possess unique aesthetics and provide value to the user and client?

In my previous article, “Designing the Future: How AI is Reshaping the Design Field”, I discussed how designers fear for their jobs amidst the AI frenzy. AI can undoubtedly excel at execution, as designers have been engaged in automated tasks based on established frameworks and templates. However, what about the ideation stage?

We often take pride in asserting that machines cannot compare to human creativity, don’t we? Well, it depends on how we define creativity in the design field. One of the common complaints I hear and read from designers about AI is copyright infringement. Frankly, it makes me laugh. Let’s be honest here. One of the most prevalent “creative” techniques employed by designers to develop a design proposal and execute a project is seeking “inspiration.” In reality, it entails searching for images on platforms like Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble that align with certain aesthetic and functional criteria based on the project type and client’s requirements. Subsequently, a “mood board” is created, which essentially amalgamates images from other people’s work to form a foundation for the design proposal. The end result often involves copying and pasting details from various sources.

There are various factors that contribute to the widespread practice across studios and designers in all fields. I can empathize to some extent as the industry is mainly influenced by business-related issues, such as the undervaluation of design for many years and insane project deadlines. But this practice is also related to the talent and skills required to create something truly new, which is undeniably one of the most challenging things in the world. Therefore, I don’t blame anyone, but we need to engage in self-criticism.

revolutionizing creativity
“In 1959 Xerox introduced the 914 model, the first plain paper photocopier. The product was sold by an innovative ad campaign showing that even monkeys could make copies at the touch of a button” Wikipedia. Photo via xeroxnostalgia.com

When we claim that AI is merely copying someone else’s work to create something new, aren’t designers already doing the same? Can you design something entirely original without any prior reference? If you can’t, why do you point fingers at AI when it follows the same creative process as you? Nothing is created from scratch, and we require previous references to generate new ideas. The problem arises when designers fail to study, analyze, and evolve from these references or the work of others. Evolution necessitates building upon previous steps to progress. The problem arises when designers merely scratch the surface, copy, and apply without delving deeper. The same applies to the use of AI. If you are simply searching for an illustration similar to one by Banksy, you can certainly do it. The same goes for designers without AI if they are asked to replicate a certain style. It’s up to us to explore alternative approaches or remain superficially fixated on requested styles. However, we witness how fashion brands copy one another, architectural firms imitate each other, and interior design firms repeatedly produce similar results while justifying their decisions based on market research or business plans. It frustrates me to see how every café and bar in London looks identical. But hey, I get it. Businesses prioritize numbers over creativity. If they know of a successful restaurant, they will try to replicate it.

El Bulli restaurant, under the leadership of Ferran Adria and his team, spent ten years being the most innovative restaurant globally and had very few clients. When they gained popularity as the best restaurant in the world for several consecutive years, everyone began to imitate them. Now you can’t visit any high-end restaurant without encountering an emulsion of something.

What AI demonstrates is that creativity can also be learned and synthesized as an algorithm. However, we can choose to treat it as a mechanical process devoid of critical thinking, or we can adopt a workflow with specific steps that allow us to exercise control over the process while simultaneously engaging in analytical thinking and generating new ways to create based on existing work. That’s where humans truly add value.

As a multidisciplinary designer, I have had the opportunity to design countless and many different types of projects, and the creative process followed the same steps across all fields. In addition to my professional design activities, I also serve as a tutor, lecturer, and researcher for an Interior Design program at West Dean College in London. My area of specialization and lecture focus is concept design and the creative process. I teach my students to think before putting pencil to paper. They must be clear about what they want to communicate, why they want to communicate it, and determine in advance which elements will help them achieve their goals. When I initially started working with students, I noticed that around 95% of them struggled to create something from scratch without turning to Pinterest and copying existing work. Through years of experience, deep reflection, and meticulous analysis of the creative process, I have managed to develop a methodology for concept design. This methodology consists of three stages, each with specific steps that students can follow to create various forms and shapes based on a given brief. They engage in research, case studies, and a conceptual approach, among other aspects. It has been proven that students now possess control over the process. They are aware of the points where they encounter difficulties and can take appropriate actions to move forward. Certainly, it requires thorough explanations and an understanding of the steps, but it indicates that the process can be systematized, similar to an algorithm. Therefore, can AI undertake the entire process by itself?

What AI can do is replicate the automated tasks, copycat creative process, and produce an image based on multiple sources. Essentially, this is what most designers do today — defining keywords as concepts, curating, composing, and producing a final result. AI can accomplish this in seconds. This is when a designer that doesn’t produce real creativity, is no longer indispensable.

However, AI falls short to engage in a genuine creative development process that involves critical analysis, design thinking, and maintaining true control over the message it intends to communicate through the design. We, as designers, must possess that capability. Developing skills of critical analysis, design language, problem-solving rationality, communication, and a graphical eye to convey 2D graphics or 3D volumes is essential. AI requires our guidance as creative and art directors to create meaningful final designs. This creative process is time-consuming and extremely challenging to achieve, but it represents authentic design and delivers high-value outcomes. It elevates any design project to higher standards. We can embrace AI to assist us in discovering new creative approaches and exploring design proposals now that we no longer need to spend time on automated tasks. Let’s use this time for a meaningful purpose.

It doesn’t matter if we produce a design with paper and pencil, with an iPad, or with AI-generated images. How we produce is no longer relevant, but the thinking is. I always start my Concept Design lecture by saying, “Design is a thinking discipline.” As anything in life, when we think and act, we have control, but when we let others act for us, we’re doomed. The same applies to technology.


Designing the Future: How AI is Reshaping the Design Field

We have all been bombarded with news about AI through various media channels by now. Countless online videos showcase the outstanding capabilities of ChatGPT, Midjourney, or Stable Diffusion. Each new version makes the previous one seem like a joke. Missing just one week of news feels like a lifetime because of the exponential growth of new AI apps and capabilities. Many articles and opinions discuss the dangers of AI, from suggesting that it will take all our jobs to concerns about incorrect information and copyright infringement. People here and there assume that this insane technology will be the end of the world, making us all puppets in its hands.

But how will AI realistically impact the design industry in the near future? Will our job change drastically or disappear completely?

Let me provide some personal history to provide context. I consider myself a multidisciplinary designer. It’s a fancy way of saying that I work across various design fields, including graphic design, surface design, digital design, interiors, and even a bit of furniture and yacht design. I graduated in Interior Design back in 2000, during the rise of the Internet era. Joining my Interior Design School opened up a new world for me, and I took additional courses to learn from Graphic Design and 3D software to HTML and Flash. I wanted to do everything because, for me, design is interconnected. Unconsciously, this is how I became a multidisciplinary designer. Before completing my Diploma, I secured my first permanent job as a Digital and Graphic designer. Since then, I have moved across different design roles, gaining insights into how these fields work.

The Internet was a gateway to a new world, and things were changing rapidly. Back then, I read similar negative things about the Internet as I do now about AI. Everyone was talking about this thing called the Internet that had tremendous potential and would change the world, but not many people had a home connection yet (remember internet cafes?). Businesses believed that websites were merely digital catalogues of their activities, and they weren’t entirely wrong. It took many years for the Internet to have a real impact. Broadband, social media, HTML5, smartphones, and more transformed the world. Websites like Napster or Myspace opened the door to many other things that shapes our daily day. Internet and technology (hardware, connectivity, software, etc.) have changed the world for better and for worse in many aspects such as workflows, social interactions, economy, and more. Now, we can’t imagine living without it. The current AI situation reminds me of the journey of the Internet during the 2000s.

Things don’t change drastically from one day to the next; it usually takes time to develop new ways. Design jobs have been evolving since computers became prevalent. I’m a big fan of Mad Men (by the way, the best show ever), and if you don’t know about it, what are you waiting for? The show revolves around a charismatic advertising creative director in the 1960s. There’s an episode where they introduce a computer the size of a room, and the staff reacts to this disruptive machine. It’s quite similar to our current situation. With the digital revolution, designers transitioned from handcrafted work to digital design.

designing the future
South Foreland Lighthouse, Kent (UK), became fully automated in 1969 and the resident keepers were transferred to other lighthouses as they were no longer needed.

Designer jobs and workflows have been gradually changing. Many design jobs from the past are no longer needed, but many new ones have emerged. “Old” designers possessed skills that are no longer required, and we have acquired new ones. If we take a look at the current design landscape, we can see the emergence of roles that were completely unknown before the Internet, such as UI and UX designers, product designers, content and social media specialists, ecommerce experts, SEO professionals, and online marketers. It’s quite remarkable.

We make many assumptions about AI without fully realizing our historical context and the direction in which we are heading.

Let’s make an effort to reflect on ourselves as designers and how our work has evolved over the past 40 years, particularly in the last 15 years. We have become more specialized designers, working with countless software tools, and achieving drastically reduced production times with even better results. We have become increasingly reliant on technology, with software taking on many of our tasks.

In terms of workflow, we have reached a point where many tasks are already based on frameworks and templates. Platforms like Wordpress and Envato have transformed the industry by eliminating the need to create designs and projects from scratch. For designers, it is more productive in terms of cost and time to download and customize existing templates. In some cases, depending on the budget, it may be as simple as applying a template directly.

From a creative standpoint (this topic alone warrants a full article, which I may cover soon), as graphic designers, we utilize software filters and plugins to create visual designs. We do not develop these filters ourselves; software developers provide us with the tools to apply our personal touch. We watch online videos to learn how to recreate effects created by others. We use platforms like Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble to gather images from various sources for “inspiration”. This copycat creative method is prevalent across all design fields, allowing designers to curate, select, copy, and apply design elements based on trends, marketing requirements, and client whims. Additionally, tools like Canva enable anyone, regardless of design expertise, to create images and videos for their media content.

This is the realm where AI is poised to take over because we have established a system that relies heavily on templates, software, and a copycat creative process, which can be easily systemized by an algorithm.

Where are we heading as designers then? Each design field has its own unique characteristics, but we can expect some general trends and changes in the future.

We stand at the threshold of a new revolution: AI. As a multidisciplinary designer, my journey reflects the evolution of design in the digital era. From handcrafted work to the revolution of digital tools, designers have witnessed a gradual transformation. AI threatens to automate these processes, challenging designers to adapt. But history has shown that evolution is inevitable, and human creativity remains irreplaceable.

As AI takes over repetitive tasks, designers will assume new roles as creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The value lies in providing creative direction and overseeing the production work. While AI may change the landscape, it will not eliminate the need for designers. Photographers and videographers have experienced similar shifts, and their profession has not vanished; it has evolved. Likewise, designers will need to refine their skills, harnessing their eye for detail, understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. They will become specialized in creating images with prompts, offering unique perspectives and tailored services. Let’s reflect on the impact of AI on various design fields.

In graphic design, AI algorithms can generate designs based on given parameters and predefined templates. However, the ability to translate client needs, conceptualize ideas, and evoke emotions through design remains a distinctly human skill. Designers will excel at providing strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, and interpreting client objectives into visually compelling solutions. AI can support designers by automating repetitive tasks such as resizing images, generating color palettes, or analyzing data to inform design decisions. This symbiotic relationship between AI and designers will enhance efficiency and elevate the quality of design outputs.

In architectural and interior design, AI can assist in the creation of conceptual designs and generate various layout options based on functional requirements. However, the artistry of crafting spatial experiences, considering human factors, and capturing the essence of a place remains within the designer’s domain. Designers will embrace AI tools to streamline tasks like 3D modelling, rendering, and material selection. With AI’s assistance, designers can explore more design iterations, optimize energy efficiency, and simulate real-world scenarios to inform decision-making. The role of designers will shift towards orchestrating the integration of technology, sustainability, and user-centric design principles into captivating built environments.

Moving to product design, AI can aid in rapid prototyping, simulation, and material optimization. Yet, the ingenuity of conceiving innovative product concepts, understanding user needs, and crafting intuitive interactions rests with the designer. Designers will leverage AI to augment their design thinking process, employing data-driven insights to inform user research, anticipate market trends, and iteratively refine product designs. The human touch will remain essential in infusing emotional appeal, cultural relevance, and usability into products that resonate with consumers on a deeper level.

In the realm of fashion design, AI algorithms can generate garment designs and predict trends based on vast datasets. However, the designer’s expertise in understanding fabrics, draping techniques, and tailoring will continue to be invaluable. Designers will collaborate with AI tools to streamline pattern-making, fabric selection, and supply chain management, empowering them to focus on creativity, storytelling, and crafting unique fashion identities. The human touch will remain vital in creating garments that evoke emotion, celebrate individuality, and reflect cultural narratives.

Beyond specific design disciplines, AI will reshape the creative process itself. Designers will increasingly collaborate with AI systems, co-creating with algorithms and leveraging AI-generated insights to inspire their work. AI tools will serve as creative catalysts, helping designers explore new possibilities, break creative boundaries, and overcome creative blocks. The iterative nature of AI can enable designers to rapidly experiment, evaluate design variations, and refine their ideas. This collaboration between human and machine will fuel a new era of design innovation.

The future holds diverse business models, allowing designers to choose their path based on personal aspirations and market demand. Some designers may establish specialized studios that harness the power of AI to deliver personalized design experiences and cater to niche markets. Others may focus on integrating AI technologies into traditional design agencies, leveraging the strengths of both to create impactful solutions. Additionally, designers will need to adapt to new ethical considerations and ensure AI systems align with values such as inclusivity, fairness, and sustainability.

In summary, the role of designers will evolve to become design managers, creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The required skills will include a keen eye for detail, a deep understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. Designers will need to evoke emotions and create unique user experiences that reflect cultural narratives and celebrate individuality.

AI undoubtedly disrupts our current design workflows and it will redefine design roles, freeing designers from mundane tasks and empowering them to focus on creativity, strategy, and human-centric aspects of design. Designers will leverage AI as a powerful tool to enhance their creative process, generate insights, and deliver tailored solutions. The future of design lies in embracing AI’s potential while staying true to the essence of human creativity, craft, and empathy.