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AI Art and Graphic Design: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

AI-powered art and images are becoming a part of the daily process of graphic designers and marketing agencies. These technologies can create realistic, creative, and diverse visuals from text descriptions, existing images, or even from scratch - and are being integrated directly into the software we use. And that poses an important question you and your marketing team need to consider carefully: Is AI worth using? There are certainly advantages of using AI-generated images, but how can we use them effectively, and perhaps more importantly, ethically?

The Good

  1. AI can save time and money. Instead of spending hours doing painfully tedious tasks, like cutting an image out of a background or replacing colours, it can be done in seconds with - in many cases - as good or better results than doing it manually.

  2. AI can inspire and spark creativity. AI tools can create original, realistic, and diverse images and art from text descriptions, existing images, or even nothing at all. We can use these tools to explore different possibilities or styles in seconds and come up with a creative solution having been inspired by these possibilities.

  3. AI can enhance skills. Perhaps calling it a skill, when the AI is doing it for you, seems wrong but knowing how to work with AI to improve outcomes in design is a skill in and of itself. This also goes hand in hand with saving time and money for agencies and their clients. 

The Bad

  1. AI can compromise originality and authenticity. AI tools can create images and art that are similar or identical to existing work, or that are based on common or generic templates. This creates an issue of plagiarism, infringement, or lack of uniqueness. While art and design are about iteration or blending of styles and/or concepts, straight-up stealing is not cool.

  2. AI can pose ethical and legal challenges. These tools can create images and art that are offensive, inappropriate, or harmful to certain groups or individuals. It can violate intellectual property rights, privacy rights, or other laws and regulations. AI can also be used to manipulate, deceive, or defame people or entities, or to infringe on their rights or interests.

  3. AI can reduce control and agency. Generated images and art are unpredictable, inconsistent, unreliable, or just don’t match your style. Relying too heavily on AI can make your designs and art worse as a result.

The Ugly

  1. AI can threaten identity and value. Generated images and art - sad as it is to say - are comparable or even superior to human-made work (depending on the human). This means it’s entirely possible AI LLMs and image generators could replace graphic designers and many other roles in terms of quality, quantity, and speed. This can undermine a person's sense of self-worth and purpose, or make them feel obsolete. In a world where productivity and profit are all that matters, many companies may forgo the use of human talent in favour of AI, which is becoming more and more sophisticated and capable.

  2. AI can create unrealistic and unfair expectations. AI tools can create at extreme speed, and while it’s not always flawless (AI still hasn’t figured out humans have five fingers) it’s on its way. This can create stress and anxiety for graphic designers and artists, who may feel that they have to compete or compare with AI. In the worst-case scenario the benefits of creating assets for marketing campaigns via AI platforms will exceed those done by a person. And what happens to that person when they are outclassed? Many will conclude this can never happen, that humans will always have that creative spark and insight that an AI will never have. It would be naive to think this way though as it’s already happening from music to marketing campaigns to virtual influencers (Yes, this is a thing and some have millions of followers and make tens of thousands of dollars). 

  3. AI can create social and political issues. AI tools are trained on humans and therefore can create images and art that are biased, discriminatory, or harmful to certain groups or individuals. Which of course perpetuates inequality and affects the well-being of viewers and society as a whole. We have to be responsible and accountable for the social impacts of these images and make sure we vet them thoughtfully. We also need to resist the power of generating convincing images of fake events or people to manipulate audiences. This begs the question of how responsible marketing agencies have to be for this kind of propaganda. Then there’s the mental health component, as stated above these tools can lead to a lack of self-worth and make artists and designers feel replaced. It should be obvious where this could lead for those who become graphic designers based on a passion for art and design. 

What Does All This Mean

AI art and AI-generated images are powerful and useful tools, but they also have their drawbacks and risks. In some cases, extreme risks. We need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of using AI tools and use them wisely and responsibly. There is a reason the ugly side of this technology has so much more to it than the good or bad. We need to keep those ugly things at the very top of our minds, so we can use AI tools as a compliment to our work and not allow it to substitute or become a threat. These tools need to enhance, not replace, creativity, skills, and values. If we make sure that’s the case then his new age of AI content will become a help rather than a hindrance.

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