There has been a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI). How will it affect our jobs as designers and what can we learn from it today? How can the tools of tomorrow look like when infused with smart algorithms and machine learning? Let’s take a look!

According to the popular ‘willrobotstakemyjob’ -test, there’s only an 8,2% change our job will get automated. Now wait; that’s actually not the best figure. Considering we’re on the same level as airplane cargo handlers, and we have more chance of getting automated then meeting planners and fish planners (what is that job actually ?).

The job automation plot, we’re definitely on the good side.

Of course, there are a couple of significant issues here: define automated, define graphic designer (brand designer/strategist is not an option).

Fine-arts people are a bit better off with only 4,2%. Maybe we should start working on those illustration skills right? 🙂 Brand strategists are not listed here, but I suppose we can put it on a similar level as Marketing manager (1,4%).

But how can an AI take our jobs? After all, we own the holy grail of humanity: creativity.

It seems like a far far away idea, to be replaced by a ‘robot’. Let’s take a look at some of the current tools in this branch:

There are a lot of tools out there, such as Brandmark and Logojoy. Let’s generate some logos.

First, there are a couple of different ways most of these tools approach the generation of logo’s/identities: some just let you pick and choose some logo’s and then base the design of your personal flavor: not such a good idea (imagine doing this with clients).

Others ask for keywords, or even a certain style. Others ask you to select an icon (that’s a lot of work).

Add some keywords, wonder how these are implemented.

Pff, why can’t the machine just choose my icons?

So many fancy loading screens, these companies are working hard to make it look like there is a machine working hard.

Just, … Wow

So many options…

As you can see; not so great. But why are these logo’s not so great? Of course it’s a design issue: ugly typefaces, lousy spacing, no creativity.

But besides that there is a more significant problem: there are bad design choices but there’s also is a key part missing here; good strategy.

Where do we enter the brand voice? The key attributes? Do they factor in target audience?

Your answer might be “that’s not the tools objective”. Well, maybe not, but there’s a lot of logo designers out there today that should consider these questions more. If not, they might as well be just a robot.

I know these tools are not made for designers. They are made for companies and start-ups. They don’t have to pay way to expensive logo designers for something a machine can(‘t) do (right now). First, there was spec-work, then outsourced foreign services, here comes the new competition: robots.

Tailor brands generate a ‘full identity’, complete with stationery and social media posts.

So it’s obvious today’s logo/identity tools may be insufficient, and probably a lot of designers will laugh and say; “I’m safe”, this is just a joke. Maybe it is, but remember spoken interfaces a couple of yours ago? Things could go quickly.

How can we use AI to create better brands?

Enough doomsday thinking. We all know AI will never trump our creative minds (shh) but let’s take a closer look at how AI could help us designers create better brands.

Of course a lot of brands are using AI as part of their toolset. There’s Apple’s siri, Amazon’s echo and a plethora of chatbots using AI. It’s going to be interesting to see how branding will evolve in this direction, how these chatbots will have a ‘brand voice’ that works well within the branding ( I can imagine a lot of new creative jobs coming from this area, there’s already a lot of talk about conversational UI en design, so don’t worry if your job get’s automated, plenty of work out there).

But will brands also use AI to ‘create brands’?

First of, if we look at ‘brand’ as Marty Neumeier’s definition:

A brand is person’s gut feeling about a certain company or service.

In that way, a brand can never be created, it can only be influenced by the choices we make, that is no difference today. Unless we go really far in this experiment and think we will be able to influence the brain more unconsciously (okay, let’s not drift too far).

Maybe AI will enable us to create even better brands, in this article Jeff Kowalski, chief technology officer of software company Autodesk mentions:

Computers are starting to enter the realm of human creativity,” Kowalski says. “For example, once computers understand the fundamental essence of a chair, they can help people design them better.”

Throughout history, humans have shaped the world. Moving forward, they will be shaping the things that shape the world.

What can we automate?

Because a designer’s job traditionally involves creating unstructured information, you might imagine it would be safe. However, a modern digital designer spends a lot of their time working with grids, pre-designed UI and pre-set rules to ensure things work across multiple devices. (full article on Creative Bloq)

I look at automation as something helpful; it can help reduce the clutter, it can help reduce redundant tasks, it can help create focus. So maybe we need to take a look at what we do as designers and see what can be more automated, so we can focus even more on creating amazing brands.

Let’s look a some of these tasks we do from day to day

Selecting typefaces

Choosing the right typography is very important as an identity designer, knowing your type, choosing the right typeface that fits the brand and choosing the right combination is not an easy job and takes decades to master. Maybe AI could help us by using huge data sets to add extra metadata to typefaces that are less descriptive, for example; give me a list of ‘high-end’ typefaces, or maybe show me the typefaces that speak to young skateboarding fanatics. Using data and machine learning this could be based on millions of opinions, not just one. It would still be a suggestion by the machine to build upon.

Today’s typeface selections are often very basic, you can create your own, but i’m a bit lazy

Imagine defining the parameters as brand attributes and playing around with that.

Grids, golden-ratio and Fibonacci

There is something magic about logos created with the perfect golden ratio, or using Fibonacci as basic. Maybe sometimes it’s even more about seeing the actual circle grid above it that astounds us designers, but these proportions are based on nature, so they do feel natural when executed correctly. Imagine our smart guides suggesting smart-rations, golden ratio proportions from time to time while we are designing, could be amazing, no?

Fibonacci Squirrel, hey that tail looks a lot like..

Recognizing shapes, form and suggesting meaning

Google has a great algorithm for recognizing shapes, it can read a picture and say: flower, green, summer. It can also ‘invert’ that behavior and draw images based on that input. If you are bored by now, go check out Quickdraw, Google’s neural network game, it’s fun! So maybe our Smart guide(s) could help us see even more shapes, or suggest shapes when we are creating them.

I see a house in this shape you are drawing. Hmmm, maybe this could get annoying 🙂

The smart network

There is a lot more we could do with machine learning. For example, since we are working with millions on the same software (take illustrator), we could help recognise patterns other users did, or we could recognize similar logo’s that have been created and notify the user about this.

This AI sounds great, but will it not ‘limit’ our creativity?

It all depends on how you will use it, I look at it as we are curators of great taste, we are helping brands find the right visual language and we are doing so by design, but also by big data. We can use all the help we need.

For me, even choosing the right parameters or brand attributes are a key part of identity design, the choices we make reverberate throughout a brand, on a high level. So sometimes small, minuscule design decisions are important, but never forget to look at them from a bigger angle, from the angle of the brand.

Adobe Creative Cloud, anything included in the 2018 update?

Stef Hamerlinck

Stef is a brand strategist and identity designer. Founder of a branding agency and branding community
Stef Hamerlinck

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