Will AI and Chat GPT take my design job?
It’s a loaded moment in the tech industry. Navigating your social feed or reading a tech news site will barrage you with personal stories of large-scale layoffs. These layoffs have gone on for months and have impacted some of the most talented people in our industry. Many layoffs weren’t performance-related, and people were simply on the wrong team or part of the organization. Job insecurity, mixed with the accelerated rise of Chat GPT, Large Language Models, Stable Diffusion, and AI technology, has left many with an anxious lump in the stomach and a question: Am I going to be replaced?
I don’t have the answers, but I would like to offer a perspective. When we look at history, there are moments of immense change—a tipping point. I am not going into full detail in this post as many great sources dive deep into subjects of various revolutions. Still, I would like to surface a couple related to our industry to help set a foundation and view the rise of AI as a potential “revolutionary” moment.
The printing press
Before the printing press, books were either handwritten or created with a block-printed method achieved by creating hand-carved wood block panels. Unfortunately, both methods were expensive and inefficient. Because of this, books were accessible only to the wealthy. As you can imagine, this entrenched knowledge, education, and opportunities.
The precise date of the first printing press is unknown. However, it originated in China and made its way to Europe. Once in Europe, Gutenberg innovated the idea of woodblock and replaced panels with individual metal blocks representing each character creating “movable type.” This flexibility, paired with the innovation of new inks that worked with metal blocks, opened the door for the mass printing of books (the Bible) and later periodicals.
“Johann Gutenberg’s invention of movable-type printing quickened the spread of knowledge, discoveries, and literacy in Renaissance Europe.” Source
“The worldwide spread of the printing press meant a greater distribution of ideas that threatened the ironclad power structures of Europe.” Source
Lesson: Revolutions shift access; what was once inaccessible to many may become accessible.
The digital revolution
“Essentially, graphic designers take visual content like illustrations or photography and combine them with typography to communicate a message.” Source
Graphic design was a physical process achieved only with analog tools before computers. I don’t think we appreciate the tedium removed by computers in today’s practice. Designers would cut out printed photographs, type, and other materials and arrange them on a page with rubber cement. From there, they would paint over objects and send a final copy to be photographed and printed. Here is an excellent video overview illustrating how precise the process was:
Computers reshaped the field of design. It removed timetables and allowed designers to spend more time creating and less time on production. It reinvented the job and removed certain types of specialties, like type physical typesetters.
Lesson: Revolutions change how things are accomplished and open the doors to what is possible. But they can also disrupt how work is done and eliminate certain roles.
A change in the how
I attended college in the early 2000s—a time when people were still clinging to the days of physical design. I could have done better with X-Acto knives and glue, but it was tedious to produce my printed designs using analog methods while looking at all the new Mac Pros across the room. However, the practice gave me an appreciation for how computers can amplify our processes.
When I landed my first design job, my creative director shared some wisdom with me: “don’t hold onto ‘the how,’ hold onto what you want to create.” I find this wisdom helpful in our current moment. He went on to share his experience with the digital revolution, which gave him an appetite for learning. In the ’80s, he witnessed many designers unwilling to change how they produced their work. These were great designers, better than many who embraced computers, but their unwillingness to change ‘how’ they designed limited the opportunities available to them in this new world. Some of them found ways around the digital world for a while, but eventually, the world changed. Those unwilling to learn new methods had to change careers or retire.
A mental model shift: Become adaptive, flexible where it makes sense, and rigid where it doesn’t.
What are computers good at?
Computers are fantastic at computation. They can take inputs and compute outputs with a precision impossible for us humans. As a result, technology has shifted how we create and will continue to do so. The rise of AI and Large Language Models exemplifies this, and computers can take prompts and ideas that we present and spit back articles, art, and answers.
When I think of what AI is good for, I ask the question: How can I leverage what these technologies are doing to enhance my design process?
And so far, I have been able to leverage AI. An example of this is using Grammarly to help edit my blog posts.
What are computers bad at?
I’d argue that originality, emotion, and experience are not traits AI and computers excel. They are an imitation at best. It’s easy to feel dread when you see some of the things AI can produce. At first glance, it is impressive. But when examined closely, I get a sensation of The Uncanny Valley: “a hypothesized relation between an object’s degree of resemblance to a human being and the emotional response to the object.” Only with human help can you escape that product.
AI is excellent at composition and recreation, but it mimics human output. Without skill, you get content lacking conviction, opinion, and art that feels as lifeless as the characters in The Polar Express. It’s there but lacking something.
A great example of this was an experiment by Colin Meloy, a singer-songwriter for the band The Decemberists. Colin prompted Chat GPT to write a song: “Write a song that Colin Melroy of The Decemberist may have written.” And after many prompts, it output a song. Colin describes the song: “For the record, this is a remarkably mediocre song. I wouldn’t say it’s a terrible song, though it really flirts with terribleness... I wanted to stay as true to its creator’s vision as possible, and at the end, there’s just something missing. I want to say that ChatGPT lacks intuition. That’s one thing an AI can’t have, intuition. It has data, it has information, but it has no intuition.”
AI may get there, but in its current form, Chat GPT feels like a powerful augmentation tool that can help in the creative process and is less of a tool that will replace designers.
Will Chat GPT, Stable Diffusion, and AI replace you as a designer?
My answer is maybe in the future, IF:
- If you are rigid and unwilling to learn
- If you are already producing content that lacks vision and skill
If you are willing to continue honing your skills, defining your perspectives, and leveraging new technology to enhance your creations, you may be set up to do some new and great things. I advise staying curious to pursue new things and new ways of creating. The world will change, and you can change with it.