Revolutionizing Creativity: The Impact of AI on the Creative Process

August 30, 2023In Articles

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.

“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

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.

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