Neural networks vs. Designers: Friends or Foes? (Part 1)

Neural networks have become one of the most fast-growing subsets of Artificial Intelligence, and are already affecting the way many different specialists approach their day-to-day work. Artists and creatives are no exception to this: for instance, designers may use the seemingly endless possibilities of neural networks to create logos, illustrations, product packaging patterns – the list goes on and on. 

Reading about all these examples in the news and countless social media threads one cannot help but wonder: is AI really capable of fully replacing humans or is it just another kind of a high-tech toy? We sat down with a couple of Noveo designers and asked them what they made of neural networks – and, most importantly, the potential uprising of robots ;)

Neural networks vs. Designers

Do you think that neural networks could affect the IT market? Will this surge of various AI services lead to a decreased demand for graphic designers? 

Lyudmila, Senior Designer: Not really. AI doesn’t yet possess the skills and qualities needed to completely replace a designer in a team. I mean, even if we consider that, in a couple of years’ time, the AI will become just as efficient and provide the same quality of work as a designer, my answer will still be no. First of all, creating and maintaining one’s own AI costs way more than having a whole design department in a company. On top of that, one needs to learn to properly “talk” to the AI so that it can produce the output expected. Not to mention the fact that it will also be necessary to teach it all those formats and standards that we should follow as designers. 

Irina, Senior Designer: At the very least, we can already see the impact that neural networks have had on the illustration market. One can definitely tell that artists are getting more and more adventurous with their works – and I think that it’s because of their drawing inspiration from AI-generated references rather than from Pinterest images, for example. However, I won’t go as far as to say that there will be less of a demand for “human” designers because whatever AI is producing nowadays still looks pretty scuffed. On the other hand, we as designers can have a go at improving our neural network-handling skills – after all, one won’t get anything decent without feeding the AI just the right prompts and filtering out any and all undesirable results. 

Alexandra, Middle Designer: Yes, I think that neural networks are definitely influencing the market as of today. They keep generating a lot of buzz, and many small business owners seem very interested in trying them out – but rather as a means to entertain, to attract more attention of the general public. And as for the design part, I feel like the demand for such specialists is not going anywhere; we just got yet another tool that we could use in our work, and that’s it. 

Neural networks: Are they here to have your back, or to hold you back? 

L.: I’d say to have my back. We won’t be able to compete because AI doesn’t have the skillset required; however, it can help me to come up with ideas or generate some new references. 

I.: As I’ve already mentioned, neural networks are something that can help me in my work, first and foremost. 

A.: I see them as a little helper that can generate a lot of ideas really quickly – I’ll have to sort through them to find something I like, of course, but I think that’s the beauty of it! 

Is it possible for neural networks to have “a rich visual experience”? 

L.: Pretty unlikely. Nowadays the AI seems to prefer “the big picture” over the small details. Even if it can, in theory, generate a nice graphic design, there’s no way it will be able to work with precision and make subtle tweaks according to incoming demands from a customer. Moreover, the AI can’t ask any questions to the client nor can it infer their expectations, preferences and dislikes from a conversation – because there’s no conversation happening in the first place. 

I.: Can’t say I’ve noticed anything like that. Maybe I just don’t know something about neural networks..? In any case, I haven’t yet managed to train the “eye” of the AIs that I usually use – more like, they’ve trained me :) 

A.: It’s hard to tell. So far the designs I’ve seen look somewhat outdated for the most part – I guess it’s simply due to the fact that the number of “older” images on the Internet is much greater than the number of newly uploaded pictures. Plus, at the moment it all just looks like a huge space filled with drafts that need further refinement. 

Have you ever used AI tools to create your designs? Did you like the results, and do you still use those tools? 

L.: Yes, I have and I still use them. At the very beginning, when everyone was only starting to talk about Artificial Intelligence, there was a sense of fear and denial – I was somewhat scared, like, there was this mysterious AI that would soon take my place. But after a while, I realised that there was no better time than the present, and I should just start taking advantage of everything that could speed up my work. That’s when the fear disappeared, and gave way to genuine curiosity :) As for the outputs I get from these AI tools, they are mostly just design references and ideas, which are miles away from the final result. 

I.: No, I haven’t yet. I only tried them out when working on illustrations, and I can’t really say that I was satisfied with the results I’d gotten. For example, there was a handful of issues related to the quality of images (their size and resolution, among many others). 

A.: Yes, I used them a couple of times for illustrations and photos. The images turned out to be quite fun-looking and even decent enough in some cases, but I wouldn’t submit them for commercial projects. 

What is the future of AI, in your opinion? 

L.: It’s all about growth, and a speedy one at that. I mean, it’s already pretty difficult to tell the difference between a real photograph and an AI-generated image. 

I.: I believe it will become an essential part of the designer’s toolbox. As proof, it’s already been built into Figma (although I’m not entirely sure how to launch it from there). 

A.: First of all, right now it’s pretty hard to fix whatever gets produced by neural networks, so there’s a good chance that a lot of R&D will be focused on this particular aspect of AI usage. Also, I think we will get filters based on different design trends, as well as mood boards and collections that match our prompts much better. It’s equally likely that we are just going to create a “vision” that the AI should have according to the needs of each particular project. Like, we’ll need to feed it some images, videos, and other visual materials similar to what we want to see, and sift through everything we get generated in return, picking out the options that we like the most. It’s still a big mystery to me whether neural networks will ever be capable of handling change requests from clients or completing entire projects on their own – but it would’ve been nice if they at least could review my mockups and help me find even the subtlest of mistakes :) 

What does the future look like for designers? What should they start learning today, so that they’re prepared for what’s to come tomorrow? 

L.: I think there will be an increase in demand for designers who can cover many different areas at once – or, in other words, for full-stack designers. It’s useful, and pretty much essential at this point, to branch out into multiple disciplines, such as programming, analytics, 3D and motion design. That way you will get a good understanding of all the processes happening around you, and therefore be able to create better, clear-cut products. Whenever you hear about a newly-launched software, make it a point to try it out for yourself and see how it could be incorporated into your projects. 

I.: Take a closer look at neural networks and their guidelines, and learn how to use AI tools efficiently – and smartly. It’s never a good idea to lose your touch and get addicted to generating designs instead of inventing them :) Of course, technologies may “come up” with something creative but the AI itself will always stay “robotic”, purely algorithm-based, and will never become just as flexible as a human. 

A.: Learn how to work with neural networks, create more precise and accurate prompts, and make your “interactions” with AI more effective in general. Try your hand at all the up-and coming apps so that you always know what’s up. That being said, you will still need to have a good grasp of all of our main, basic design software, which is why it would be wise to master them as well. 

Looks like our experts agree on quite a lot of things! Let’s see if their opinions change when we present them with a couple of AI-generated designs… in Part 2 ;)