AI and creativity

10 minutes estimated reading time

Why AI and creativity?

This post on AI and creativity was inspired by experiments being done at work by a member of our design department. They had been using Midjourney to create images within a minute of receiving an initial set of words as creative prompts.

For example we created this surreal image which fits somewhere between Christian kitsch familiar to catholic households around the world and a touch of Syd Mead‘s visual futurism. This comes from the prompt.

Jesus fighting alongside the US Air Force

Other efforts weren’t successful, we had faces featuring eyes with two pupils and when it tried to render round shapes, it didn’t know when to stop. The hands would go on and on as a twisted mass of flesh. This could be resolved by creating a human character in a service like MetaHuman and uploading that to Midjourney as a base model instead.

How neural networks drive AI and creativity?

Midjourney works using two neural networks. The first works to render an image. The second compares the processing image to exemplars from a data bank of images. There is a back and forth exchange between the two networks until a number of variants are rendered. At this point the human operator is given a choice, or they can choose to have other variations created if the originals don’t meet their requirements.

These images can be rendered in high resolution allowing for an amazing level of detail.

Dystopian vibes

The dystopian feel of the use of AI and creativity is down to a few different factors.

The first reason is that dystopia is at the centre of our cultural zeitgiest in the west. Documentary maker Adam Curtis covers it really well in this discussion with with the Joe Politics channel on YouTube. This zeitgeist affects the type of imagery that the AI has available to draw upon and the kind of prompts that people use to create AI images.

Secondly, the use of AI to ‘create’ something lacks the feeling and collective emotional experiences of a real person. Those elements can’t be captured in prompts which is why images land with the sensation of a dead fish.

What does AI and creativity mean for agencies?


The most immediate impact could be in rapid concepting, analogous to how rapid prototyping for manufacturing design. Creative teams would still need to conceive of ideas but concepts could then be brought to live in minutes.

It’s as far away from the black marker and pad that creative directors traditionally used; as paste up graphic design techniques from the use of desktop publishing software that started to impact the design world in the mid to late 1980s.

News illustrations and graphic novels show the way

One of the first areas that is really shaken up by AI and creativity has been the world of the political cartoonist and news illustrator. At the moment newspapers and news magazines pay skilled artists to develop and conceptual designs that convey a political concept.

A good example of this is the covers of The Economist magazine. However things are starting to change. US political publication The Bulwark has already started using AI generated illustrations processed by Midjourney. Midjourney has also been used to create graphic novels.

One could easily see how this might be extended into business-to-business marketing for intangible products like software and services.


The hyper-realistic effects that AI can produce is likely to inspire a desire in clients to use them more often for cost effective production costs. At the moment however, the results can be very hit and miss. There is a problem with hands, faces, interlocking round shapes and a ‘dead’ look to the work.

Social implications

At first we had a discussion about what happens to designers? Were they doomed? Should there be a universal income for them or should they march in the streets to ? How could the technology be stopped?

I wasn’t exactly a ray of sunshine in this discussion. I pointed out that over the past few centuries, capital won out over labour every time. So people only kept their jobs if they cost less than the process to automate their tasks.

Globalisation versus automation

London like a few other cities have ad agency work done that is designed for global audiences. At the moment I work on campaigns designed for markets including: the UK and Ireland, Spain, Italy, the US, Vietnam and Japan. Globalisation seems to have benefited hub cities rather than moved the work to cheaper locales.

This in sharp contrast to what happened to British manufacturing. Whole sectors largely disappeared:

  • Steel making
  • Textile mills
  • Shipbuilding
  • Car manufacturing
  • Chemical industry
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Engineering and fabrication

Where capacity was spared, it was largely down to the UK being a good point of entry into the European Union. As the number of countries expanded new manufacturing jobs moved east; and workers moved west to fill workforce needs in established UK factories depressing salaries.

Research shows that globalization only accounts for 13 percent of job loss in US manufacturing while 88 percent of losses were from automation including robotic manufacturing. In fact, availability of ever-cheaper automation options combined with uncertainty in the global supply chain has led to a resurgence in “onshoring” manufacturing.

Debunking the Myths: Job Loss, Globalization and Automation by Greg Council Parascript (April 14, 2017).

Automation has been the quiet destructor of roles. During the 1960s businesses had typing pools and secretaries. Many of these roles disappeared due to desktop computers, office productivity software and the democratisation of touch typing as a skill.

The Technium

Even if labour won out over capital in the UK, there is no guarantee that they would be able to stop the march of technology. Kevin Kelly in his book What Technology Wants shares the idea of ‘The Technium’. The idea behind The Technium is that technology has a momentum of its own building on previous progress. Kelly goes as far to describe it as a super organism of technology. He believes that it exerts a force that is partly cultural with technology influencing and being in turn being influenced by technology. All of which means adaption and accommodation are likely to be the way forward for now.


While people don’t realise it, you’ve been using what could be termed AI for decades:

  • Autofocus on a camera
  • Losing ‘shake’ in camcorder and smartphone video
  • Programmes in a microwave the attempt to cook a casserole or baked potato
  • Predictive text (although it seems to have become more stupid over time)
  • Siri, Alexa and Google’s various search functions

In the case of a designer it would also include tools like the ‘lasso’ function in Photoshop that automatically cuts around objects including frizzy hair on a model. So it’s a bit late in the day for people to get squeamish about AI and creativity. Dominant creative software company Adobe sees the place of AI and creativity more as a technology to augment designers in their work rather than replace them. Much of the current Adobe focus seems to be on lowering the on-ramp for new users of their software packages.

There will be more of a challenge for supporting professions like photographers. Fashion brand Hugo Boss is looking to 3D AI powered design to aid in product design and 3D rendering threatening product photography for websites, look books and catalogues.

Limitations of AI and Creativity

One of the things that my colleagues said which really struck with me was ‘if an AI told the world’s funniest joke’ would it know that it was funny? Software is being used to track emotional response, but it wouldn’t necessarily know why something was funny.

The AI can’t be coded with a summation of life experiences, it can analyse emotions, but as far as we know doesn’t experience them yet. This probably explains why Studio Ghibli and Disney animation feels like it has much more life in it than the best AI renders.

Is it art?

Auction houses have sold works generated using AI, but is the art in the creation of the work, or in the decision to use an AI to do the work and thinking of the artist behind that idea? AI can produce works as they have existed before and mash-up genres and ideas, but it wouldn’t be able (at the moment) to create something completely novel through a leap of abstraction, such as a concept like Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture ‘Fountain‘.

AI images can be nice, but do they involve an illusion of creativity? Everything that appears in an AI image is depended on the inputs that the AI receives and the content in image banks that it uses as a reference – which is the reason why AIs often sign works with an indecipherable script.

Do artist styles have to be better protected as part of their IP as well as their works?

IP issues goes beyond artists. We created an artistic rendering of Pokemon character ‘Pikachu’ on Midjourney using the prompt

Definitely not a pikachu

In conclusion

If you’re a creative we eventually managed to get to four thoughts from the discussion:

  1. In the grand scheme of things, change is the only constant
  2. AI has been changing things and will continue to do so
  3. It is inevitable that there willl be some automation and augmentation happening in the creative professions such as design
  4. In the words of Douglas Adams book Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy ‘Don’t Panic’ – but be prepared to adapt and learn new skills and develop new areas of expertise

Suggested reading

AI-generated images open multiple cans of worms | Axios 

AI-generated digital art spurs debate about news illustrations | Axios 

AI Makes 1993 Video Game Look Photorealistic 

The Push of a Button – by David OReilly – Reminders 

DALL-E now allows anyone to cash in on AI art, but ownership gets complicated | Quartz

GitHub – microsoft/AI-For-Beginners: 12 Weeks, 24 Lessons, AI for All! 

Inceptionsim : Going Deeper into Neural Networks

The Golden age of AI-generated art is here. It’s going to get weird – FT Online

Novo Nordisk wins over doctors with AI email subject lines — and a human touch – Endpoints News 

MAX Sneaks – by Kevin Hart & Bria Alexander, Adobe, Inc.

Demo of AI ad copywriting and art direction for online ads 


Harvard Business Review – Artificial Intelligence: The Insights that you need to know (HBR Insights Series)

Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky

Artificial Life: A Report from the Frontier Where Computers Meet Biology by Steven Levy

Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition and Still Can’t Get a Date – Robert X. Cringely

Inevitable & What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and Achievements by Nils J Nilsson

8vo: On The Outside by Mark Holt & Hamish Muir

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy