“Leave the dishes for the algorithm”: How leading designers really incorporate AI

At NYCxDesign, Adobe invites voices from Collina Strada, Instrument and Private Policy to talk candidly about AI, painting a picture of curiosity, and caution, for the future.

5 June 2024

The first time Hillary Taymour, founder of sustainable fashion powerhouse Collina Strada, used AI, she hated it. Only months later, she returned and found new possibilities within the program. She began feeding it old designs and patterns, having the program add plaid, or using AI rendering as an inspiration for how to drape fabric in real life. “It opens your mind to something you would never think of. Like a kid who hasn’t been taught social norms,” she says.

This spirit of curiosity and exploration cropped up again and again at Supercharging Creativity & Design with AI, an Adobe fireside conversation and the inaugural keynote for NYCxDesign, bringing together industry-leading designers, and hosted by Brooke Hopper (principal designer of machine intelligence and technology at Adobe). Talking to a sold-out crowd at Museum of Arts and Design, Brooke was joined by Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour, as well as Siying Qu, founder of Private Policy, the New York clothing brand looking at a different social topic per collection, and Nishat Akhtar, who crafts brand strategies for giants like Nike at Instrument and personal commissions for the likes of The New York Times.

With the theme for the panel focusing specifically on the profound impact of generative AI on the future of creativity and design, from best practices to the importance of AI ethics, there was always going to be plenty to cover. Up first, and the question on most of our lips: how are industry leaders actually using generative AI in their process today?


Adobe: NYC x Design, Supercharging Creativity & Design with AI (Copyright © Adobe, 2024)

All three panellists expressed a certain amount of hesitancy to the technology at first. Nishat says it took a year or two to figure out how to fold machine learning and generative AI into her process. The artist and designer explained how, since then, she’s been using an AI chatbot based on large language models to write code to design tools she can use to make other things. Like Hillary and Nishat, Siying adopted the technology one step at a time. At first, she used an AI chatbot to help her read emails and press releases, but she gradually began shifting towards use for image generation.

Here, an overriding viewpoint began to peek through. “I see a lot of folks being wary of how to use AI,” Hillary said. But, “do you use Instagram? Unless you’re off grid, you’re already using AI whether or not you see it.” Nishat also pointed out how AI already exists in some form all over the internet, “with things like spell check”. Hillary argued that AI can actually be used to “help you amplify your own eye”, like in her own experiments with fabric rendering at Collina Strada. All panellists pointed to the helpfulness of AI in speeding up workflows, captured brilliantly by Nishat, who keeps a post-it note next to her desk saying: “save the poetry and painting for myself, and leave the dishes for the algorithm”.

That’s not to say that this is a territory to wade into without thought. It’s something Adobe has to consider frequently and thoroughly, for example through its promotion of Content Credentials, a “nutrition label” that lets creatives provide more information about the origin of their digital content, including whether it was made using AI. In an era where users everywhere are cautious about AI, Adobe continues to roll out updates to its own programs, aiming to create generative AI technology that audiences can experiment with ethically. Even more innovative generative AI features are coming soon from Adobe Illustrator, which Adobe will share with the creative community this summer. Stay tuned for more updates here.


Adobe: NYC x Design, Supercharging Creativity & Design with AI (Copyright © Adobe, 2024)

Founders like Siying know all too well the threat of AI on an artist’s intellectual property (IP), particularly in fashion, where the speed of collections is only increasing. Still, panellists agreed that AI is not inherently problematic, but lacking from up-to-date public policy; the NYCxDesign panel painted a hopeful view for the future, where tools are informed by the unique creatives that are using them, to best serve their work. Towards the end of the conversation, panellists each shared hopes for how they’d like the technology to evolve. Siying, for example, was excited “by the idea of training an AI on your own dataset,” and the potential for IP control this offered.

If there was one message to take from Supercharging Creativity & Design, it’s that a future with AI is not a future of creative homogeneity – so long as we consider ethics at every turn. When discussing whether AI could ever replace an artist, speakers pointed out that one may be able to generate a multitude of images using generative AI, but there is one aspect that an AI will never be able to replicate: point of view. It’s what allows us to make creative, sometimes even nonsensical, decisions. “Machines are good at finding patterns,” says Brooke. “Humans are good at breaking rules. We’re good at deciding not to do X even when the data points to it.”

Nishat spoke a lot about the power of this individuality. Through the lens of AI, it means how a designer prompts a generative tool, and creates, curates and edits using the output images, is unique to each creative. And while AI can’t recreate an artist’s unique context, an artist can use it to extend their own creative perspective.

“Don’t get scared,” Hillary advised emerging creatives in attendance. “Play with all the different ways you can use it. Don’t let the AI make your work boring!” Nishat added: “Embrace it as a moment of exploration rather than an obstacle.”

GalleryAdobe: NYC x Design, Supercharging Creativity & Design with AI (Copyright © Adobe, 2024)

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Adobe is a major influence in the generative AI conversation and has made clear its goal of championing designers by providing them with the tools to realise their creative vision and accelerate their work. Check out the latest features in Illustrator here.

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Adobe: NYC x Design, Supercharging Creativity & Design with AI (Copyright © Adobe, 2024)

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