How to keep up with tech and not get left behind
As new technologies and tools emerge daily, we take a look at how industry leaders deal with the unfamiliar, what excites them and how there is nothing truly new under the sun.
It’s Nice That’s 2023 Forward Thinking campaign is supported by Material Design, whose latest design system update, Material You, signals a radical new way to think about design for the entire tech industry. Material You explores a more humanistic approach to design, celebrating the tension between design sensibility and personal preference, and not shying away from emotion. Click here to find out more.
In the creative industry, technological advancements come hand in hand with creative thinking and working methods. Not only do they support us by providing necessary tools; their limitations also dictate our ways of working, starting with how we communicate with one another. As new tools and software pop up daily, however, it can feel like a daunting task to keep up and not get left behind.
The thing is, we’re already constantly surrounded by technology that was once alien to creatives, from the reliable Photoshop to collaborative tools like Zoom and Slack. Technology exists in every crevice of our creative experience, so the key is finding ways to understand it and unify it with the rest of our practice.
Many industry leaders feel excitement towards the recent developments. AI-supported tools such as DALL-E, Adobe Sensei and Runway, for instance, have the potential to save time and money, and to lower the barriers to the creative process. “From contributing to concept development in graphic identity design, art direction for a photoshoot or unique silhouettes for a new fashion collection, there’s no creative industry these tools will not influence,” says Georgina McDonald of Space10, a research and design lab originally set up as a centre dedicated to Ikea. “AI has generated an incredible amount of buzz over the past few months and with good reason. This year alone, we’ve seen generative AI tools move from being buggy and abstract new technologies to being capable of emulating thousands of art styles, photorealism, 3D renders and more,” says Alexandra Zenner of Space10’s creative and planning team.
The capabilities of new technology in the creative industry continue to accelerate. Higher levels of detail are being generated, processing times are getting faster and new domains in which machine learning can be applied have become possible. Jessica Walsh of &Walsh believes that AI will transform every tool and process related to design and creativity. “There are AI tools being developed to help with copy, scripts, film, video and photo editing, 3D, illustration and much more,” she says. “Looking forward even further into the future, we have Neuralink’s potential, and we can imagine a future of designing and innovating without a computer or a VR set but simply from our mind,” she adds, referring to the implantable brain interface that connects our minds directly to computers.
Keeping up with these new developments might feel like drinking out of a firehose. New technologies come with a healthy dose of hype and promises, but often also controversy and anger, which makes it hard to find a clear path through the woods. Besides following reputable tech media to keep up with emerging tools, taking a hands-on approach while keeping a critical mind is key. “I’d encourage hands-on play with emerging technologies,” suggests Matt Pyke, the creative director at media art and experience design collective Universal Everything. “Push them to their limits, break them, combine them. See what serendipity happens! Make the experience about the audience, not the tech.”
“My advice would be to give these new tools a chance before writing them off entirely. It takes a lot of time, trial and error to understand these new tools, just like learning any other software,” says Jessica. “At first what you produce will be expected and boring shit. You have to learn how to speak the language of AI before you can push the tools to get it somewhere new and interesting.”
Besides keeping up with what’s new, creatives ought to think about where this new technology might sit in their practice. Can it speed up time-consuming parts of their process? Can it become the reference or focal point of a new design? Once you get past the steep learning curve, understanding what your goals are with this new tool can help focus these new possibilities in the right direction. “It’s easy to get sucked into the hype cycle whenever a new technology arises. Yes, there is a huge potential in AI to help us imagine, design and build better and more quickly. But we must remain critical, ensuring the excitement and end result don’t overshadow the inevitable biases creeping into these systems,” says Ryan Sherman, Space10’s creative and strategy lead. “More than ever, young people are expecting companies and brands to do good in the world. Against the backdrop of an accelerating climate crisis, global recession and the continued rise of right-wing politics, those who have a point of view and push for a better tomorrow will stand to benefit the most. So how can you explore this technology with a value-based approach? How can these tools enable a more sustainable, inclusive and healthy tomorrow?”
One example comes from Amsterdam-based Studio Moniker’s Trending in the Multiverse project, which uses GPT-3, a model that generates humanlike text, and Stable Diffusion, a deep-learning text-to-image model. The website takes the form of a news site and generates stories based on trending topics, where they feed prompts into the GPT-3 model, which in turn creates fictional articles. The studio created this project when late illustrator Kim Jung Gi’s work was put into an AI model just days after the artist’s passing.
“With Trending in the Multiverse, we look into the novel possibilities of content production. We celebrate fabricated gossip as if it were written by Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway or J.R.R. Tolkien. We find it both fascinating and worrying that we allow Open AI to use Houellebecq’s writing style to create a love story about the wrestler CM Punk and musician Grimes. It forces us to reconsider our concepts of authorship, ownership and creativity. What if authorship becomes obsolete?” the studio asks. Taking a hands-on approach helps you identify the issues associated with these technologies. “Artists should have to opt in to having their work used by AI and get royalties if their work is used, like the way stock websites work now. Understanding the tools helps us see the pitfalls so we can advocate for artists’ rights as they develop,” says Jessica.
So how far will these tools transform our work? Do we need to keep our ears pricked in constant anxiety about a global machine takeover? “This massive disruption to creators has the positive effect of spawning entirely new mediums and careers. Photography didn’t stop painters. The web didn’t stop print magazines,” says Matt. “Age-old design processes still apply, as our fundamental human perception, communication and instincts remain constant. Remember, these are only new canvases and brushes.” New technologies can serve as a collaborative partner in our work, merging with traditional practices as we help shape what our silicon-based friends generate.
“We are used to having streamlined processes. We want to control everything, as if we humans are the masters of the universe,” says Luna Maurer of Studio Moniker. “We should not embrace all tech developments that are thought up by a small group of people. We like to advocate a disruption of systems, to misuse them and create our own environments. Create poetry, make something very much against the trend, make something we do not completely understand yet and continuously seek for difference.”
Though some may be driven to explore new routes while others stick to what they already know, the structures in place may limit the speed of change in the industry. Large commercial briefs may allow less space for experimentation, so the time-saving benefits of new tech may come in handy in those cases. For more exploratory projects or those stuck in a creative rut, the randomness of AI generation may provide a good starting point. Technology isn’t deterministic, so it’s important to understand that economic, social and political factors will still play a part in shaping how creatives will work in the future.
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Moniker: Do not draw a penis (Copyright © Moniker)
“At the moment, the creative industry is relatively divided as to what changes technology will bring. On the one hand, there’s scepticism around their adoption, worries that they’ll threaten jobs and concerns over the data that they’re being trained with. All of those are very real considerations and it’s important that we proceed with intentionality in this space,” says Alexandra. “At the same time, there’s no magic button to take them all away, so the question becomes how we shape AI for positive use.”
If it ever happens, it will take some time before human creatives are replaced by AI, but perhaps creatives might take on a different role in the near future. “I believe design studios will still hire the same number of creatives as they continue to compete to deliver the best offerings to clients, but the job roles they hire will change and skew more towards creative ideation, strategy and shaping AI output, rather than straight production tasks,” says Jessica.
So whether you’re a tech-sceptic or a fervent advocate, paying close attention to emerging technologies can help assert your practice. “We like to fantasise about a paradigm shift in which technology is used to ‘engineer friction’ rather than promising friction-free experiences,” Studio Moniker states. “This means that we need to incorporate technology into processes that are open to disruption in order to produce new meanings and narratives, as well as embrace the mystical and subconscious.”
Often, the solutions to technological problems lie outside of tech’s domain. “Why do students feel they need to distinguish themselves from their peers when the graduation show is coming up? Why are the best artists competing with one another? It made us dream up an art school where the year as a whole is graduating,” says Roel of Studio Moniker. “After graduation they would be launched into the world as collectives, maybe forming alliances with previous years or splitting up in several subs but generously supported by public funding for a few years.” When any new technology emerges, looking at what it changes and what it leaves untouched will help us understand where to go with it.
Even the sceptics who avoid adoption should reflect on the technology that they’re already using and how, at one point, people opposed their usage. Far from being a new concern, new media constantly reconceptualises the existing ways that we relate to one another. Once we realise that the new is nothing new, it will appear that the task at hand is much less daunting than we thought.
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.