There are many avenues into the industry of graphic design. You can take college classes for it and fulfill internships. Or you can explore your natural talents for doodling and digital design to become a self-taught designer who gradually works up a portfolio. Graphic design can be part time and a hobby or an entire self-launched business and full-time career. Whatever the path, as an endeavor that feeds your creativity and your family, graphic design is a career that appeals to many of us.
But wait. There’s an obstacle on the horizon. Like almost every other industry, design has been infiltrated by artificial intelligence. Are the robots taking over our creatives, too? Will graphic design even be a field in five years?
The Problem With Graphic Design
Art is subjective, and graphic design is no exception. I’ve seen terrible logos, questionable branding decisions and visuals that just fail to hit the mark. But the biggest concern with graphic design as a whole is not the “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” maxim (no matter how disastrous I might find a particular design to be), but the fact that the end results can theoretically be replicated without a human designer.
I say theoretically because it’s more complex than just a matter of “Can artificial intelligence do this?” The basic components of graphic design include line, shape, style, color, font and layout, though you’ll find different elements listed depending on the source; some list more, and some lump components together.
However, machine learning has become powerful, and like most aspects of design, graphic design can be replicated by inputting these elements and letting AI suggest variations and iterations. Without question, AI has its place in graphic design, and AI-powered design tools and software can be a boon to new designers in search of inspiration or for business owners who simply need a rough logo to tailor. But where do human graphic designers fit in?
The Human Touch
With all the time and effort that goes into building AI design tools, it’s certainly worth asking whether those tools could be doing the job of a human designer. In the end, what it boils down to is the human touch.
AI design is useful to a point, but you’re never going to get the understanding of the personality behind a brand, for example, by inputting design factors. How would an AI designer draft a brand visual that’s noted as “ethereal, punk or friendly”? What about one that’s listed in the brand specifications as “sleek, quirky or funny”?
Those are the types of descriptors that entrepreneurs use in creative briefs for their brands. But AI, generally speaking, lacks the awareness of what those descriptors translate to in terms of visuals — although it can be amusing to see how AI interprets concepts like “ethereal punk.”
To date, we haven’t come across AI designers that can adapt, let alone differentiate, cultural nuances in designs. A concept like ethereal punk would differ greatly from region to region and culture to culture, stemming from the individual perceptions of graphic designers. Human graphic designers are needed to facilitate the understanding of more abstract concepts and how they fit into the message of the project.
Filling A Need
So human designers are necessary, and AI design has its place. However, what humans provide in terms of quality, AI may make up for in quantity; graphic designers tend to take longer over individual projects, while AI design can be produced almost instantly, drawing from a library of pre-loaded imagery. And AI is certainly cheaper, given that many of the design sites provide free designs.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 250,000 graphic design jobs in the United States. However, the number of individual designers is projected to decrease by about 4% between now and 2029.
The main cause for this, however, is cited, not as AI but as the decrease in print-based publications. With fewer magazines, books and newspapers actually being printed, there are fewer positions open for graphic designers. However, the BLS job outlook also notes that the need for digitally based graphic design is growing, and it will likely continue to do so. So what does that mean for today’s graphic designers?
Certain areas of graphic design may be harder to come by in the future for design professionals, but that doesn’t mean that graphic design won’t still be in demand. Like any business, the key is staying on top of where the need actually lies; I wouldn’t advise going into graphic design this year with the thought that you’ll work exclusively in book cover design, for instance.
By all means, if that’s what you want to do, set it as a goal — but be open to picking up work elsewhere to keep yourself going while you work toward it.
So, will we still have graphic designers in upcoming years? I’m confident in saying that yes, we certainly will. Graphic design — by human designers, specifically — provides a creative visual outlet that enhances every brand experience, whether it’s looking at web design, product packaging, signs, website or judging a book by its cover.
But that doesn’t mean that things won’t continue to change. Tools like AI-fueled design shouldn’t be ignored, because they will become the way of the future. If you don’t want to become obsolete, it’s important to work with new trends and technology, not pretend that it isn’t happening at all.
In short, the ability to adapt is key to survival. And that’s what will keep you in high demand.
This article was originally published on Forbes.