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How can graphic designers prepare for the rise of AI?

The beautiful writing is on the wall for graphic designers: adapt or fall behind.

McKinsey is already predicting that 800 million people, about 30% of the world’s entire workforce, will lose their jobs as a result of AI by 2030. Obviously, this trend isn’t limited to graphic designers. But with the rise of wildly popular AI image generators like Midjourney, Craiyon, and Nightcafe – not to mention platforms like Getty Images and Canva launching their own AI products – graphic designers are understandably feeling the squeeze. If any layperson can generate a custom image or design, instantly, with zero training, where does that leave graphic design as a profession?  

Adobe is already trying to downplay these fears, arguing that AI won’t replace design jobs, any more than the invention of cameras eliminated painting. But is there anything designers themselves can do to prepare? Let’s take a look. 

Embrace AI tools 

This is perhaps the most important point: instead of fearing AI adoption, graphic designers should embrace it. Traditionally, the only people that get swept away by digital change are the ones who don’t appreciate that change. Look at Kodak and digital cameras, or news networks and the rise of the internet. Even if you don’t lose your job to generative AI in the near future, you could lose your job to another designer who knows how to use AI. Where to start? How about using AI for repetitive design tasks, like resizing images, or generating mock-ups, or removing backgrounds? With the right training, AI can actually speed up your workflow, making you a more efficient designer. 

Develop AI skills 

If you’re going to fold generative AI into your workflow, you’ll need some elementary AI skills. Learning how to use AI-powered design tools, understanding the basics of machine learning, knowing how to write an effective design prompt (and then hone that prompt through iterative changes) – these are all good skills to have, and they’ll help you stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry. The trick is to align this new knowledge with your experience, your instincts, and your awareness of basic design principles. These are three things laypeople simply don’t have. They’re what make you inherently employable.  

Focus on creativity and problem-solving 

Think about the real value you add as a designer. Fundamentally, it’s not just pretty designs; it’s hitting a brief, or solving a particular problem. That’s the human element of design, and it’s not going anywhere. See, AI models may excel at repetitive tasks and data analysis, but they still lack creativity and intuition. As a graphic designer, you can build your skillset around creative problem-solving, storytelling, conceptual thinking, and brand marketing. This way, AI becomes just another arrow in your quiver, rather than an industry-destroying nuclear warhead.  

Diversify your skillset 

The best way for any profession to prepare for the future is to diversify. The days of the specialist are slowly dying. What you want is a T-shaped skillset: deep experience in one particular niche, but a working understanding of several fields. For designers, this might mean upskilling into UX and UI, motion graphics, video, web development, or even basic programming. The more skills you have, the better and more well-rounded you’ll be as a designer, and the more resilient your career becomes to shock. An AI image generator might be able to replace someone whose only job is image generation, but it can’t code, build web pages, or shoot video, all at the same time.  

Focus on human-centred design 

As AI becomes more prevalent, the value of human-centred design will rise accordingly. In the same way that painting now fetches luxury prices – not because it’s better at rendering reality than your iPhone camera, but because it’s more human. It takes more time, more labour, more creativity. And that lack of convenience actually makes it a premium product. There’s no reason graphic design can’t go the same way. By focussing on human-centred design principles – the needs, preferences and experiences of the end user – designers can add value that AI will never be able to replicate. As Wired has noted before, AI’s Achilles Heel is human-centred design: it can ape graphic designers, but (so far) it can’t replace them.  

Stay up-to-date 

AI technology is evolving incredibly fast. What was cutting edge last month is passé tomorrow. Just look at the shuddering yawn that greeted Apple’s announcement that they’re jumping onto the AI bandwagon… For graphic designers, the important thing is to stay up-to-date with AI changes in the design industry. Go to seminars, attend networking events, subscribe to platforms like Dexigner and Design News to keep abreast of current developments. AI might be a threat to the design industry, but if you’re informed and prepared, you’re much more likely to make a successful pivot. The only designers who should fear AI are the ones who don’t understand it.  

This article was originally published on 6 June 2024