Unleashing Creativity: Melding Tradition with AI in Design

INTERVIEW WITH Brenden Schwartz PHOTOS Supplied

Is there ‘ART’ in artificial intelligence? Brenden Schwartz, owner of BRAVO Design, spoke to VISI about the dynamic interplay between AI and graphic design.

BRAVO Design is a Cape Town design agency specialising in packaging design for wine, spirits and food brands. Like its fellow creatives, this agency is contemplating the impact of artificial intelligence on the traditional design process. Under the creative lead of owner Brenden Schwartz, the agency recently unveiled their commentary on the subject in the form of a design, called Karoo Mermaid, at the global Make a Mark exhibition in Monaco, where they were the only African design agency invited to participate.

The Make a Mark exhibition forms part of the annual packaging trade show, Luxe Pack, and presents the future of packaging design as interpreted by 20 of the world’s leading graphic design agencies.

BRAVO’s design, which used AI tools in the generative journey, reflects age-old storytelling and cutting-edge technology.  Karoo Mermaid, a mesmerising design that draws inspiration from rock art paintings depicting mermaids in the semi-arid Karoo landscape – transcends the boundaries of mere visual aesthetics; it embarks on a dreamlike exploration of a folktale, inviting us to ponder the intriguing questions of ‘what if’ and ‘could there be some truth to this?’ This enigmatic narrative adds a layer of mystique to the package, seamlessly transporting ancient storytelling into the future. Karoo Mermaid serves as a compelling commentary on the dynamic relationship between design agencies and artificial intelligence, challenging the conventional design process with disruptive approaches. It stands as a testament to the harmonious synergy achieved when tradition and technology converge, illustrating a creative journey that is simultaneously evocative and forward-thinking. A visual credo that the future is not to be feared.

Brenden Schwartz, owner of BRAVO Design, spoke to VISI about the evolving relationship between AI and graphic design.

In the creative space, AI has been positioned as the great disruptor of our times. Is AI something to embrace or fear?

“AI is disruptive, but not in the ways initially feared. Tradition has long been the guiding force in graphic design. However, the advent of AI generative design has introduced a paradigm shift, disrupting the linear and often time-consuming nature of the traditional design process. Unlike the meticulous step-by-step approach of graphic design, AI generative design initiates the process with a burst of creativity, offering a multitude of possibilities within seconds – like a search engine on steroids. With Karoo Mermaid, we took the unconventional route of incorporating AI to guide the design’s conceptual journey. We merged centuries-old creative storytelling with modern technology, by asking ourselves ‘what would a product that embodies both futuristic design and the soul of creativity end up looking like?’ We opted to use the AI tools ChatGPT and Midjourney to generate stories, patterns and textures inspired by the Karoo Mermaid folktale, and the agave plant. Even with the incorporation of AI tools the whole design journey still took eight months to complete – we didn’t use it to replace human creative capabilities, but instead integrated it for a very powerful solution. When we started the project AI was in its infancy, but that nature of AI is that it will develop at breakneck speed – even so, it will always take a skilled designer to navigate successfully and ensure a design that looks real, not artificial.”

Your argument is that AI merely serves as the Initiator, but designers’ play an irreplaceable refining role?

“Exactly. The Karoo Mermaid exemplifies a dynamic interplay between AI and graphic design. While AI served as the initiator, generating multiple potential designs inspired by the ancient rock art, the mermaid scales and the agave plant, it was the graphic design team’s expertise that enabled them to take elements of the generated designs and shape these raw concepts into the final design. The synergy lies in recognising the strengths of each approach – AI’s ability to rapidly generate diverse ideas and graphic design’s capacity to infuse creativity, emotion, and human touch into the process.”

You are suggesting that designers do not need to fear job displacement?

“It is important to recognise the distinctive strengths of both AI and human designers. While AI excels in rapid ideation and the generation of diverse design possibilities, it lacks the innate ability to infuse designs with the nuanced creativity, emotion, and human touch that define the essence of graphic design. Rather than replacing human designers, AI serves as a powerful catalyst, kickstarting the creative journey and providing a wealth of inspiration. It is just another design platform and designers who are skilled in its strengths will remain in demand.”

Have you integrated AI in your design process at BRAVO?

“Yes, it is part of the workflow, but we set strict parameters. An intentional approach in defining parameters for design is a distinctly human-centric trait that underscores the nuanced understanding and intent behind creative decisions. Unlike AI, which operates based on patterns and data, human designers bring a depth of cultural sensitivity, emotional intelligence, and contextual understanding to the design process. It is driven by intent, which is irreplaceable because it involves the wisdom to discern the subtle nuances that make a design culturally resonant or emotionally impactful. A design purely developed by AI with none of the human intent or creative infusion is easy to spot – not of what you see, or don’t see, but rather at its lack of evoking feeling.”

How do you deal with the question of copyright infringement?

“The concept of copyright is a complex philosophical debate. Who is the owner of the first original thought? Artists reinterpret, designers actively seek inspiration – whether via an online medium or by visiting galleries or other sources of inspiration. Ultimately designs or art are pieces of someone else’s original thought put together or presented in a novel way. AI is just another source of inspiration.”

To summarise, you think AI is having a positive impact on the creative industry?

“AI is here to stay, and it is getting better. The sooner creatives embrace and understand its uses the better it will be for their industries / clients. Yes, I think it is for the better. It will introduce a higher benchmark, and how can that be bad?”

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