VP, Creative & Content
VP, Creative & Content
AI image generation has been disrupting, transforming, streamlining, and [enter your verb of choice here] creativity for less than a year. And in its short run to fame, the technology has been highly scrutinized to overly celebrated. We’ve all heard statements from “It’s just another digital fad. Remember NFTs?” to “Creatives need to find a new career because bots are coming for their jobs!” As a creative, our take must be somewhere in-between writing it off and looking for a new career. Let’s lean into the creative powers this new tool affords us and use it to our advantage — improving our work and how we create. In this article, I’ll explain (with examples) my top three creative powers of AI image generation: Creative Freedom, Creative Catalyst, and Creative Direction.
The ludicrous speed at which generative AI is disrupting work for creatives, agencies, and marketers has only ever been experienced on Spaceball One. And to ensure we’re not left behind in a trail of plaid, our creative team launched into the world of Midjourney at the beginning of the year. Wow. There is something awe-inspiring about taking a blurry vision of some make-believe thing in your head and bringing it to life in seconds to share with your team, your clients, and the world.
A sampling from our first day of exploration with Midjourney
But for every incredible image these models create, there are as many questions about the ethics of using this technology. As an agency, we’ve taken a stance to help protect intellectual property by creating a policy prohibiting artist names, brand names, and copyrighted reference images in our prompts. Let’s be honest — the real power of this technology isn’t in recreating something that’s already been done anyway. The power lies in how it inspires creativity, speeds up brainstorming and conversations, and improves collaboration with creative partners. And here are three primary ways we’re harnessing that power.
Like most full-service independent B2B agencies, we rely on creative partners with niche expertise to deliver best-of-the-best production for custom creative like illustration, video, photography, 3D design, CGI, and development. This model gives agencies like ours the benefit of complementing talented internal creative teams with talented external creative partners to execute as creatively, effectively, efficiently, and economically as possible — for both clients and the agency.
The challenge with this model comes during the ideation phase, before engaging production partners. During the brainstorming process, great ideas can be killed too early because the ability to deliver them with enough visual fidelity to get client buy-in is just too expensive or will take too long. Worse yet, those great ideas don’t even get shared — training ourselves to contain our creativity. With AI, creatives have the freedom to explore and pitch any idea they /imagine.
Take this situation as an example. A food service company is launching a new hamburger patty made from 50% beef and 50% plant-based meat, and they need an ad campaign to promote the product to art schools. While brainstorming, one idea the team is most excited about is commissioning an artist to create beautiful collage-style artwork that combines cow features with organic plant material to convey the uniqueness of the product. The idea gets deprioritized and eventually killed because concepting the style and creating the images would take too long or require out-of-pocket costs for a talented partner to help visualize an idea that may ultimately not be bought — breaking the budget, missing the timeline, or both. Mission failed, right?
Not so fast. Enter Midjourney (or your generative ai model of choice).
Prompt 1: “the head of a cow created from layered plants and plant parts, cow ears made from plants, cow nose made from plants, leaves, flowers, layered, collage, artistic –v 5.2”; Prompt 2: “profile of a cow head created from plants, layered, leaves, flowers, collage, artistic, depth –v 4”; Prompt 3: “art of a cow in a pasture created from layered plants and plant parts, leaves, flowers, layered, collage, artistic –v 5.2”; Prompt 4: “cow created mostly from plants laying down in a meadow; artistic; layered plants and plant parts –v 5.1”
Midjourney created the images above in seconds. These images deliver on the idea, are real enough to give clients something to buy into, help narrow the search for an artist or illustrator to work with, and provide a great starting point to begin conversations with the chosen artist — keeping the idea alive and without breaking the budget or the timeline.
With the kickoff complete and the creative brief in hand, the priority for the creative team is idea generation. The objective for brainstorming at this point of the project is quantity over quality — and as quickly as possible. Get every idea out so the team can react and narrow. The faster a team narrows its focus, the more efficient they become and the more time they spend on bringing those ideas to life. However, more urgent client work, creative block, PTO, and other situations can often sacrifice the time spent on this critical first step in the creative process.
Here’s another hypothetical: A creative team gets kicked off on an identity project for a B2B gaming company that offers arcade games for businesses to rent. The team is excited to work on a new identity project (finally!) but also disgruntled because for the next week — and most of their brainstorming time — they must focus on completing the last pieces of an existing campaign project set to go live in 10 days. With practically no free time to spare, this is an opportune time for the team to start throwing prompts into an AI tool.
Example prompts used: “design an 8-bit logo, retro style, simplistic –v 4”; “a logo for a business that provides arcade games to businesses for rent –v 5.2”; “design a wild logo featuring skeeball, very simple, single color –v 5”; “design a playful logo of a gaming controller, include a skyline as an additional design element, –v 5.2”
The logo mark ideas above are only about 5% of the total outputs received after 30 minutes of prompting. Sure, none of these are the next logo of the arcade rental company, but a wall full of these AI-generated logo examples helps the team decide on the styles to explore — from simple to detailed, flat to dimensional, one color to multi-color, stylized to realistic, retro to modern, and more — and make the most of their time going forward.
Have you ever heard anything more passionate or descriptive than an art director articulating their vision for a shot to a client or production team? William Wallace’s pre-battle call to arms in Braveheart comes to mind. “Freedom!” Or maybe Andy’s “Get busy living or get busy dying” conversation with Red in The Shawshank Redemption? Maybe? Doesn’t matter — let’s get back on track. Art direction is the ultimate expression of brand and emotion — and every detail matters. Ensuring art directors, photographers, videographers, producers, the crew, and the client are all working towards the same goal on shoot day is paramount to a successful production. So, what if an art director brought on-point visual examples to pair with their detailed explanations for propping, styling, modeling, lighting, and more? The vision becomes more powerful, understood, and shared. And with the power of AI, extremely efficient.
Prompt 1: “professional product photography of safety glasses, dirty environment, natural lighting –v 4”; Prompt 2: “professional product photography of safety glasses, pastel isometric shapes –v 5.2”; Prompt 3: “professional product photography of safety glasses sitting on a diagramatic drawing of the safety glasses –v 5.1”; Prompt 4: “professional product photography of safety glasses, close up, a majestic background, trending on aestheticism, wallpaper, made of flowers, feminine, high detailed –v 4”
Above are four outputs from Midjourney exploring art direction for a safety glasses product shot. Each prompt started with “professional product photography of safety glasses,” and ended with additional art direction terms to refine the style (see full prompts in image caption). From here, the art director can continue refining lighting, colors, props, etc. — helping align the teams on a vision while leaving ample room for creative interpretation on shoot day.
While Creative Freedom, Creative Catalyst, and Creative Direction are the most impactful ways we’re currently implementing AI image generation, those aren’t the only ways we’re enlisting it to impact creativity. Using AI to help ideate spatial design for trade shows and other immersive experiences has been valuable. And so has using it to create more realistic storyboard images for video production and storytelling with puppeting. For more on puppeting, check out the method we are experimenting with to bring more emotion and consistency into our storyboard process, Clarinet’s Puppet Method.
Without a doubt, there are more ways for B2B agencies — or any agency, creative team, or creative professional — to use the power of AI image generation to unleash creativity and promote creative partnerships. And as an agency, we’ll no doubt continue learning and growing with the technology to uncover additional ways to amicably walk side-by-side with both the bots and our creative partners to better creativity for all.
Prompt: “a team of creative professionals walking down a sidewalk with a robot, dramatic lighting –ar 2:1 –v 4”