When Aaron Marshall first put text on a photo while producing a slide presentation for his church in 2002, he never imagined his simple design experiment might bring down a centuries old industry. But fast forward to 2018 and apps like Marshall’s creation – Over – may wind up doing just that.
The simple text on photo apps, which help individual users make social media posts look professional grade, are building versions of their applications for businesses. The next generation of these apps will be used to automatically create social posts and even advertisements. Could the automation of media spell doom for the ad business, or more specifically, the creative professional?
“Businesses have to create something that tells a story, but they have a variety of audiences to tell it to,” Marshall says. “This is where computers are fantastic because they can be taught to come up with iterations of the story within a set of rules to create the variety very quickly. Machine learning does that based on feedback from the user. As the business owner or marketer decides what they like and don’t like, the algorithm gets more intelligent and spits back creative more suited to what the business needs over time.”
The gist is this: A business owner or marketer uploads a photo of their store or latest product, drops some text over the photo with their store hours, maybe a promotion or discount, and a phone number – in essence, a small advertisement. The soon-to-be market ready versions of apps like Over, Canva, and Typorama, equipped with the latest in artificial intelligence mechanisms and machine learning algorithms, will take that post and automatically create suggestions for new ones. Each will come complete with new imagery and even copy based on the history and learning of the language, style and design the business has used before.
“The technology shortens the time it takes to communicate, to tell your story and to market yourself,” Marshall explains. “At Over, our thinking was never that we wanted to teach Yoga instructors how to be designers. We actually wanted to help them have more time to focus on being Yoga instructors. Let the technology help create the visual image for your brand, your Yoga studio and your social posts. That allows you to work on the things that matter most to you.”
A Shared Vision
“We’re thinking of adding ways for designers to have more automatically created for them,” he says. “In Typorama right now, you can generate styles and layouts based on rules you select and the app tries to give you a design on its own. We’d like to expand this beyond more than typography and create whole images with collages, images, different layouts and even animations.”
In order to proliferate four or five new options today, a business owner would have to call upon his or her graphics department or advertising agency, send them the specifications, and wait for the human being running Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to manually output different versions of the communication.
By contrast, the new generation of apps will be able to generate hundreds of post variations within seconds, all unique and ready to use. The variations can bring a full campaign to life, multiply variations in sizes and specifications for different media needs, or narrowly target certain audience segments.
To the MarTech enthusiast, this might sound like the latest greatest development in a world of technology proliferation that has seen the rise of the common person as a relevant voice in the greater media landscape. To the advertising agency creative – a designer, copywriter or art director – this is creeping awfully close to an Aldous Huxley Brave New Nightmare.
The rub is that creative departments (often called studios) at advertising agencies and marketing firms often comprise a tiered hierarchy of professionals who actually make the ads. Creative directors set the vision or direction, art directors and copywriters produce the primary art and text that attempts to accomplish the direction, and a staff of production artists takes the approved vision and executes against media requirements. While there are sometimes gray areas between production artists and more senior creatives, the work is often divided by those who originate art, design, or copy, and those who generate versions of those originals for placement.
So, if a machine is now generating versions of the originals, what will happen to production artists? Aren’t these the creative directors and art directors of tomorrow? Is this a domino effect with dangerous ramifications in its path?
Looking to the Future
Edward Boches spent 31 years at Mullen – a storied, Boston-based advertising firm – where he held the positions of executive creative director, chief creative officer, and chief innovation officer. He is now retired and a professor of advertising at Boston University. He says that technology advancements may change how creative work is executed, not its fundamental existence.
“I don’t know that it will deny entry-level jobs for people making the media, even if the world gets even more automated than this first layer,” Boches explains. “In the old days, the entry-level jobs happened in the studio – they were paste-up artists. Today, they’re in different places, but they’re still there. They might be closer to the directors and the conceptual ideas, but they’re developing small videos or social content, clever Instagram posts or inventive visual ideas that work in social.
“The lower-risk social content is where the production artists and younger creatives spend their time now,” he continues. “A few years ago it was churning out banner ads. Creatives will always adapt to provide value to the market. They always have. And the market has always needed them.”
Boches even flips the argument and says that senior-level decision makers should be more concerned about machine learning than the production artists themselves.
“Take a mainstream advertising agency,” he says. “The gatekeeper of the creative ideas that go out into the world is the creative director. But if you look at programmatic marketing, machine learning and even what Google promotes as best practices for media and website design and testing, you can make an argument that machines – though they lack the conceptual judgement a human being has – may do a better job of judging creative than a human being trained his or her whole career to do so.”
As for Marshall, whose creativity years ago spawned one of the many apps vying for dominance in this space, he agrees that creatives aren’t at risk of going extinct.
“I’m not worried. I see it as the creatives out there are about to get a bunch of new helpful robots to make their jobs easier,” he explains. “The picture is one of support and greater strength, not one of ‘Oh no! I don’t have a job anymore!’”
He admits, however, the vibrations the creative workforce may feel now are the early tremors of oncoming disruption.
“The ones who will use it as a strength and not fear for their jobs are the ones who will accept that technology has forced design to change,” he says “New developments do restructure how we think and work. This is just one of a whole world of new opportunities for artists and designers, not the beginning of the end. Think of the creative practice of drawing with a pencil. We are about to go from a pencil to a flick.”
As for the creative workforce? Most agreed, they need not worry, but they do need to pay attention.
“We sometimes get feedback from professional designers saying Typorama takes their job out of their hands,” Erdag says. “But I don’t think there’s much to be afraid of as long as you are continually improving yourself and staying aware of what’s happening in the market.”
“The most creative companies today, regardless of industry, are still as eager for human creative talent as they have ever been … maybe even more so,” Boches explains. “Because there always seems to be different roles for creative talent inside those companies.”
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