Disrupting the Creative Process: New AI Tools from Big Players

Jun 2, 2023
Kirk Clyne & Suzanne Reeves
Detailed illustration of a stylish young woman peering over her eyeglasses, sitting a desk with a computer keyboard, books, monitors and papers, surrounded by an abstract collage of swirling shapes. Detailed illustration of a stylish young woman peering over her eyeglasses, sitting a desk with a computer keyboard, books, monitors and papers, surrounded by an abstract collage of swirling shapes.

Disrupting the Creative Process: New AI Tools from Big Players

Hello fabulous designers,

And welcome to all our new subscribers. In just a few short weeks, the reach of our newsletter has quadrupled! We are grateful for every single one of you.

In a year of major changes due to tech advances in AI, the past couple weeks have been particularly noteworthy.

AI made waves when an AI-generated image of the Pentagon exploding went viral and briefly unsettled the US stock market. ChatGPT's boss warned Congress about the potential for AI-fueled misinformation and the reality of upcoming job losses. He's pushing for AI regulation and proposed an international regulatory body akin to the UN's nuclear power watchdog. And researcher Ajeya Cotra explained how AI could lead to a doomsday scenario on the Hard Fork podcast. (Not at disquieting at all. Nope, we sleep fine.)

Additionally, there has also been a slew of new AI-infused product announcements from some heavy-hitters—like Adobe and Google—that will directly impact the design industry. There were so many interesting products to review that we have a jam-packed issue for you today.

We'll dive into a few of these new products and explore why these AI tools continue to leave us — as usual — feeling a mix of exhilaration, terror, and empowerment.

Big players enter the game

Companies like Adobe, Meta and Google are going to be releasing some seriously souped-up products that could turbo boost them right to the front of the pack when it comes to AI-powered design tools.

The newest AI-powered design toy that we consider the most "exhilarating" this week comes from Adobe. There are two big reasons it gained our interest.

The devil you know

Adobe has added image generation to its Photoshop (Beta) in the form of "Generative Fill" — a new AI-powered feature that's like Content-Aware Fill on steroids.

This will be good news for the designers we've talked to who want AI baked into the tools and workflows we already use.

What we love about Generative Fill is that it gives us more control than a tool like, say, Midjourney for tweaking or enhancing smaller portions of an image. (One of us may have a mild obsession for control...but, we'll leave it a mystery as to which one. 😜)

A collage of images showing what remains of stone tower in a field labelled 'Original', alongside two new images showing a complete tower with a sheep, birds and a woman in a dress labelled 'After'. The caption reads, 'Image from Adobe employee Russel Preston Brown'.
Image from Adobe employee Russell Preston Brown

The security you need

Adobe claims to have solved the IP stumbling block that every agency we've talked to said was holding them back from being able to use generative images in client-facing work: copyright issues.

The adoption of AI has been slow (and even banned) in some companies, as no one wants to get sued. If you want to be an ethical user of AI, the issue of infringement arises.

Image generation robots are typically trained on vast datasets, which often include copyrighted images.

Adobe claims its system was trained on copyright-free images from Adobe Stock, and will generate imagery that is 100% free of copyright concerns.

This could change everything.

While the feature is only for personal-use while in beta, it is due for wide release in the second half of 2023.

Adobe may be the first to remove this stumbling block to wide-scale adoption, but they won't be the last, meaning creative agencies will likely be able to take advantage of these tools sooner than later.

So, dive in and get up-to-speed ASAP on how to use the tool to create new and inspirational creative assets.

Plus: It's. So. Much. Fun.

An image showing a photo of an house cat indoors on the left, and the same cat wearing a leather jacket and cap on the street at night.
No animals were harmed in the generation of this image

If you want to learn more about what this feature can do, check out our new article Photoshop's AI Leap: The Next Phase of Image Generation for more info, eye candy, and inspiration!

Automated ad creation: This is fine

Over the past couple of weeks, Google and Meta each introduced some upcoming, AI-infused tools that are poised to impact how creative work — and especially marketing creative — gets done.

Before we get into why we find these developments a bit concerning for creatives, we'll give you a brief overview of these new tools.

Even if ad campaigns don't make your designer's heart sing, it's worth paying attention to see how these tech titans are automating the creative process.

Keep in the back of your mind the reality that this same automation could be introduced for other use cases, like web design, brochures, apps, and more.

(The AI revolution is going to make us consider getting ads for products like Tums and Pepto-Bismol.)

Performance Marketing Gets an AI Brain

Google recently announced updates to its Performance Max ad creation suite which include a robot that will help you create your ad — using simple, plain language inputs.

We’ll describe below how it works, but you could also just watch this slick promo video from Google that gives you the broad strokes.

Video still from the Google Ads promo video
"Your marketing, multiplied by Google AI"

You supply the chatbot with the URL of the page you want to drive traffic to, and the AI will analyze the page, summarize it, suggest keywords, headlines and body copy. It will also recommend images from your site.

Oh, and it can generate brand new images for you, too.

Screen shot of the Performance Max interface that includes images, a chat panel, headlines, descriptions and a preview of the ad.
Image by Google

You can literally collaborate with the built-in chatbot to develop ad campaigns, asking for suggestions, and providing direction. All the while, Google provides a ranking of "ad strength" for each solution based on its own data analysis.

In the same breath, Google also announced Product Studio, a new image manipulation tool designed to stretch your existing product shots.

Driven by AI, the tool allows you to remove the background from an image, generate new images, and upscale your results.

Screen shot of Product Studio, showing a small product image of a skin cream. The main window shows four new renditions of the bottle surrounded by peaches and plants.
Image by Google

By letting you repurpose a single product image in different ways, Product Studio offers the ability to generate new campaign images without returning to the photography (or design) studio.

Meta has introduced a similar tool dubbed AI Sandbox. The "experiment" lets advertisers remove or swap out backgrounds (sound familiar?), automatically resize images for different advertising aspect ratios, and generate variations of copy lines for A/B testing.

While these tools won't be rolling out until July, we've already done some digging to learn what both Product Studio and AI Sandbox can do. Take a look at our article Ad Department Invasion: The Rise of Robots in Marketing to learn more.

So...should we be worried by these automated ads?

No more resizing, upscaling, or tedious Photoshop edits? It's banner ad production made easy! What's not to like?

Well, we hope it's this simple. We hope that we just shift some work over to a new platform, one that makes things smoother and easier.

But, our brains are wired to see more than just the outcome we hope for.

We have big questions, like: if it's all automated, who will own the creative?

Granted, for big budget, high-concept campaigns, these tools will only take you so far.

But for a typical, conversion-driven, product-focused ad campaign — especially for smaller and medium-sized clients — these tools point to new ways of working.

What today takes a team of people could be executed by just one person.

Collage-style illustration of a young man holding an impossible number of creative tools, like movie cameras and musical instruments.
Image generated by authors using Midjourney

The new approach to creating ad campaigns may look something like this:

  1. Shoot a single product photo. (Sorry, photographers.)
  2. Tweak as needed with Product Studio or AI Sandbox.
  3. Use Performance Max to generate headlines, copy and additional images.
  4. Go home early.
Contemporary illustration of a photographer sitting alone in his studio with his chin on his hand looking very bored.
Image generated by authors in Midjourney

So will you be the one using these image generation and manipulation tools from the comfort of the Creative Department?

Once the landing page is ready (don't get us started on the potential future of web design), what's stopping someone from the Performance Marketing team from using Performance Max to generate the entire campaign? Not just headlines and body copy, but images and video too — all on their lonesome?

In fact, what's stopping that guy in Accounts from doing it? (After all, he insists that he knows what the client wants.)

Will designers be reduced to a purely QA role? Giving the thumbs up on ads that were automatically generated? (Will we even be asked?)

This is the type of situation Goldman Sachs refers to when it says AI and automation will cause jobs to be downgraded or diminished.

Become the design unicorn the future needs

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating (again and again): We believe that, as designers, our training, sensitivity and creative instincts make us the logical candidate for wielding the AI tools.

We know which images best support the messaging, and which messages best support the goal. We can quickly spot which assets are on-brand, and which assets risk diluting the brand, or undermining the message.

In short, while we may be fast approaching a time when "anyone" can generate a basic ad campaign, we believe that professional creatives will still be better-suited to create successful ones through a smart, sensitive selection of ad elements.

But we all need to be able to articulate that sentiment clearly and loudly. Don’t get cut out of the conversations in the office, just because you haven’t been paying attention.

Become the sought-after expert able to wield these tools with ease.

Shiny new opportunities

While these tools may seem like they're gunning for design jobs, you can also flip the narrative around: tools like this expand what solopreneurs and micro-agencies can offer. You know, like digital campaigns.

These tools make competing against "Big Agency" not just feasible, but perhaps even desirable for marketing-savvy designers.

If you're a freelancer who offers branding and websites, for example, you might want to consider offering up digital ad campaigns to your small business or solopreneur clients, too — and at a much lower price tag than what they may be used to.

Sure, maybe they could do it themselves, but small business owners may not have the resources — or the inclination — to press the buttons themselves.

Instead, you can step into that role, and continue guiding all of their branding and communications to ensure a strong market presence.

Detailed illustration of a stylish young woman peering over her eyeglasses, sitting a desk with a computer keyboard, books, monitors and papers, surrounded by an abstract collage of swirling shapes. The caption reads, 'Every new AI tool offers the potential to expand your creative superpowers.'
Image generated by authors using Midjourney

Do Future You a Favor

As with any fast-evolving tech, the best thing you can do right now for Future You is to get up-to-speed.

Take a look at our articles on Photoshop’s Generative Fill and the various new AI-infused ad tools so that you're familiar with what’s possible, what’s coming, how the tools work, and where they may be problematic.

In the meantime, take heart, and remember that every tool that comes along promising to democratize some aspect of our profession also extends the potential of what we can offer as creatives.

Until next time, happy designing!


A creative leader, designer, teacher and artist with a 20-year career, Kirk Clyne is well-positioned to help designers master new technologies and build exceptional careers in the creative industry. He co-founded Art & Science, a digital design agency that landed on the Globe & Mail’s Growth 400 list, and spent the better part of a decade teaching digital design courses at San Francisco State University and the Academy of Art College.

Suzanne is an experienced entrepreneur and design leader fascinated by AI's transformative potential. She's run her own successful design firm for the past 10 years, built and mentored design teams, and has degrees in Psychology and Fine Art. Passionate about nurturing the next generation of 'design unicorns', she helps teams and individuals leverage strategy, design, and building skills, believing AI tools can exponentially expand our creative potential.