The problem of AI: What we thought we needed

Every good story has the right amount of tension, conflict, and dissonance. But mostly irony. Humans are prone to many things, mistakes being a prevalent one… I am not saying AI (artificial intelligence) is a mistake, but admiration for the irony cannot be helped. However, we do not seem to know what to do with it. Conversations have not begun to dig deep enough into this mysterious tool, some argue in favour of it, and others argue against it. There is a lot of minutiae, it’s a mysterious jewel excavated from some unknown mountain very few had the privilege of climbing.

Phillip J. Clayton
6 min readApr 18, 2023

I have shared about personalization and customization on my social media pages, again, another example of ironies that plague us all. AI has been around for quite some time, as I have also shared in a previous article, but while some fear and concern were voiced at the time, it had not entered th creative space until recent years. AI was used for a lot of things, and not a lot of people were aware it was happening, we have been engaging with AI through a lot of things for a very long time, especially online.

It was not long ago, we humans, desired more curation in our experiences, whether it was shopping or social media, or online streaming. Entered personalization and customization, well mostly personalization, customization has been around since the automobile and before. Personalization is a different beast, it was perfected with algorithms that learned our habits and started giving us only what it believed we liked or would interest us. Of course, nothing is ever good enough, we complained, maybe it was not a well-designed system, we did not like the experience, or we were feeling shut out from things we may actually like. We had no control.

For years, clients and service providers alike, especially agencies and freelancers, have complained about the client experience, and most of this could easily be linked to laziness, a despise for things taking too long, or clients being demanding, time is always an issue. The solution seems to be an overarching mission on both sides to make creativity efficient if the process is faster then the client delivery and payout would be quick, and less time spent on one thing means we could take on more.

Time has been the only metric ever developed in the history of work that has remained the metric by which all things are measured. And the creative space is no different… We somehow aligned our work to time and billed for our work this way. Very few understood the value of consulting, and very few took the approach of approaching clients with a problem-solving process. We grovel at the feet of clients for work, and we compromise our policies to please the client and do as they ask. And with great irony, we complain about the horrible experience.

The third proclamation from The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

“We will take seriously our professional obligation to begin at the beginning, and we will never put our clients or ourselves in th deposition where we are prescribing solutions without first fully diagnosing the client’s challenge.”

I have also shared in various articles and social media posts, about the difference between us, creative professionals, and other professionals is our lack of a formulated process and sticking to our policies. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants are great examples of this, The customer is not always right. “More correctly, he usually has strong ideas and a strong sense that he is right, but is locked into a narrow view and weighed down by constraints that seem to him to be more immutable than they really are.” — The third proclamation from The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

Clients cannot self-diagnose, and patients cannot diagnose themselves to doctors that is absurd. so why do creative professionals not respond the way doctors do? Why is the solution to be more efficient as opposed to more effective?

AI itself is fine, there is nothing wrong with it as a tool that could be leveraged and accommodated into our processes. Notwithstanding, copyright issues… and other consequences of letting it run wild. It can be a great tool. It is a tool that functions on data with the intention of it learning, I can’t speak to AI having self-awareness and making different kinds of decisions in the future, but the source it learns from would most likely be a dictator in that future.

If creative professionals start to engage AI as avoidance of effort in a proper process and a response to client challenges, then naturally, any consequence, good and/or bad that follows would be our own doing. We have received what we wanted, what we asked for because a lot of us tried to avoid doing the difficult work. We trained clients to be who they are, or rather, we accommodated them to be who they are instead of setting the rules of engagement. We wanted to be more efficient to fit with the client's need, not be more effective and solve the client's need.

Efficiency is a result of an effective solution that can be replicated into a process. Efficient doe snot necessarily means something is effective, that comes from innovation.

I am most definitely not suggesting that there should not be a responsible response regarding time and management. What I am saying is that great creativity is given birth from limitations, by removing that limitations we will end up with an ocean of sameness. As is currently happening with AI-generated pixels. I fear wondering what physical execution will look like when AI takes on that process. And to be clear, I am not against AI, I find it fascinating, but there are a lot of problems that need ironing out, especially on the legal side of things.

This morning, I had a meeting with an industry professional and they mentioned that a client presented one of their clients with an AI-generated concept for them to execute, if you needed further convincing… What this means, is that it will happen going forward, the client has already taken control and has attempted to solve their challenges on a design level without any external diagnoses. Your job then is simply to execute, not solve problems. But what is this solution? Aesthetically pleasing, organized pixel? The service professional was able to respond with, there will be most likely copyright concerns when the metadata is traced back to this concept. Then what? Another party demands, “Pay us 100k for infringement.”?

AI is out, it’s not going anywhere… We have to now start having a different conversation, and not be careless about how we explore its potential. Temptation is a thing, and a lot of folks currently are charmed by the brilliant aesthetic execution of AI, and that execution will only become better. However, it won’t have that human value of the thinking behind creative output. Not that, that was ever a problem by the looks of things.

David Brier (Author of Brand Intervention) said, “The truth about AI. Do not delegate your ingenuity to a machine.” I believe in and support technology, more importantly, I advocate for humans and technology, not either. I believe how we use technology is or important than the technology itself, and if we lack the foundation of proper processes then technology will aid in losing the value of that process.

There is beauty in the creative process, that technology can also help with, and the problems of AI are way beyond creative output. But this technology can be part of that process, the thing is a process only exist if there is an objective, what is the objective of creative professionals?

I suppose I should also mention that the objective needs to be guided by a mission, and this has to be something that is beyond stylistic work.

In my article, The illusion of creativity. I mention martin bihl’s article on the randomness of creative — WFH and the Randomness That Drives Creativity — To be held in high regard as other professionals are, creative professionals have to change how they do work and serve clients.

‘When these engagements go wrong we cannot understand how the client can possibly blame us. “We only did as we were told,” we rationalize. We see him as demanding and difficult. He sees us as irresponsible order-takers not worth the money he is paying. He responds with more angry demands and again we comply, giving him what he wants. The spiral continues until finally we part, each blaming the other.’ — The third proclamation from The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns

If we are going to truly solve client challenges with or without AI, then we must Diagnose before we Prescribe. It is our professional obligation.

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Phillip J. Clayton

Brand consultant | Strategic advisor | International brand & marketing design judge: pac-awards.com | Writer | Creative director