On this episode, we’re talking about artificial intelligence and human creativity. Creative AI, also called Generative AI, is inspiring new ways of working and even thinking about the creative process. To help us unpack the implications of all this, we’re once again joined by Andreas Markdalen, Global Chief Creative Officer at frog.
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Design Mind frogcast
Episode 29: Human Creativity Meets Creative AI
Guest: Andreas Markdalen, Global Chief Creative Officer, frog
[00:09] Elizabeth Wood: Welcome to the Design Mind frogcast. Each episode, we go behind the scenes to meet the people designing what’s next in the world of products, services and experiences, both here at frog and far, far outside the pond. I’m Elizabeth Wood.
[00:24] Elizabeth Wood: We’re back for 2023! And today on our show, we’re talking about artificial intelligence and human creativity. Creative AI, also called Generative AI, is inspiring new ways of working and even thinking about the creative process. To help us unpack the implications of all this, we’re once again joined by Andreas Markdalen, Global Chief Creative Officer at frog. Back in 2015, Andreas first began speaking about the intersection of AI and design at a conference called Digital Shoreditch in London. A few years later, he again explored the topic in a presentation at Interaction 19. Next month, Andreas will again take the stage at Interaction 23 in Zürich to expand on whether Creative AI will be the death of creativity, or the means of unlocking a whole new era of imagination. Here’s Andreas now.
[01:13] Andreas Markdalen: We’ve seen the shape of design transitioning away from design only being associated with form or artifacts, right? And there’s this quote, that I often paraphrase and butcher from Saarinen, where he speaks about the kind of next dimension of impact in design. So he says, essentially, when you’re designing a chair, you need to design a chair in the context of a room. If you’re designing a room, you need to think about the context of the building. If you’re designing a building, it’s in the context of a neighborhood. And if you’re designing a neighborhood, it’s in the context of the city. And I think this kind of journey to always kind of move outside and think one step bigger is implicit for all designers. That is part of our mindset.
[01:52] Andreas Markdalen: My name is Andreas Markdalen. I’m the Global Chief Creative Officer of frog. And in my position, I look after three things for frog, I support client and account relationships, looking after program activities, business development, and general support. I also support marketing and brand within frog. And finally, I think one of the areas that are most important to me personally, is really helping to shape internal culture and building community in between studios and between the frogs providing a kind of platform where people can make the best work of their lives.
[02:26] Elizabeth Wood: Growing up in the suburbs of Stockholm, Andreas’ first passion was sports. Until an ordinary family dinner changed his path forever.
[02:35] Andreas Markdalen: There was this really pivotal moment in my life, this was mid to late 90s, the internet was just becoming a thing. I remember this moment where I had dinner with a family member that actually introduced me to the world of web design. He was showing me around, showing some of the stuff he was doing, essentially, the design and the code aspect of it. And we sat down and looked through some of his work. And I said, “This is really, really interesting. Can you build something for me?” And he said, “No, you have to do it yourself.” And that became really the beginning of my passion for everything that I do today.
[03:08] Andreas Markdalen: It was a starting point for me to go home that very same night, register my first website domain, starting to write code, starting to experiment with design. It was just this beautiful moment in time where you could actually create something in your home, publish it on the internet, and have it seen by millions of people, which of course, today, seems absolutely basic. It’s not so revolutionary. But for me, it changed my life. And that became the starting point of getting into the world of coding, creative experimentation, design and creativity in general.
[03:39] Andreas Markdalen: The first website that I created was about hip hop culture. It was a tribute website to Wu Tang Clan. That became actually more of a scrapbook for starting to poke at audio, writing, image making and stuff like that. But that’s the thing right? When you just get sucked into something and you can’t stop it, like, that’s the most beautiful feeling you can have. That’s the most clear representation of creativity for me.
[04:05] Elizabeth Wood: Anyone who’s ever registered an Angelfire.com or Geocities site still probably remembers how manual the process of making a website was. Today, automation takes care of many aspects of design and development, and increasingly, it might just be coming for the creative process itself. As a leader at a creative consultancy, Andreas has been digging in to understand the impact these new tools might have on the work, and the real purpose of any creative organization.
[04:32] Andreas Markdalen: I think every good company is orchestrated around the central purpose. They are able to articulate why they exist in the world. And they are able to translate that into two things. The first one is a strong employee experience. So building, the kind of structure and the organization where people feel happy to come into work, and they can do the best work of their lives. The second area, which is about having a customer first mindset to everything that you do, always being kind of human centered in your approach, and thinking of ways of bringing innovation to the market that really resonates with people. And it’s not just about the latest technology or the latest trend, but actually speaks to true human needs.
[05:14] Andreas Markdalen: In terms of my role in the leadership of frog, it’s obviously trying to push the organization to think in new ways and understanding where is the industry going? What is the future of craft? What is the future of our capabilities? Where do we want to place our strategic bets for the coming five to 10 years? So we’ve been bringing some new things to our offering or service portfolio over the last years that have been interesting. Behavioral Science is one of them. I think our continuous commitment to sustainability is another one and the practice we’re building around that. So that’s one thing, the kind of top-down kind of strategic bets that we’re placing, where I’m obviously pushing as much as I can for us to be future-proof.
[05:53] Andreas Markdalen: On top of that, which is also exciting to me is more on the grassroots side, like how we’re building communities within frog. So organic communities are extremely important for me and for us. Right now, we obviously have interesting discussions that happen in our Slack communities. So there might be channels where emerging topics are getting a kind of platform, and we discuss and debate those topics. So over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of discussion around Web3, metaverse. Now, it’s all about Creative AI.
[06:20] Elizabeth Wood: Creative AI tools, like DALL-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion are all tools that are trained to interpret text-based prompts in natural language to generate completely new texts, as well as images, video and audio. They represent the latest in the conversation around human versus machine capabilities, and are being met by fanatics and critics alike.
[06:41] Andreas Markdalen: In a way, everything has changed, and nothing has changed. I think the people that are drawn to frog are people that are optimistic and excited about the future and want to help shape the future. I think that there’s a principle and a theme of just pure curiosity there. Being able to embrace the new with a healthy dose of skepticism, of course, but also being able to essentially expand and explore these new spaces by doing and making and creating. So that’s one of the inputs I think we’re giving to everyone inside of frog right now: being able to adapt, embrace and try these tools out. Using that as a mechanism to also uncover what are some of the bigger implications of all of this? So curiosity for me is a big one, a big theme.
[07:29] Andreas Markdalen: We have our creative teams generating creative concepts by using the illustratory side of Midjourney, etc. So I think what we’re doing right now is essentially just messing around playing, experimenting and prototyping new ideas. I think we’ll still need to see how a long- term incorporation of these technologies will look in our kind of day-to-day process. But right now, it’s just a lot of fun and playing with this technology.
[07:55] Elizabeth Wood: Embracing new technology is essential for staying on the cutting edge and being competitive in the market. But it’s also about inspiring novel techniques, experiences, aesthetics and processes.
[08:06] Andreas Markdalen: Imagine drawing an icon. And obviously, now, this is increasingly commoditized, you can pick from a library or such. With artificial intelligence, you might be able to auto generate icons from a prompt. But if you still want to do it the old fashioned way, if you’d like to draw an icon, you might be able to have auto correction, or refinement on the Bezier curves that are part of the shape, to improve the quality in real time. And all of that is quite exciting.
[08:33] Andreas Markdalen: There’s a lot of discussion around AI models. Most of them are speaking to kind of general application, general intelligence. So ChatGPT being the perfect example from OpenAI, where you have an engine and an interface that is agnostic to context and industry and use cases. You can pretty much input any type of question, and it will give you a pretty good answer. Midjourney or DALL-E might be a similar application, right? So being able to ask it for using any type of prompt, being able to generate any type of output. That’s obviously one track of innovation that is happening.
[09:06] Andreas Markdalen: What we’ll probably see in the coming year is that we’re going to shift more towards specific intelligence, which might be directed towards innovation or creation in a specific industry vertical, or in a specific field like oncology in the healthcare space where unique and bespoke datasets can create unique and bespoke experiences and interfaces to interact with. So that’s obviously interesting.
[09:31] Andreas Markdalen: And I think in the world of design and creativity as well, we might see that this is applied not only to design expression, but we will definitely see brands and companies starting to invest more in specific intelligence. So you can imagine, for instance, that if we as frog as a design consultancy, 10 years ago would work to define a brand system or design language system with a client, through that process, we would have identified a kind of foundation for the work. We would have fleshed out principles. We would have worked on different expressions and directions. We would have executed that and built a core for for the creative expression around this core, whether that’s applied to product or service or, you know, brand expression or something else. That core, I think that was going to transition to become something else.
[10:15] Andreas Markdalen: So before that would have been translated through a design guideline, or a brand guideline, or redline document, a set of principles that could be taught internally, now we’re going to see our designers and this will probably be very much true for the in-house design and creative teams as well, they’re going to start to put that input and that learning into specific AI models instead. So that it becomes a kind of an engine for creation, where this AI model can help you to generate content, creative ideas and expression in real time. It becomes a kind of design tool in that sense in keeping some of these expressions on brand. And it’s also going to become something where potentially designers can build the kind of digital replicas of themselves potentially training their own AI models, on maybe a methodology or part of the process that they believe they can automate. And that in some sense takes us to this new era of synthetic creativity or synthetic design, where we’re starting to kind of co-create things together with these specific AI models, and using them as an engine to bring new types of expression to markets.
[11:21] Elizabeth Wood: During our conversation, Andreas shared how Creative AI is already challenging conventional processes–meanwhile raising a whole host of questions about ownership and intellectual property.
[11:33] Andreas Markdalen: I can draw a comparison to the word of art. There’s an artist called Francien Krieg, and she is a fine artist. She has created traditional classical art for the last decade or so, probably more, and she has now trained an AI model on her artistic expression. So that means that she has a digital replica of herself that can output creative or artistic variations of the art pieces that she creates. It creates things in an automatic fashion on its own. And it becomes kind of a digital mutual of her, right? And I think for designers, we might see similar things where a strong graphic design leader might also develop this kind of digital replica of themselves that is used as an engine that they can potentially commission or lease to brands for a campaign or something like this. Or that they can use it to take their own craft to the next level by essentially expanding the reach or automating parts of their work, or even kind of commissioning it for learning experience, sell it online, so that other designers can kind of pick up the tricks and understand how to design like them.
[12:35] Andreas Markdalen: And I think here we get to some of the ethical discussions around this as well, right? How do we want these actual models to be used in the future? Like, what is the right balance between regulation and free open source usage? And what’s going to be the kind of IP properties that are correlated to an AI model that might be developed for a very specific purpose, but could be misappropriated for a very different purpose? All of this is speculating in what could come next, but I think it’ll open some interesting areas.
[13:04] Elizabeth Wood: We’re going to take a short break. When we return, Andreas will share more about specific AI interventions in the creative process.
[BREAK] [13:12] Hi I’m Alex D’agostino, a senior strategist in frog’s San Francisco studio. We’re at the beginning of a retail revolution to help our clients reimagine physical retail. We’re focusing on a broad set of consumer needs, from wanting emotional connection to seeking unique discovery and multi sensory experiences to on demand convenience. Addressing these needs translates into lifetime value that is realized not just in stores but across channels. Check out today’s show notes to download frog’s new, report, The Future of Retail: What’s in Store for Brick-and-Mortar? It’s time to elevate in store experiences, create next-gen brand destinations and evolve far beyond the transactional.
[13:50] Elizabeth Wood: Now back to Andreas Markdalen, Global Chief Creative Officer at frog.
[13:55] Andreas Markdalen: This is the beauty of creativity and design. Every specific project is a different journey. There is no right way to do things. We obviously follow a process and there are specific stages that you would follow through a project. But I think really the magic comes from being able to follow and also break free from that process that is established in the first place. So really taking specific moments that might come from pivots in the project. And I think that’s a really fascinating journey as well, when you’re able to end up with something towards the very end that was different from where you were anticipating the project to go. Being able to navigate those kinds of things comes down to the dynamic and the trust that you build within the team. Yeah, it’s a beautiful process.
[14:34] Elizabeth Wood: While AI has the potential to supercharge specific skill sets for individuals and teams, Andreas shares how it might also supercharge the way creatives embrace their understanding of their own capabilities.
[14:46] Andreas Markdalen: That really connects back to my origin story in the world of design. You know, having that kind of moment when you come to the realization that you as a single individual can touch a lot of things and form creative expressions across a lot of different spaces and areas just based on a single idea. And multimodal creativity for me, the way I tried to explain it is kind of making a comparison to the world of films. You have film directors like Wes Anderson, for instance, or Sophia Coppola, or David Lynch, or Jean-Pierre Jeunet, these masters of world making that are able to create stories and storytelling that transcend categories. So they might have a style of writing or a style of storytelling that is unique to them. But with that also comes an aesthetic, a way to build visual worlds and visceral experiences. It might be connected to music, and it might be connected to characteristics in archetypes of the kind of protagonist or antagonists that they’re, you know, fleshing out in these different stories. And I think when I think of multimodal creativity, it’s the designer or the creative taking that same kind of role.
[15:57] Andreas Markdalen: Again, coming back to this idea of the single contributor, this single person with a vision or team, being able to come together and flesh out the vision, where in real time almost through prompts or whatever kind of interaction might be relevant, can really build out the universe of ideas in the moment. And that might be applicable, if you speak about the world of products and creativity, it might be video storytelling, it might be creative writing, it might be brand expression, or it might be the creation of a website, or a typeface, or it might be brand imagery. And from this single group, you’re going to be able to expand much further. So what I’m excited about there is that this multimodal creativity is going to allow fewer people to do more. And it’s going to allow the people with great vision, that truly are driven by great ideas to actually leapfrog and accelerate the creation and take that to the next dimension. In the world of business, we’re going to see brands going in completely new places in this space as well. And that’s super exciting.
[17:02] Elizabeth Wood: Of course, AI doesn’t always have to be running behind the scenes of products. Andreas shares how intentionally bringing AI models to the forefront can potentially enhance customer journeys.
[17:12] Andreas Markdalen: There’s another idea that we’ve been kind of discussing internally within frog, which is, can you create AI models that could be essentially a representation of the voice of the customer? So imagine, for instance, that you go into the field and you do qualitative research, could you take those insights that you bring back from the field, train an AI model on them and almost build an interface like ChatGPT, where you can speak to your customer in real time? I don’t know what that means in terms of regulations and GDPR and so forth. But it could be interesting to think that they are creating this idea of the augmented brand, that is taking the outputs, and driving it to new levels at scale.
[17:49] Andreas Markdalen: So if we assume that we will have these specific AI models in place, we have a kind of synthetic design process where we are co-creating together with AI or machines. And we have sentient design systems that are self-optimizing in real time, if you are a product designer, you can imagine that the design language system is this kind of dynamic clay that you’re starting your work with. So if you bring together the world of prompting, you might be able to essentially get to 60 to 70% in the day-to-day product generation at the product generation work by just using these tools that you have.
[18:23] Andreas Markdalen: You can imagine that these kind of automated creative workflows will essentially allow us to use the design language system as clay, and drive massive efficiencies in how we work, speed up the process and really allow designers to focus less on the execution and focus maybe more on other things where humans can truly and should truly play.
[18:44] Elizabeth Wood: Inherent in the learning aspects of AI is self-optimization–being able to sense, understand, learn, adapt and improve. Already in business, Andreas shares how we are seeing these possibilities unfold in real time.
[18:59] Andreas Markdalen: The idea of sentient systems is already something that we see in the world of marketing, You can imagine that we are doing live A/B testing in real time on digital products. So we see this in the D2C space where you might have, you know, the way in which you present product information on an ecommerce listing page, the way you maybe emphasize certain aspects of the product information or the price or creating kind of bespoke personalized campaigns in the moment. There are already mechanics in place in which the system can kind of self optimize in some ways. You might deploy a different version of an interface or a component or something like that. The system kind of automatically A/B tests those across different audiences, picks the one that is most efficient, and uses that as the kind of the actual future state of the product. We might see something like this now, scaling to new levels.
[19:51] Andreas Markdalen: So you can imagine, in this new paradigm that is emerging, where essentially artifacts and solutions are infinite. So in every single iteration of a creative idea, when you talk about an image, a piece of audio or a product component, simultaneously to the single instance, there will be 1000s of variations of that that are coexisting with it. And what might be interesting to think in a kind of future intelligent product system is that we’re going to be able to auto-deploy 50 or 100 different versions of a specific component, and that the system continuously makes refinements on its own based on the efficiency and the performance of those actual ingredients. So you will have essentially products that feel less like static things and start to feel more like these kind of dynamic living organisms that are self-optimizing in real time based on consumer interactions. And that’s going to be a very interesting natural bridge between what we see right now happening in Creative AI, the world of automated design language systems and the future of digital products.
[20:55] Elizabeth Wood: As an avid chess player, Andreas first became interested in AI after watching IBM’s Deep Blue computer win a chess match against then-champion Garry Kasparov. He sees a parallel between the deployment of AI in chess and these new Creative AI tools.
[21:11] Andreas Markdalen: I think what’s interesting about chess is two things. The first one is, chess has survived AI, kind of absorbing it and taking over it. So like, there is no turning back in terms of like, we’ve already lost the battle to the machine. But what has happened is like the world of chess has actually blossomed and boomed after this moment, right. So it’s, actually you can see in the grandmasters that are playing today, they are better in many cases than they used to be potentially decades ago. And they’re playing new styles of chess. They have new ways of exploring chess moves. They have new ways of exploring styles of playing. It just has made the whole world of chess more advanced. And in fact, Kasparov is one of the proponents of this, he speaks about advanced chess. So that is one thing that is interesting to me that, you know, the world of chess has survived the infusion of AI into it, and the quality of the gameplay has improved as a result of it. And I think we’ll see that in the world of design and creativity as well.
[22:10] Andreas Markdalen: The other thing is that we see AI-driven tools that are part of how you learn to play chess. So for instance, you can play a game of chess and you have real-time feedback on your moves. And you can see kind of simulation of the expected outcome of the game. And that is happening as you play the game. And you can kind of follow and track, you know, how did I respond to a specific scenario? What move did I make?
[22:33] Andreas Markdalen: Coming back to the topic around design language systems, you might have a new designer that is sitting at level one, getting into the industry trying to understand: what is the most efficient way to build a product? They might be able, in Figma, like you would have in a chess engine, to get kind of real-time feedback on the moves or the design choices that they’re making. So if they’re creating a design component, or if they’re setting typography, or if they’re cropping an image or whatever else, they might be having either auto correction by this engine that is providing guidance in real time, or kind of learning tips and tricks or prompts that are emerging for them to explore different avenues. And that’s a massive contributor to the acceleration in democratization right now in design that I think we’ll see more of in the coming years.
[23:21] Elizabeth Wood: However, Andreas warns, with the democratization of any new tool comes the potential for ‘dark patterns’ and bad practices.
[23:30] Andreas Markdalen: We already have an issue with dark patterns in the world of user experience design, for instance. You can imagine now that if you’re able to simulate and create synthetic users, for instance, to an application, you might be able to simulate usage, simulate engagement, which have all possible types of implications. And you can also sway human users in some way to be drawn into a new experience and be drawn into communities that might be artificial, right? So I think with all of these topics that I speak to, there’s a part of me that is optimistic and excited. And there’s also the kind of counter argument to that, where we need to be very careful what types of systems we create, and ensure that the actual end user experience is positive and beneficial to the communities around us.
[24:13] Andreas Markdalen: The world of art was obviously the first kind of community that was affected by this and you see a strong movement of artists that are rejecting this, either opting out of being included in these kind of training models and training sets that are used to feed essentially the engines that drive Midjourney and DALL-E and Stable Diffusion, etc. There are some very prominent names that have kind of opted out of that. I think what we’re seeing right now is that there’s a massive lawsuit from the stock engine companies as well that they haven’t given consent for Stable Diffusion, in this case, to train their models on stock imagery. You could actually see the kind of watermarks from some of these companies in the output of the creative expression.
[24:54] Andreas Markdalen: So there is a fine line to walk here with regards to regulation and ethics and how we want to play with these things. But I think ultimately, what’s going to happen in all of this is that we land on some kind of neutral in-between space where the community has new tools to leverage, where artists and designers and these different sources if, you like, the input, can opt in. And that becomes the kind of starting point for the actual future experience which will be the next paradigm.
[25:22] Elizabeth Wood: For AI, creativity takes rigorous training on data sets. For humans, being creative takes bravery and vulnerability. No matter how Creative AI affects innovation in the long-term, Andreas shares that there’s one essential element for any team or environment in doing meaningful creative work.
[25:40] Andreas Markdalen: I think for every creative person, when you go into a project, there’s a certain moment you feel fragile and insecure in the beginning of the process because you’re just learning. And being able to pass that threshold in the beginning to say, “What about this thing?” and allow yourself to go there so that other people can either comment on it or build upon that idea, you put yourself in a sensitive spot. And if you’re able to build an environment and a culture and a team structure where that trust is reinforced in the beginning, you can go places and trust each other to push each other into new places where you might feel uncomfortable, right? But that’s where you need to get. So trust is absolutely important.
[26:18] Andreas Markdalen: It can be very difficult to start your work thinking about, you know, the complex macro trends around us right now, the world is very volatile at the moment. And on top of that, you have this injection of this new emerging technology paradigm. I think, finding a level of comfort in that and understanding that nothing is going to be fixed in the future, it’s all going to be in a state of flux. And learning how to cope with that and learning how to kind of just keep making, keep building, keep thinking and keep collaborating through it all, those are important ingredients to just kind of ride the wave in some form and try to find some peace in all of this crazy stuff that is happening around us. So that would be my advice.
[26:58] Elizabeth Wood: That’s our show. The Design Mind frogcast was brought to you by frog, a leading global creative consultancy that is part of Capgemini Invent. Check today’s show notes for transcripts and more from our conversation, including a link to download the frog report, ‘The Future of Retail: What’s in Store for Brick-and-Mortar?’
[27:17] Elizabeth Wood: We really want to thank Andreas Markdalen, Global Chief Creative Officer at frog, for joining us today to share his insights and give us a sneak peek at his upcoming Interaction 23 talk “Dadaist Dreamers, Prompt Wars and Sentient Systems in an Era of Infinite Artefacts.” Check that out in Zürich in March.
[27:35] Elizabeth Wood: We also want to thank you, dear listener. If you like what you heard, tell your friends. Rate and review to help others find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify . And be sure to follow us wherever you listen to podcasts. Find lots more to think about from our global frog team at frog.co/designmind. That’s frog.co. Follow frog on Twitter at @frogdesign and @frog_design on Instagram. And if you have any thoughts about the show, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at frog.co/contact. Thanks for listening. Now go make your mark.