What designers responses to Adobe’s Firefly AI teach us about our fears of the future

Last week, the LA Design Festival‘s opening night panel, hosted by Adobe at Helms Bakery, focused on Gen AI tools for designers, specifically Adobe’s new Firefly AI software that quickly generates images within seconds of prompting. The event aimed to showcase how AI-powered technologies integrate with design software to help designers focus on their core tasks while automating tedious design tasks. While the presentation was impressive, it was met with apprehension and anxiety over AI’s impact on creative and corporate job security.


AI has become one of the central points of contention among organizations currently on strike in the entertainment industry, echoing designers’ fears of job replacement. The anxiety over robots taking jobs is symptomatic of a culture whose self-worth is closely tied to individual output, with identities linked to their professions. Individuals derive a sense of usefulness through work, and if AI can take our jobs, then are we useless? The creative team behind Adobe’s new AI software Firefly would argue that it actually frees us up to be more creative and maybe that’s how we should have been measuring our worth all along. 

Adobe’s new AI software Firefly is meant to empower creatives

Built by and for designers, with an ethical approach at the forefront, the Adobe community sees software like Firefly AI as another tool in the designer’s toolbox. Adobe’s panel explored how AI tools can be designed in collaboration with designers to make their work more efficient and enhance creativity and is ensuring artists will be appropriately compensated for their work generated through their AI software. While there is no reason to doubt Adobe’s commitment to the artist, exactly how this is going to work in practice remains unclear. 

How long before AI is the norm for interior and product designers?

AI technology may be slow to take over everything because it simply isn’t good enough yet. This is the argument that optics research scientist Janelle Shane makes in her non-fiction book, entitled You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place. The book’s title refers to the answer an AI generated when prompted to write pick-up lines. The consensus among those experimenting with AI tools is that the more you use them, the less impressive the technology becomes. I experimented with Adobe Firefly by prompting it to design various rooms in a midcentury modern house inspired by a Japanese ryokan, and its results were impressive. It accurately captured the style, and the textures of wood and other finishes were fantastic. However, despite prompt adjustments, it still struggled with some aspects. For instance, it wanted to set dining tables with an absurd number of chairs on either side and decorate tabletops with comically oversized forks. Also, when asked to produce images of an egg chair, it repeatedly generated pictures of seats with Easter eggs on top of them.

AI hallucinations or misunderstandings can be amusing because they offer some relief over the fear of losing control. We still have our jobs, for now. But it’s worth repeating that the software is incredibly impressive (and fun to use). Despite the occasional hiccups, it significantly reduced the time required to create a first draft whole-home design presentation.

The perceived limitations of Firefly show us that it is a tool rather than a replacement for human creatives. Over time, AI prompting will become a highly sought-after skill. Every designer, artist, writer, producer, and director will have proficiency in AI prompting as part of their toolbox. Above-the-line creative jobs are not at risk of being replaced, but their tasks and roles will adapt over time, as they always have. Lisa Carney, a photographer and finishing artist on the Adobe panel, said that her art history degree has suddenly become her most important degree because it has equipped her with the necessary art fundamentals to prompt AI in a meaningful way. As Carney puts it, “We need creatives, they use software differently.” 

There is also going to be a saturation point, the panel discussed, when AI generated software becomes so ubiquitous, the way, say, social media platforms are now. It’ll be easy to tell what kinds of images were generated by which AI platforms the way we are able to tell a facebook post from an instagram post from a tweet. As a result, design thinking and creativity will be in high demand, there will be a thirst for creative, original prompting. Designers and artists jobs are not going anywhere. If anything, there will be a newfound appreciation for them. 

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Anything new that threatens our security, whether physical, social, financial, or spiritual, even if it is only perceived, will be met with resistance. As a result, it may take a while before these new technologies become a part of everyday life. To borrow an example from the recent conversation on the tech podcast “Hard Fork” by The New York Times on this topic: people were reluctant to adopt push-button elevators when they were first introduced. Even though elevators were a significant improvement on stairs, people were hesitant to use them, and not because they wanted quads of steel. 

Last week, I spoke with Michael Lamarti, CEO of Jola whose business uses AI to generate virtual photography for furniture companies as a replacement for digital catalog photography. He recalled when digital photography replaced film photography as the industry standard. There were growing pains, but artists and the industry adapted. It made film photography elevated and valuable for its rarity and nostalgia. You can watch our full conversation here

Why you need to start charging flat fees as a result of AI

Universal adoption of AI tools is not going to happen overnight, replacing huge swaths of the workforce, but make no mistake, it will become the new normal eventually, which is why, Lisa Carney argued on the panel, it is time to start charging flat fees for your services. Many designers have been on this beat for a long time, for reasons unrelated to the emergence of AI (it makes accounting simpler, you actually make more money charging flat fees, etc). The biggest change AI tools like Firefly are going to make in the design industry is to the designer’s workflow. Adobe Firefly is render-independent and makes notes and adjustments within seconds of receiving them from the user. The rate at which it learns and implements changes accurately and quickly depends on both machine training and artful human-user prompting. Digital tasks are going to take a lot less time, and that is the point: to be better and faster. As a result, designers and artists cannot be charging for their time when something that used to take hours now takes seconds. Designers need to be charging for their creativity and vision. The big lesson of the Adobe presentation was about time. It was a reminder of how much of our time is not our own and that we may be afraid of what happens when we have it back.

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