How AI Impacts Creative Roles, from Illustrators to Software Developers

· 6 min read
How AI Impacts Creative Roles, from Illustrators to Software Developers

It’s been five years since I first tried my hand at public writing back in 2018. I’ve come a long way since those early days of struggling to craft posts that were polished and intriguing enough to publish. These days, I don’t obsess as much over perfection and feel comfortable clicking “publish” more often.

But one challenge that remains constant is finding the right cover image to match my words. Over the years, I’ve tried everything from stock photos to hiring an illustrator to, most recently, leveraging AI generators. Reflecting on my publishing journey so far, it’s clear my approach to writing has evolved significantly in the past five years. While I’m more at ease putting my work out there, the ongoing quest for the perfect cover image persists. Still, I’m proud of the progress made and excited to see how my skills continue to grow and adapt to new creative technologies in the years ahead.

Finding the Right Image

My first approach was to find the right image on Unsplash. My ex-wife was a graphics designer, and she told me about websites like Pexels and Unsplash to look for nice photos whose authors allow you to use them without copyright violation in return for mentions and backlinks.

After a while, I got a habit of publishing regularly, so I decided to invest a bit and use stock photos and get some illustrations from there. I liked the variety of graphics, but it was quite consuming to find the image that worked well with the post in my mind.

Trying Illustrations

My next step was to delegate. I hired a junior illustrator whose job was to find the illustration for the cover image. After a while, she also started creating her own illustrations, which were amazing and unique. As she said:

Creating unique illustrations helps articles stand out and builds brand identity

The problem was that creating each took a few days, and I needed a new cover image every day. Plus, the illustrator I was working with had other assignments, and this cover image work wasn’t the main priority, so I reverted back to stock images and then to photos from Unsplash.

How AI changed everything

I wasn’t writing for three years. The world has changed in many ways since then, for me personally and everyone else. And one of the biggest tectonic shifts was mass adoption of AI last year. It’s old news, but I’m still amazed that in just two months since release, the number of users of ChatGPT reached one hundred million, which was unprecedented.

Of course, the growth rate slowed down since then, and the number of active users keeps going down because a lot of people don’t see AI (or an LLM, to be correct) doing all the work for them and feel disappointed, or simply don’t know how to apply the new power of AI. Nonetheless, the new era of generative AI has started.

Using AI to Create Cover Images

While part of us is trying to figure out how to leverage new opportunities, the other half is wondering what will happen to their job a few years from now, and rightly so.

I jumped the hype train and decided to use AI for generating my cover images.

AI can help creatives expand their capabilities in amazing new ways.

Every time I write the post, I first look elsewhere for inspiration on what should be on my cover image. I then spend quite some time with Midjourney’s Discord bot to try different prompts, different styles, and variants until I’m satisfied with the end result. Usually it takes me about an hour to produce a somewhat unique image.

Comparing My Efforts to Professionals

My guess is that for a professional illustrator it would probably take about the same time to draw a quick sketch for me that would suffice as a cover image. For a professional art director it would probably take even less to find a good image on stock websites. But the point is that I’m not a professional. I do something else and in parallel I’m experimenting with Midjourney prompts.

AI’s Impact on Creative Fields

Commoditization of many creative professions is the main change AI is introducing, and we all will feel it.

This commoditization isn’t new and it’s been happening before.

Technology has disrupted creative fields before, but we always adapt and find new opportunities.

Website designers and developers lost jobs because of frameworks like WordPress and SaaS services like Webflow, Wix, and the like. Ecommerce developers had less business because of Shopify. Some people lost money because Unsplash came by.

In fact, this process has been going on for years. The rise of SaaS applications in the recent decades has changed a lot of professions. Xero and other accounting software reduced business for accounting clerks because a lot of small businesses could do accounting themselves. CAD software replaced engineers who were drawing all the plans and sketches by hand.

Adapting to Change

AI is just yet another iteration of this process, and a reminder for everyone, both businesses and individuals, that we live in an ever-changing world and we have to constantly adapt to it and constantly learn.

Can AI Replace Developers?

Now, what does AI mean for the software development industry and for companies that invest heavily in their own tech? Does this mean that you don’t need engineers and can use AI to generate the whole applications and build workflow automations for you?

For good or for worse, we’re not there yet. AI can generate code, and it’s already pretty good. But it works only with relatively small chunks of code, and the result needs to be reviewed by an experienced engineer and adjusted afterwards. It’s pretty much like working with a junior developer, and so far it feels like it makes professionals much more productive, while simultaneously making it harder for inexperienced developers to grow.

AI will augment engineers, not replace them. The human oversight will always be key

Adopting AI Developer Tools

On one hand, I can see that many companies would rather have one expensive but extremely productive senior developer building things, with only those who can invest in the future actually hiring people to grow them as professionals (which is questionable in today’s world where the average tenure in a company is just a few years).

The state will be changing rapidly. It’s already changing. There are a ton of new AI-based developer tools popping up every month. AI can now write tests, coach you on new tech, write documentation, perform code reviews, and do a lot of other things.

If you’re a CTO and lead a development team, it’s more important than ever to familiarize yourself with the new tools, because they do boost productivity significantly. I can already see how the right toolset will allow teams to be 10x more productive, so most likely these tools will become a must for everyone, and the earlier you adopt them, the better.

The Threat of Job Loss

One of the questions that pops up in every discussion about AI that I have is whether AI will replace people. Specifically, if the AI will replace software developers, the era when it was a much desired and well paid job will end, and no one will want to hire us anymore.

We already see a lot of layoffs with tech across the world, and it’s not clear yet if it’s the result of increased productivity powered by AI or the aftermath of overhiring during COVID.

Plus, there are increasing reports from other industries. My initial example was about graphics designers. It doesn’t happen in UX world much, but it does happen to illustrators, and it’s true for people preparing presentations. Another example would be writers — many companies are now reducing their teams of writers and copywriters because their senior writers can just leverage LLMs now, effectively replacing the whole team.

Adapt or Be Replaced

Well, the threat is real this time. I don’t think that AI will replace all of us, but other people using AI as a tool for sure will.

AI won’t replace jobs entirely, but workers who don’t adapt their skills risk being replaced

And it applies not just to individuals but to businesses too. If you’re a record label, another company that leverages AI to make, edit, and distribute recordings and market artists will likely replace you. If you’re a software developer or a writer, another person who leverages ten different AI tools to do the same thing you’re doing by hand will likely replace you.

The Need for Continuous Learning

The message is clear — we must keep learning new skills and tools to stay competitive. AI will transform many jobs, but it also presents new opportunities for those willing to evolve.

I started this piece reflecting on the changes in publishing and technology I’ve experienced over my career. From finding images on Unsplash to leveraging AI tools like Midjourney, the landscape continues to rapidly evolve.

I don’t know if AI is good or bad, it’s just the reality that we have to adapt to. Much like the internet revolution of the 1990s, those who embrace new technologies like AI will have a competitive advantage.

In 5–10 years, AI will likely be ubiquitous across industries. The keys are staying curious, continuously learning, and finding new opportunities in disruption.

While AI will transform many jobs, I’m optimistic that humans will continue to play an essential and meaningful role. We may need to approach our work differently and expand our skillsets. But if history is any guide, we will adapt and find new ways to add value.

The future remains uncertain but undeniably exciting. By maintaining an open and growth mindset, we can navigate this time of rapid change successfully. I look forward to seeing what’s next and continuing to evolve along with technology.

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