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The Controversy About AI in Design

Is this type of technology replacing artists/designers? Is it taking their original work in some unethical way? Or is it a way to use a brand new technology that can make us all capable of creating more in new ways?

Before the holidays, there was a newish app that was going viral called Lensa. All of a sudden, everyone was using it to create AI portraits of themselves in a handful of different styles. These portraits were clearly not real but looked very much like the person who had uploaded their photo to this app. For those who shared these fantastical versions of themselves, it was a fun way to see themselves as if in a book or animated movie…to live a life that’s different than their own. But to some, there was criticism that the technology used to make those portraits used references from real life artists to create the various styles drawn. Creatives felt as though the artists whose work inspired these renderings should have been compensated. Others felt that if the work is on the Internet, then it’s fair game for AI to use it as information to learn from and then create its own version.

This week, I was introduced to another AI site called Midjourney that creates images from text prompts entered on their website. It’s public and open-by-default community site which means that as you use it and create your images, others can see what’s been made and you can see their prompts as well. I created the image above using Midjourney, and it’s been a super fun thing to play around with and create scenes and images from scratch.

But here’s the dilemma that goes on in my mind…

Is this type of technology replacing artists/designers? Is it taking their original work in some unethical way?
Or is it a way to use a brand new technology that can make us all capable of creating more in new ways?

I don’t know if there is one answer, but here are my thoughts currently:

Con Stance
I have always been a huge supporter of indie artists, designers, makers. And, I am very quick to defend or get upset if I know that a specific artist has been blatantly copied by a larger company for profit. It happens all the time. And, it’s happened to me many times. Anytime that someone takes another person’s exact art and tries to sell it as their own, that’s not okay. And, I don’t think many people see a world in which that type of direct copying is okay.

AI does need to use existing information to be able to learn what anything looks like—a simple object, a type of food, a style of architecture, etc. All of the artists, photographers, and designers who spend time creating original images, scenes, and artwork now have their work used in some small way to make images that can now be recreated by computers with no credit or compensation.

When AI images are created, who owns it? Everything that we feel about giving proper credit (which I have always been a stickler for) goes out the window. Does the person entering the text prompt become the creator of that image? Do we all own it? Or do none of us own it?

Pro Stance
AI is the future, and we can either embrace the future or resist it. Technology can be an incredible double-edged sword but can we look at the sharp side of that sword…the side that makes us stronger and better? If I was in fact trying to create a space to show to a client in a presentation, to be able to make a rendering with AI that is faster and inexpensive makes my ideas more conveyable to them to have them sign on and help me get the job to produce or move forward with that space. I am not fully aware of all the ways that people are using AI created images, but there appears to be usage limitations on the commercial level that these sites have as part of their usage terms. And, it seems there are ways in which corporations must use a different type of membership than non-corporate members.

Neutral Stance
As a graphic designer who used to design logos for brand as my job, it infuriated me when sites began popping up where someone could buy a logo for $99 simply by choosing from a menu of options. Their positioning was…”Why spend money on an expensive graphic designer when you can get one of these logos for less?!” While I was so upset at this notion, I realized later on that someone who would prefer to go that route is likely not the client I wanted anyway. There is no replacing a real person’s talent and eye and the decisions that one would make to custom create a logo for a brand. A computer-generated option of a logo would inherently be more generic and lack the heart that a person has. And a company who wants that heart will hire a real person and pay them real money for that brand journey.

While a templated logo may be a bit different than an AI illustrated portrait or an AI created space, the same holds true. While the AI technology can do a bunch of things that we could have relied on people for, they still lack the warmth, the unique eye, and the attention to detail that comes with a real human that might be hired to do something similar. This cool interiors scene I created in Midjourney has limitations in that I can’t control it to be exactly what I want, I can only encourage my vision through my description and prompts. And, this space can’t actually be physically made without humans. But I was able to use AI to get a start at a concept for a space that could exist in the real world and then go and hire a real life architect and interior designer to make it come to life.

Final Thoughts
I’m still not sure exactly how I would personally use it, except just for fun right now. And, I think this is still a growing area that will continue to evolve and get more sophisticated (both in technology and the ethics of it).

I would love your thoughts and feelings on it. It’s a fascinating topic to me!

Top image created by me in Midjourney


  1. This is really well said- agree with a lot of it 🙂 In the Bay Area, we’re surrounded by tech and newfangled features- a lot of it cool, a lot of it horrible and “why”, and I find myself agreeing with your POV (esp the neutral). Tech can never replace the human touch/empathy/ understanding /complexity 🫶🏻

  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as well as an academic librarian who answers questions about copyright. It keeps bringing me back to the idea of a decentralized internet based in the blockchain and if that may help with intellectual property tracking – knowing that that still wouldn’t solve all these issues.

    The style prompt issues are especially interesting, because there are a lot of Picasso, ect. prompts used (that it feels like users think nothing of) and prompts for current artists can be applied the same way, mimicking their style.

    These kinds of things and the AI hallucinations and biases give me the most pause for thought, but I’m also playing around with them to learn more about how they work.

    I loved this post and have been reflecting in this and the broader topic for a while. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Chelsie, thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective as a librarian! It’s all very interesting for sure. And great point about the prompts. I’ve never used artist-specific prompts but that makes sense that some would.


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