Dear Creative Leaders: Will Creative Teams Exist in 2028?

Steve Gustavson, Executive Creative Director, Adobe Studio, explores the future of the creative craft.

Image source: Adobe Stock/ReeldealHD images.
Dear Creative Leaders: Will Creative Teams Exist in 2028?

Picture your workday in the year 2028.

Your car drives you to work. On the way, you discuss the news with your AI assistant. You learn that the new iPhone detects illness via breathalyzer. Your voice performs tasks your fingers have forgotten. Like the rotary phone’s ratchet before, the sound of typing keys roams the way of the buffalo.

When you get to your workspace — probably not a desk in a cubicle, probably augmented in its reality — you ask your virtual assistant to launch the VR bridge for your weekly creative staff meeting.

The meeting begins. Who are you addressing?

If creativity wins

Perhaps it’s a much larger team. Automation is replacing logistical departments. It may behoove the enterprise of 2028 to stock up on flesh-and-blood creatives. It would certainly offer poetic justice for all of those years of finance and project management teams breathing down our necks for spending too much time “creating.”

If this is the case, the job description of an enterprise creative will be much different. Silos are toppling between strategy, product, technology, and marketing. It’s no longer realistic to think that a great business can innovate through human assembly lines.

If our systems supply 90 percent of our programmable workload, will the “creative of the future” be a collage of the remaining 10 percent? A Frankensteinian master of all surviving, non-programmable skills?

If creativity loses

What if you’re addressing a much smaller team? What if there is no team? Cue dramatic theme music — could robots actually take our jobs? Could automating creative concepting, writing, and design become as normal as automating keyword optimization?

Algorithms already write thousands of news articles each year. The Washington Post’s automated storytelling technology, Heliograf, has produced articles on everything from local elections to high school sports. And if fine artists aren’t safe from the robotic brush of automation, corporate designers certainly shouldn’t ignore the impressive innovations taking place in the automation of visual craft.

Machine learning even stands to challenge the creative’s most sacrosanct quality: obstinate, convicted disagreement. It’s hard to hear IBM’s Project Debater AI launch shrewd verbal barbs at human debate opponents and not feel like you’re listening to your sharpest designer defend their work.

Reality — it’s up to us

We’re well into the first inning of “creative automation,” but our leadership today will shape its future. As a creative leader, I’ve learned that I can’t necessarily control outcomes, but I can definitely control the process and the way my team approaches creative problem-solving. So if creativity wins, it’s my win based on what I do today. If creativity loses, it’s my failure. You can start today by preparing yourself and your creative team for change.

1. Learn the basics

There’s a big difference between signal and noise when it comes to AI hype. It’s easy to fantasize about the future. It’s harder to explain the important relationship between machine learning and deep learning or the variation in layers of neural networks — let alone how that will affect your creative teams in five years. It’s time to lay the foundation for your future as an automation age leader. That means mastering automation first. Consider these free resources:

2. Prepare your team

Think back to the beginning of your creative career. You weren’t designing motion graphics for mobile and social media content, let alone thinking about the automation of your craft. Creatives should know where your enterprise is heading and how you, as their creative leader, will chart disruption. How you go about this should vary based on your team’s awareness of AI.

If your team is new to AI, begin by evaluating the processes that already integrate AI in your enterprise, whether it’s in your product offerings or in the service of other technology and marketing initiatives. Rally your teams and provide this information so they know that senior leadership is preparing for their future. A good place to start is the Brookings Institute’s 2018 study, “How Artificial Intelligence Is Transforming the World.

If your team is advanced in their understanding of AI, consider more visionary exercises like these:

  • Brainstorming redefinitions of creative roles.
  • Identifying tasks that your team would like automated in the future.
  • Collectively creating AI-driven designs with tools like Deep Dream Generator.
  • Experimenting with the vast library of AI tools from Experiments with Google.

I don’t believe in some dystopian future, and I don’t spend a second of my time worrying about it. I think back to the “Mad Men” days and realize that they didn’t either. Yes, computers may have heavily disrupted ad technology, but with increasing amounts of automation and machine-based support to minimize the mundanity of our work, the need for creativity, empathy, and humanity will be greater than ever.

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