A series of photographs posted by a creative director showing a brand collaboration between IKEA and Patagonia went viral earlier this year — even though the partnership existed only as a product of his imagination and generative AI tools.
The fantasy collaboration got a lot of attention — more than 1,000 reposts and four million views in the first week it was on LinkedIn — by demonstrating how AI tools could radically streamline creative work processes. It took Eric Groza, an award-winning creative director based in Dubai, two days to create the brand prototype, but compared with working with a human design team, he told Fast Company, “we’re talking about months compressed to a couple of days.”
Such AI-enabled hypothetical collaborations allow brands to explore possibilities while reducing the risks associated with real-world partnerships and eliminating investments in extensive market research and prototyping, according to creative and tech agency Wunderman Thompson, which wrote about Groza’s experiment in its newsletter. In addition to saving time in creating prototypes, using AI tools also was “creatively enriching, uncovering brand associations and visual ideas” that he would never have come up with on his own, Groza told Fast Company.
In the last few months, Groza has been “having a lot of chats and giving talks about the role of AI in the creative process,” sharing the nuts and bolts of the process he has used to create hypothetical brand collaborations, he said in a “Prototyping with Generative AI” tutorial he delivered via Zoom for the Service Design Network’s (SDN) Dallas chapter. The ideas for the IKEA/Patagonia collaboration and two subsequent imagined partnerships — Burberry/British Airways and Jeep/North Face — were his own, Groza said. “It came from a lot of thinking that I had done and a lot of mediations on why it would be good for Jeep to collaborate with North Face. And within that collaboration, what would they actually make?” Groza came up with a list of items, including bags, keychains, and seat covers which he used to create the prompts behind the images, he said. That process, using such AI tools as Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, relied on lots of trial and error. Of 200 images he created for the experiment, he could only use eight, he said. “There was a lot of failure.”
A Collaborator, not Competitor
In his SDN talk, Groza addressed fears that AI tools will take jobs aways from creative professionals, emphasizing the role of AI as a collaborator, rather than a competitor. “The challenge with AI is not to replace human creativity, but to augment it in a way that is meaningful and relevant,” he said. “AI is not going to replace the creative director, but it’s going to make the creative director look like a genius. AI can help us turn ideas into reality, make the intangible tangible.”
It doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine practical applications for the business events industry — everything from imagining new brand partnerships to the redesign of trade-show booths, stage design, and rooms sets. “It’s an amazing tool for ideation and being able to translate what we have in mind into visual in an easier and cheaper way,” Cyril Foiret, creative director at Maison Meta, told Wunderman Thompson.
“AI is not going to replace human creativity,” Groza said. “It’s going to enhance it.”
Editor’s Note: Some quotes in this story were extracted from Groza’s Zoom tutorial for the Service Design Network’s Dallas chapter using Project Spark, PCMA’s free AI education and development tool. Watch below.