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InsightMay 22, 2024

Creativity in the Era of AI

Interview with Sabaa Quao

Written by Ian Chalmers RGD

At the latest Firm Owners meet up, Sabaa Quao CCO of Cossette's shares his take on AI and how it offers an opportunity for designers to double down on their unique strengths.

Drawing on his experience in design, business and tech startups, Sabaa offered this refreshingly measured take on the topic during RGD’s most recent Firm Owners Virtual Community Meet-Up – an opportunity for design company founders to gather to discuss hot-button topics.

Embracing Change

From intellectual property rights to job displacement, Sabaa acknowledged the widespread anxieties surrounding AI – including the deeper fear that the very value of creativity could be diminished. But as he reminded us, this cyclical pattern of disruption is nothing new.

Adjusting to new tools, shifting governance and fluctuating trends is par for the course in creative fields, he pointed out. Designers overcame similar challenges when digital technology disrupted the industry during the dot-com boom.

He shared a story from his OCAD days when a professor rejected his digital printout assignment as an improper way to showcase creative work. "Now it sounds ridiculous," Sabaa reflected, "but we're going to have that same discussion about AI."

"One of my kids is 16 years old and he's at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, and I got him using AI every day, soon after DALL-E and Midjourney launched” explained Sabaa. ”He even had some teachers say, ‘That's not a proper way to work creatively’… I suggested he ignore them on this point.”

For Sabaa, the rise of AI is simply the latest test, one that he believes creatives are uniquely equipped to pass. "Creative people are best suited to manage change as it happens," he argued. "We're the ones in the safest position because you put any new tool or technology in front of us and we have a process to find our way."

This iterative "process" is what Sabaa defines as “professional creativity” — the ability to consistently and strategically translate abstract ideas into reality through empathy, decision-making and ingenuity. While AI may automate certain production tasks, these higher-order creative talents remain unmatched by machine intelligence.

“Strawberry things”

To illustrate AI's limitations, Sabaa invited us to ponder something seemingly simple: strawberries. The aroma, the taste varying between hot and cold days, a child's sticky smile after taking a bite - these rich sensory details evade AI's capabilities for now. It's this depth of human experience that gives creatives an edge, he argued. “Think about the abstract things, about emotion, about memory, literally everything that connects us in a human way to our audiences, the things that we take for granted in terms of how people respond to our work. Those are all the ‘strawberry things’ that we need to continue to do. And that is the start of our discussion.”

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Stephanie Strawbridge RGD, John Furneaux RGD, Eric Forest RGD, Raymond Cheah RGD, Ian Chalmers RGD