AI in Design: Just Another Tool in a Cover Designer’s Toolkit

Remember that time you spent an entire day tracking an antelope across the Savannah, tiring it out until it collapsed from heat exhaustion, ensuring you and your family would eat that night?

If you do remember that time, I have a lot of questions. Most of us don’t because humans have spent millennia working on tools and technologies that ensure we don’t have to. We now find ourselves at a point where our major prey – pizzas – can neither attack nor outrun us, for which I am eternally grateful.

I am a firm believer that tools and technologies make our lives better. This optimism extends to a new technology that some believe will not just take my job and business, but may render my entire profession obsolete: generative AI.

I don’t believe the doomsayers. I believe that generative AI will enhance Damonza. I believe that it is simply another tool in our tool kit – admittedly a powerful one – that will help us deliver better covers to our clients. And I believe that ‘book cover designer’ will continue to be a valued profession for as long as there are books to cover.

Generative AI is not a designer

As Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

When generative AI exploded onto the scene in 2022, and evolved at scarcely believable rate in the months that followed, there was a temptation to think that AI image and text generators were borderline omnipotent – superintelligences ready to take the job of any chump whose profession stood within a stone’s throw of its capabilities.

And yet, and yet, authors who have attempted to design their own cover with these tools have generally been disappointed with the results.

The issue is twofold. First, prompting AI in a way that produces the desired result is trickier than many imagine – it’s a skill in and of itself. Secondly, and more importantly, book cover design is so much more than generating a nice image.

Damonza covers are the result of a combination of deep research and deep expertise. Before creating a cover we consider the genre and general theme, we think about what will catch the eye of the target audience, and we balance the need to stand out from competing titles with the need to align with the aesthetic expectations of shoppers – if Lord of the Rings had a Mills & Boon-style cover, it wouldn’t have been as successful. Presumably.

Creating the cover sees us pulling a number of visual elements together, whether those elements are stock photos, AI images or illustrations, trialling and selecting the ideal font, sizing it correctly and creating a matching spine and back cover. Generative AI is far from a book cover designer, and it won’t replace a professional designer’s experience, understanding, imagination or even hard work any time soon. But in expert hands, it can seriously enhance both the process and the results.

Generative AI is a cover design power tool

We cover designers didn’t realise it at the time, but until very recently we were working with a set of screwdrivers. They worked well, doing the job they were designed to do, and we got pretty good at using them.

But now we’ve added a power drill to our toolkit.

Generative AI allows us to do more, better. Like any new tool, we’ve faced a steep learning curve in understanding how to use it and use it well. But the hard work is beginning to pay off – in my humble opinion, when a customer grants us the licence to use generative AI, we’re now able to produce higher quality covers that better reflect the books that they wrap, without charging a single cent more.

How generative AI fits into the design process

How exactly do we add the guacamole of generative AI to the burrito of our cover design process? As mentioned above, in the grand scheme of cover design it forms a surprisingly minor step.

After we’ve ideated a few cover design options, we may use an AI image generator to create individual elements that we can’t find elsewhere (generating an image can actually take far longer than finding the element we need in our database or on a stock image site).

It’s important to note that we only ever generate individual elements used within a cover, never the entire design. AI elements are generally combined with traditionally licensed royalty-free stock photos and text to produce the finished product.

How AI complements traditional design techniques

Why use AI if it forms such a small part of the process? Because it makes the impossible possible.

You’ve written a novel about the friendship of a young Michael Jordan befriending a chimera with the legs of a frog, the torso of a horse and the head of a lion. Colour me interested. Previously we may have attempted to build such a creature in Photoshop, probably with minimal success. More likely we would’ve hinted at such a creature, maybe through the suggestive use of shadows.

But now we can make it.

A young boy standing next to a chimera

A less insane example might be a superhero you’ve invented – let’s call him Captain Astounding, the first of about a dozen superhero type names I tested that wasn’t yet taken. You’ve described your character in your novel, and you’ve got a clear idea of what he looks like in your head, but none of the limited stock photography options seem right.

No problem – we can just build him.

Captain Astounding

From precisely engineered spaceships to specific moments in history, images that have never existed before now can, and they can be created efficiently. Generative AI is the reason why we no longer charge a character creation fee.

While generating an AI image is far from instant – it can often be a more time-consuming process than finding the right stock imagery – the results are usually superior, particularly for genres that don’t have much of a basis in our reality, like sci-fi and fantasy.

Teamwork makes the dream work

At Damonza we don’t feel like we’re competing with generative AI in the same way that a carpenter doesn’t compete with their circular saw. We’re working with generative AI, and we feel our covers are all the better for it.

Software providers have seen the light. Generative AI is becoming an integral part of Adobe Photoshop, which means that every professional designer now has easy, instant access to the technology.

We recognise that it’s a divisive subject, and that many people, particularly in the creative sphere, may not feel the same as we do. This is why we’ve made opting out of AI easy – simply tick a box when you order (though with AI now embedded in design tools themselves, avoiding it will become increasingly difficult).

But should it be a divisive subject at all? In our next article we’ll take the opportunity to address some of the concerns that you might feel about generative AI. Why not join us there?

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