We're using AI to paint. And to write code.
It's not perfect, but it helps
Artificial intelligence is creeping into everything. It seems like every software tool I use has worked it in somewhere, often uselessly, but sometimes helpfully.
Most of what I have found helpful, however, is standalone tools, like ChatGPT for text and Midjourney for images. Rather than fumbling with a mediocre AI implementation inside other software, I usually get better results by going to one of these, getting what I need, and bringing it back to the software I’m using.
The results are far from perfect, but they’re delivering some value, and I know they’re going to get better. Here’s what we’ve been doing.
There are a lot of AI tools to create graphics. The best one I’ve found is Midjourney, and we’ve been using it a lot. For the most part, we’re using it where we would have used stock photos in the past, and it’s a big improvement.
On the plus side, Midjourney images better express what I’m trying say with my image, and they look unique. It was always hard to find a stock photo that matched what I had in mind, and whatever I chose, it always looked like … a stock photo.
On the negative side, it takes a lot of work to get what you want from Midjourney, and you need some experience to direct it. Even then, you’ll never get exactly what you want. It’s like working with a graphics designer who doesn’t listen well.
Still, we consider it our best current AI tool. We use it to generate images for our websites (like all the images, except one, on this site), for email newsletters, and for marketing materials. The images on this site have been the most fun, but we’ve also produced some nice marketing graphics for a retail client.
And this is a tool that I expect will get better and better at understanding — and responding to — the prompts we give it.
February 12, 2024
Here's a stock photo we used on a client website a few years ago, to illustrate some content about family nutrition. It's a nice photo, but there are two problems with it. First, it looks like a stock photo. And second, a year after I used this, I stumbled across an advertisement featuring the same shot. That's how stock photos work. They get sold to a lot of people.
Just recently, for the same client, we produced a mailer for a 'super sale'. The header featured an AI-generated superhero, and product illustrations were also comic-book style. We once again needed a family nutrition image, and at first we inserted the same stock photo. But it didn't fit the comic book look, so we generated a new image in the right style, and it worked.
See some additional examples in the gallery below (click an image to see it enlarged).
A few other graphics we generated using the Midjourney AI tool.
It’s far from perfect. I’ve been testing it, and I don’t think that any of the code it has produced has worked without edits and fixes. It isn’t great at fixing its own errors. I’ve even hinted to it, giving it clues as to what it’s done wrong. But it goes ahead and changes something else (something that was probably working fine).
And very annoyingly, it always apologizes for its error and gratefully endorses whatever suggestion I’ve made. It’s kind of like having a junior programmer who needs to slow down and think (and quit sucking up).
I’ve found it useful, however, for quickly producing fixable code, and it’s also helping me get a better handle on Velo. I think this would be a great tool for learning a new language. You could quickly generate examples, and you could ask ChatGPT to explain those examples.
I keep reading about using ChatGPT to write blog posts, but every time I’ve tried it, the result has been unusable. The language is dead and the content is generic. Perhaps someone with more patience could get better results, but if that's a requirement, I can just write it myself.
It really troubles me to think that blog posts are now being written by AI. Since AI is simply regurgitating what it’s read elsewhere, that means your AI-written blog post is just cluttering the web with more un-original, uninformative text.
If you’re going to write a blog, it ought to be based on something new that you’ve got to contribute.
Where I have found ChatGPT useful, however, is in producing blurbs — short paragraphs of marketing text — to plug in somewhere.
When we design a new website for a client, we do some market research. We want to understand the client’s customers, target market, and competitors.
We’ve got tools we use for that, but now we’re also using ChatGPT. It has a good ability to summarize and analyze information. So, for example, we can feed it a bunch of competitor reviews from Google and ask it to give us a list of pros and cons for that competitor. Then we look at that list to find opportunities for distinguishing our client.
We’re pretty confident that AI will be a key tool for market research going forward.
AI technology is moving fast. Every criticism in this article is going to be outdated in a year, and we’re going to find new and better ways to use it. Even today, we’re finding that it makes our jobs easier and accelerates what we can get done.