Visual Literacy in the Age of AI

by See-ming Lee


If you wished to command the beast known as the AI, then you must first have the vocabulary to do so. If you wish to see what the txt2img technology is truly capable of, then you must first know how to describe visual things with text.

Unfortunately, most people who don’t work in art and design don’t have the ability to describe visual matters verbally.

This inability to talk about art and design thus robs them from the full potential to utilize AI as part of their workflow.

To them, AI is the one who is making all the decisions, because the technology is the one who is in fact deciding where to walk, how to walk, simply because the humans commanding it is telling it simply to “walk” without any instructions.

But did you know that there lies a class of people who can describe visual things with accuracy and decisiveness?

They are the artists, designers, and architects.

They are people who have spent their lifetime talking about visual matters to their clients — who are additionally able to translate the incoherence of their clients’ wants and desires into visual things that delight.

These are also the people who have been able to utilize the AI technology with the most capability — because they are the ones commanding the machine.

They are the ones who see this new technology as one of collaboration and not the one making all the decisions.

But did you know that you can also be like them? You can join the ranks of artists and designers and command the beast as your faithful companion — all you gotta do is start talking about the things you see.

An exercise that I like to do is simple — when I look at things, I would describe what I like / dislike about them.

Whether you like something does not actually matter much — why you like something is how you could build your visual vocabulary.

This is a technique I learned from an MIT professor of architecture when I was a teenager — at a time when I was planning to go to college for Architecture, as a subject that combines art and science — my parents took me to see the professor for they believed that it would be helpful.

I fell in love with graphic design when I got to Yale — but this technique has never left me.

When I experience life and all the objects that I see, I always ask myself why I like / dislike something.

It’s one of the reasons why I often write a lot about the works I produce myself, for that is simply part of my daily routine.

Visual Literacy in the Age of AI / 2024-04-04 / SML