Restaurant Business’s online feature, “Killer in the Kitchen: Restaurants face an evolving epidemic of addiction,” is quite a visual treat. The article won gold in the Azbee Awards’ Online Feature Article Design category, and the series of work won national awards in Azbee editorial categories as well.
Their entry essay states, “A tough topic such as drug addiction in the industry is equally tough to depict visually…none of the interviewees understandably wanted to be photographed for the feature…Furthermore, we explored with artificial intelligence and created visual vignettes to accommodate the storytelling…” Without having read this statement, I would never have guessed that AI created their illustrations. They are full of textured moodiness, putting the reader in the mindset of the people covered in the story. It creates a deeper sense of darkness about the addiction epidemic beyond what photographic portraits could portray.
Stunned is an understatement as I contemplate AI as an option for use as a designer myself. I’m very aware of the debate going on from both sides of the fence about the use of AI in visual creation. Some examples I have seen have looked like drug-induced nightmares while others look like they were put out from a creative assembly line. But how it’s used in Restaurant Business is imaginative, creative and evokes strong visual storytelling. Along with the AI visuals, the creative team uses, with great effect, animated graphs, typographic quotes, parallax scrolling* and embedded audio to share the insider stories of the substance use epidemic in the restaurant business.
When asked about his creative choice to use AI generative art for “Killer in the Kitchen,” senior art director Nico Heins relayed, “Taking photographs of victims wasn’t an option. Equally challenging was trying to find the right illustrator to depict this topic in a manner that felt serious. Then we experimented with prompting AI with an impressionist painting style along with the colors black and red in order to convey the emotional toll of the opioid pandemic.”
With AI being used now in writing, video and visuals, it’s a tool that designers will have to consider — more than likely, it will not disappear. On the positive, it can provide a more interesting alternative to traditional stock images with more variety of techniques and styles. If we designers do our diligence on the ethical sourcing of AI platforms when considering its use in our work, it could be beneficial to our creative communications.
*Parallax scrolling is a web trend where background content moves at a different speed than foreground content while scrolling.