While there are undoubtedly many companies who are doing amazing, groundbreaking creative work with emerging tech, a recent sector report by Econsultancy and Adobe found that creative and design leaders are more likely to be worried by emerging technology than excited by it.

From artificial intelligence to AR and VR, smart devices to voice interfaces, the 2018 Digital Trends for Creative and Design Leaders report gives insights into how creative and design leaders are using emerging technology, as well as their likelihood of investing in different types of technology in the future.

Emerging tech: concern or opportunity?

Econsultancy and Adobe’s survey of more than 2,600 senior creative and design professionals revealed that creative and design leaders are very much concerned with the issue of emerging technology – but in a way that might be more negative than positive.

When asked about the top three external challenges they face which effectively keep them awake at night, 42% of company respondents and 51% of company respondents cited “Emerging technologies to keep up with” as a top three challenge.

A further 38% of company respondents, and 43% of agency respondents, cited the “Need to support new creative formats (e.g. data visualisations, augmented reality)”, another challenge which is tightly linked with emerging technology.

By contrast, far fewer creative and design leaders expressed excitement about implementing emerging technology in the near future. When asked which of a list of options they regarded as the most exciting prospect in three years’ time, respondents were most compelled by the idea of being able to deliver real-time personalised experiences (chosen by 31% of respondents) than by the prospect of utilising AI, IoT devices, voice interfaces or enhanced payment technologies.

Of the emerging technologies listed, respondents expressed the most enthusiasm towards using virtual and augmented reality to engage audiences, with 21% of creative and design leaders choosing AR and VR as the most exciting prospect for three years’ time.

Notably, senior creative professionals were almost twice as likely to be excited about AR and VR as other decision-makers within a business, only 12% of whom highlighted AR and VR as an exciting opportunity for the near future. As the report details,

“The inherent opportunities for creativity afforded by these technologies make them a more obvious area of interest for creative professionals than for marketers and others within the business who might be struggling to take the leap of imagination to understand the applications for more engaging customer experiences.”

Emerging tech in near future

There is also some not-insignificant interest among creative and design leaders towards utilising artificial intelligence/bots to drive campaigns and experiences (17%), though this interest is lower among creative professionals than other decision makers (21% of whom expressed excitement about AI).

AI is perhaps the technology with the broadest range of possible applications in any industry, with uses in everything from data crunching, to image recognition, to something with a more ‘human’ interface like a chatbot or virtual assistant.

With this in mind, how is AI being incorporated into creative and design work, and are creative professionals tapping into its full potential?

How are creative and design leaders using AI?

Econsultancy and Adobe quizzed creative and design professionals whose organisation (or clients) is/are currently making use of AI about how they are using the technology. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, given the overall trend of cautiousness towards emerging technology that we’ve seen so far – the majority of respondents were not using it for creative and design work directly.

The most popular application of AI among creative professionals was analysis of data, with 54% of company respondents and 45% of agency respondents using AI to perform data analysis.

Second-most popular was email marketing, though much more so amongst agency than company respondents: 40% of agency respondents said that their organisation uses AI in email marketing, versus 29% of company respondents.

In general, agency respondents as a whole were more likely to be using AI in their work – an interesting trend that could be due to a more adventurous corporate culture, a desire to remain competitive using cutting-edge technologies, or simply a better availability of resources. Agencies outstripped company respondents in their use of AI in all areas except for data analysis (54%/45%) and creative and design work (29%/28%).

The percentage of respondents using AI for more creative purposes ranged between roughly 15 and 35%, with 22% of company and 34% of agency respondents using AI for content creation, 20% of company and 21% of agency respondents using it for video recognition and processing, and 17% of company and 23% of agency respondents using it for image recognition and processing.

Of course, not everything that creative and design leaders do day-to-day will be strictly creative work, and one of the great strengths of AI is that it can be used to automate labour-intensive tasks and make them more efficient – freeing up more time for humans to spend doing the creative work they excel at.

An internal challenge

At the end of the day, emerging technologies have yet to become fully established in any industry (hence why we use the term “emerging”), and we will no doubt see a shift in figures like these as time goes on, and more ways are found of incorporating new technologies into our daily lives.

However, the report also hints at several internal obstacles that might be preventing more wholesale adoption of new technologies and processes among creative and design companies.

When asked about the top three internal barriers to successfully creating digital experiences within their organisation, insufficient budget was widely cited as a top challenge – 49% of company respondents and 61% of agency respondents cited this as one of their main barriers.

Next-most challenging were “outdated workflows that slow down our processes”, cited by 40% of company respondents and 36% of agency respondents.

Hiring the right talent to create cutting-edge digital experiences is another big challenge – 37% of company and 43% of agency respondents cited “finding and retaining the right people with the right skills” as a top-three challenge.

And simply moving with the pace of technological change is a major concern for creative and design professionals, with 33% of company respondents and 40% of agency respondents citing “keeping up with the latest technologies and trends” as a major internal barrier to creating successful digital experiences – perhaps hinting at an organisational aversion to moving with the times, or companies being too hamstrung by other internal issues to even think about adopting new technology.

As the report author states, “Internally, it is clear many organisations are still grappling with how to ensure they have the right design capacity and procedures to help meet these new demands. They remain only partially evolved to meet the challenges of modern-day marketing.

“The way many creative and design leaders work requires a significant reboot as companies shift to the more agile, iterative and collaborative approaches associated with data-led, customer-centric communications. Yet a high proportion of respondents – including four in ten in-house practitioners – report they remain bound by outdated workflows that slow down their processes.

“It is clear internal procedures remain a huge barrier for organisations at a time when they are battling to become much more responsive and nimble, and to ensure they continue to attract and retain customers.”

If organisations can tackle these challenges currently holding back creative professionals from new digital techniques and ways of working, it seems likely that the outlook among creative and design leaders towards emerging technology will become significantly more positive.

For more insights into the challenges and opportunities facing creative and design leaders in 2018, download the 2018 Digital Trends for Creative and Design Leaders report now.