If, like me, you view most things in popular culture through the lens of football shirts you'll have been following the rise of AI with great interest. Fromthat image of the Pope in a puffer jacket to the 'human vs AI' debates that are being had in creative circles, it's been impossible to escape the increasing impact of AI art.
The question I have now is, what impact will AI have on football shirts, if at all?
Before we dive in, some disclaimers. The designs in this editorial have been created on the platformStablecog, one of many tools available to the public today. It's worth noting that unlike the premier options you can find, Stablecog is completely free. In that sense I'll be showcasing AI art which is more 'League 1' level rather than the very best the industry can throw at us today.
Mixed bag to say the least
So, what sorts of football shirts are AI programmes designing in April 2023? With apologies for this most clickbait of sentences, I used various prompts to generate shirts for a variety of teams and the results were interesting...
For major clubs and countries likeArsenal, PSG and Nigeria there was very much the nucleus of a typical kit, with a few twists. Arsenal's shirt featured a distinct amount of yellow, most notably in the form of a prominent rectangle directly at the front of the shirt, but a lack of white sleeves kept the shirt from looking like a typical Arsenal home shirt. For PSG there were glitzy gold sleeve details on an otherwise quite vanilla base shirt which, to me, looks at least 5 years old in terms of construction. And with Nigeria, there was a sort of mashup aesthetic which looks like a sort of late 10s Nike tribute to the popular 1994 away shirt.
Analysing these 3 shirts briefly, there isn't too much to get excited about. As noted in the intro we are working within the constraints of the programme we're usingand also working on prompts that I was writing, but we see considerably more interesting concept kits on a daily basis from the concept community.
Not so iconic
I was curious to see how Stablecog would tackle iconic shirts for teams likeAjax and Boca Juniors. You can safely predict what a home shirt for either team will look like year on year, with only subtle variations on the base look. Surely AI would be able to note this in any new creation? Despite capturing something of the essence of either team, the AI shirts above failed to nail the brief despite my best efforts 'driving' the tool.
Both these designs would make for fine pre-match shirts, but they are very much in the territory of "throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick".
It was a similar story when AI tried to tackle relatively smaller teams. Shimizu S-Pulse, despite having an ongoing world map motif which makes most of their shirts immediately recognisable, was a bridge too far for AI. Seattle Sounders was another team which proved difficult to design for, with the AI producing generic results which lacked any sort of character (though I'm happy to see the reintroduction of classic pockets).
Perhaps the most interesting results came when using heavily thematic prompts. For example, when trying to create shirts for the likes of Club América and LA Galaxy, the AI responded positively to prompts such as "Aztec imagery " or "the Milky Way" for the respective sides. The results are quite gimmicky, but they at least offer up some more creative ideas. I especially like the subtle inclusion of a 'V' at the top of the Club América shirt, a motif which helps to ground the busy look given its appearance on many of the most iconic América kits throughout their history.
The potential is there
As you can see I had a lot of fun experimenting with Stablecog but to try and draw us to a conclusion, what sort of thing can we expect from AI when it comes to football shirts? From an idea generating perspective there is a lot of potential for designers. Were I asked to create a Club América shirt, I would enjoy using the AI design as something of a springboard for further development. Ultimately though, any success in this field is clearly tied to human input. There are subtle nuances in the football shirt world which are hard to grasp for AI programmes, and even a casual glance at what we are seeing in the concept kit world will showcase the immense gap in quality that currently exists.
In that sense, I would argue that the future of football shirts lies in the hands of the people already designing, whether for a living with brands or for fun through the medium of concept kits. Until proven otherwise I'd suggest that AI shirts ought to take more of a backseat role, to be the assistant rather than the head.
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