It’s the most wonderful t{AI}me of the year!

It’s the most wonderful t{AI}me of the year!

Each year, we at True North create a holiday card to send to friends, colleagues, and clients—and this time, we wanted to see how artificial intelligence could help. We knew there was enough information out there to teach AI what the holiday season is about. But could the generators we enlisted create something that felt like us?

In short—not exactly, but the potential was certainly there.

In fact, our initial attempts to capture “the spirit of the season” ended up looking something like this:

(Don’t worry, we’re not sure what that says, either, but we did love the colors and style).

We’ve asked this question before on our blog: can AI out-make the Makery team at True North? The answer always ends up being “not quite—” and clearly, this instance is no different. But maybe, instead of using the AI platforms to come up with exactly what we need, we could use it to source elements that we could put together to create something magical for Christmas.

For the sake of experimentation, we started with basic prompts, asking platforms like crAIyon and starryAI to create a digital holiday card that says “happy holidays from True North, Inc.” That helped establish a baseline of what AI understands about Christmas and the holidays in general.

The results were mixed at best, but it was clear that at the very least, AI knew the most important rule of holiday marketing:

If there isn’t a Christmas tree, it doesn’t count.
(This rule isn’t true … but it feels true, doesn’t it?)

We tried a few different ways of describing what we needed to increase our chances of success, and things started to go from interesting to downright unhinged quickly. While asking for “a holiday card from a company called True North” yielded results that barely mentioned True North, prompts like “a digital holiday card that captures the spirit of Christmas” created results featuring anime-style illustrations, renderings of disembodied heads in the snow, and scenes of family moments in strange terrifying dimensions.

We really hit our stride when we asked for “a holiday card from an advertising agency” from Midjourney: the cityscapes and collage elements paired with its 3D design style were the catalyst for what became our final card.

We noticed some successful pieces in each card we generated: for example, rich hues of blue were present throughout. Wintry landscapes were almost always well-rendered, and many of the holiday décor elements included—trees, holly, wreaths, and the like—were all elevated. All that was left to do was find a strong focal point and a throughline for our holiday card and pull it all together.

We ended up with a digital card inspired by the winter villages and buildings (which capture the bicoastal nature of our own agency), paired with 3D elements present in the trees and finished with falling snow from the AI examples. Our designer also wanted to maintain the handcrafted feel that gives the holidays their sentimentality.

In the end, no platform was able to give us exactly what we were looking for; but then again, why would they be able to? No platform really knows exactly what makes us us. And that’s okay. Because if we’ve learned anything from this little experiment, it’s that everyone—human or robot—understands the elements that make the holidays the most wonderful time of the year.

Or at the very least, we all know that December is better with snow.