My AI Adventure Designing a Fragrance Bottle For Kylie Minogue
by The Dieline on 02/07/2023 | 10 Minute Read
By: Silas Amos
Full disclosure, that title is clickbait. Kylie Minogue has yet to ask me to design her a perfume bottle. And she already has one, a perfectly OK design in the pantheon of celebrity fragrances.
It also might be clickbait for a particular segment of Gen Xers, but I digress. Really, I just wanted a play with what AI might offer as a design tool, and I picked on Kylie because I think we all have a pretty good sense of what her brand is, so it's easier to see if the outputs get anywhere near a specific target.
I was after a little lived experience trying out AI design before hurling rocks at it, just as I imagine 15th-century scribes would have been throwing brickbats at the Gutenberg printing press. After all, it's on my turf. Like it or not, the AI creative future is coming through, and the only thing we can know for sure is that the consequences will be more fantastic and equally awful than anything we can imagine from the perspective of 2023.
I set some simple ground rules. Don't try and game the system, but sincerely set out to create something half decent. I pretended I'd just had a call to say Kylie was heading over for a surprise meeting, so I only had ninety minutes to pull together some concepts. That's already an unfair test when a real job would get a few days or weeks of my time, but this is really just road-testing a new pencil, so that’s all I am giving it.
I used the DALL-E 2 software as it is one of the leading commercial apps. Throw in some keywords, and you'll get four renders back in seconds. The more specific you make the words, the more likely you will get something close to what you had in mind.
I assumed the results would be a bit off—design AI is a baby, after all. And I guess the images generated are based on an aggregate of visual tropes associated with keywords. So, one can only expect visual cliches, unless I can think of something original to ask for, right? Anyway, here's where my train of thought got me and the lessons I learned:
I started by inputting the most literal thing I could think of, "Kylie Minogue premium perfume bottle packaging dance." I added "dance" thinking celeb scents typically have a theme name, and I wanted to keep ours basic.
So, that first pass is straight in the bin.
The clock is ticking, and the client is on her way. How about trying "a perfume bottle designed by Kylie Minogue?" Would the software be able to get in her head space?
OK, they don't look totally off. But they are super boring and low rent. I'm sure the IRL Kylie would come up with something cooler. DALL-E gives tips about being a little more specific with style. So I throw in "Kylie Minogue perfume bottle design premium cyberpunk digital art," just because that sounds like a contemporary word salad.
Well, that's disturbing. And a bit too dystopian for Kylie. Plus, the Kylie Avatar appears to be the lovechild of her and Michael Myers from Halloween.
Let's try something else. How about "Kylie Minogue cyber art disco perfume digital art."
So now I am getting H.R. Giger vibes, and there's also that strange Faye Dunaway-esque Kylie puking blue electricity thing going on. We better try a different approach, as Kylie's limo will be well on its way.
I decided to stop keying in "Kylie" and instead start channeling Kylie. Who is she? What is she? "A butterfly in human form," my subconscious screams. OK, so I go with "3D render of a perfume bottle pink stylish butterfly."
While these feel like something Barbie might reject as too girly, at least they look like something. So, adding a "thing" to the keywords helps. Marshall McLuhan famously said, "the medium is the message," and I now fall headfirst into the truth of this statement:
"What looks good in computer renders?" I wonder, playing to the medium. "Fur! And fur is fabulous, like Kylie!" What would a fur perfume bottle look like? I try "elegant perfume bottle with pink fur photographed by Rankin." I'm throwing in Rankin because I wanted to see if the software might borrow a bit of his trademark style.
OK. So Rankin can sleep easily. But as for the packs, they may be more Muppets than Kylie. But then again, I’ve never seen a furry fragrance bottle before, and the software did what I asked for exactly. Rankin, however, led me to think of some other great photographers Kylie has worked with. Perhaps one of them could come to the rescue. So here goes "elegant perfume bottle Kylie photographed by Ellen von Unwerth."
That second one, madly, does have a bit of the showgirl glamor I expected from Ellen von Unwerth. I'm not too fond of the bottle, but the level of stylistic imitation surprised me.
I am getting more confident now. What was an iconic Kylie image we could convert into a fragrance bottle? I always loved the John Ross image of Kylie's arm wearing a sweatband. That’s it! A sweatband perfume bottle. That's never been done before! For obvious reasons!
C'mon, software. Give me a "hyper-real render of a premium slender perfume bottle wearing a red and white toweling wristband." That's specific enough, right?
Wrong. I think the software might be taking the piss now. And who asked for that snowman scarf, software? Was that your own little addition?
Oh, dear. Kylie's parking. And I have nothing. NOTHING! OK, deep breath. We thought the fur was not terrible. Let's go with "elegant perfume bottle goddess with pink fur photographed by Rankin."
Now, this really is mad. Images one and two somehow had a side hustle thinking about Marilyn Monroe. The second one is almost tapping into her billowing Seven Year Itch dress—and the bottle actually has blonde hair. AI, are you revealing a slight unconscious bias there, my friend?
Kylies headed into reception. OK, time to be bolder. She's all about disco, right? Glamour? Good times? Another user hint from Dall-E was to try odd topic juxtapositions, so let's see what sticks. Software, give me "photography of a perfume bottle riding a white horse in Studio 54."
Well, I can save these for that Versace pitch I'm never making.
Reception, please stall Kylie, OK?
Time to try keying in lyrics to one of her hits. I ask for "photo of perfume bottle, I just can't get you out of my head, Boy, your lovin' is all I think about, I just can't get you out of my head, Boy, it's more than I dare to think about."
Yeah, that didn't work. I’m getting more of a Britney vibe from the one on the right. Worth a try, though.
Running out of time, I try Googling Kylie's favorite animal. No quick answer, but apparently, she likes the barrier reef. OK. Here goes "coral-shaped pink premium perfume bottle hyper-real."
Odd. Like kitsch table lamps. But something more delicate might have had potential.
OK, one last throw of the dice. If this were a real job, I'd be trying to distill the brand into a few contrasting dimensions. So, what do we get if we go with "perfume bottle. Dancefloor diva x happy spirit."
Well, three not-very happy-spirited perfume bottles and one that I think is OK-ish. In 90 minutes, with back-of-an-envelope thinking and no time to learn how to squeeze the best out of the software, here are the three routes that I would say have WTF levels of worthiness.
So, what teachable moment did I take from this little experiment?
Well, firstly, beware. It's insanely addictive software, and I felt like a slot machine jockey convinced the next pull of the lever would be the big payoff. Which never came.
Secondly, this has all the signs of one day totally changing the game for design. When the tech can respond in real-time to voice commands as we art direct and really craft images, the ability to draw will become inessential. What gets rendered will be only limited by our imaginations. Honestly, I think that will be a more significant impact in the short term than us asking the software to mash things up and do the thinking for us randomly.
What I found most interesting was the experience of being tugged away from my standard line of thought. In that way, the software played a similar role to that of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategy cards. Like the cards from the musician, the software can yank you off the path training, intuition, and experience would naturally take you down. That's no bad thing if you want to go somewhere new.
Without the software, I wouldn't have gotten to the notion of a perfume bottle with the form of a coral stem. A reef-supporting, ocean-friendly perfume bottle from Kylie that looked like a beautiful piece of coral could be cool. The visualization I got was awful. But it sparked a thought, just like any good sketch should.
We have a new language on our hands, one in its infancy. In a recent interview, author Ian McEwan talked about how fascinating it is to watch a toddler starting to "erupt into language," saying, "Suddenly, when a baby goes from single words and pointing at things to start joining things up, and then suddenly verbs appear and then whole sentences. Such is the nature of human generative grammar that a three-year-old can say something no one has said before, ever.”
McEwan further jokes that if you want to know what LSD is like, try having breakfast with a four-year-old.
Both these things struck me as apposite to my dialogue with the Dall-E software. In other words, the possibilities are endless.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "what gunpowder did for war, the printing press has done for the mind.” In time, AI-enabled design tools might do much the same for our creativity—not replacing it, but opening it up. Let's not dismiss a few failed experiments prematurely in the meantime. Even if, like me, you are a scribe nervously regarding the latest Guttenburg.
But there's one critical factor to consider with this new toy—ethics.
It’s not OK to blithely ask a bot to scrape the internet for images that might give a facsimile of someone else’s creativity. Even before we get to IP, that’s just wrong. But the tool is so seductive. I played with this before checking in with my moral compass. AI tech is evolving far faster than a sober debate or legality around how to employ it responsibly. Perhaps in the meantime, let your conscience be your guide. And, as for the dilemma of adding momentum to a tech that will devalue craft, creativity, and authorship, perhaps there is good reason for a pause for thought.
Disclaimer: no actual Kylie Minogues were involved with (nor, I hope, hurt by) the making of this little exercise.
Silas Amos (link: silasamos.com) is an independent branding strategist and designer. He learned the ropes over 25 years at design agency JKR going from junior designer there to head of global strategy. Since striking out on his own he’s lead the design thinking on projects for Allsopps beer, Foxes Mints, Dulwich Gin, Metcalfe’s snacks, Smirnoff with HP Inc. and plant-based trash bags HoldOn - all projects featured on The Dieline - along with a bunch of other stuff.