Design and the autonomous

It’s said that when most jobs are taken over by automated robots, that creative jobs will still be held by humans, as computers require absolutes and that isn’t a consistent part of any persons creative process.

I recently wrote about Cyrptocurrencies and it got me thinking about the future of design, with Bitcoin looking like it could be the future of money, what might be the future of creativity? If we can rest assured that creativity will remain a human-only trait, the question is how will we create things to work with the autonomous—form and figure aside how do you create work suitable from robots. What does UX mean when the user is non-human? How do UI’s operate when it’s user can’t physically see?

Automated machines already operate most factory assembly lines, and the powerhouses in modern technology are beginning to detach human hands from tasks which had previously seemed implausible e.g. driving a car. Design and all other creative occupations have always been about satisfying the client and the client has always been a human; it’s a ‘no-brainer’ that creative endeavours will certainly change if their success is not judged by human eyes and human minds.

As things become more and more automatic, we need to consider the idea of not just designing for a target market but also creating with an accessibility for ‘the automated’. Even in the smallest steps, we already do this without realising – poignantly responsive website design – which firstly changes to suit the device operating it, then secondly the user. I too partake in this new-wave automatic phenomena, through an automated banking application, which as a mildly-thrifty person both excites and terrifies me—though it’s visual design isn’t particularly important, the digital architecture that supports an algorithm being able to control money on your behalf almost completely anonymously is an amazing feat of autonomous-friendly design.

This comes up when you search digital money, I guess it suits.

Clearly design is slowly becoming more automated to help us produce more and more work, more accurately and more quickly. The first leap of automation being the printing press, allowing words on paper to be replicated without a pen in the human hand—these steps have continuously bumbled upwards, until the computer and Adobe software made kerning fonts automatic, aligning objects mathematic and colour selection possibilities infinite.

We’re not at the stage of a ‘Logo Design’ button on our desktops but with web applications becoming more versatile I can’t see how this – if only in a crude manner – might not exist soon, if it doesn’t already. The question truly is, whether it’s still design if it’s been procedurally generated; rather than designed, but I can only assume that the definition of design is a term that changes as the clock does. I imagine when type was set by cast blocks and ink poisoned the printers that touched it, a computer being able to produce the same results would seem like space travel—and then some, anything other than the actions they know to be design.

What automation means for design, is both a triumph and a warning siren, toeing the line between a pre-built VistaPrint logo and visually aided type selection. The Grid is like the Squarespace of automated web design, where as with a lot of platforms you place your content into an existing layout; The Grid uses AI to take your content and build around it, giving design to the design lacking. Scary enough, this isn’t a singular idea, it doesn’t just exist once, but twice over.

But don’t board up your windows just yet, the apocalypse isn’t quite here. AI can possibly put small web designers out-of-business in the near future but it is also opening the door to unique, exciting design opportunities. Creating systems that can  produce thousands of similar yet unique products is the tip of the automation iceberg for today’s leaps in design—with it being positively induced by magazines, design studios and electro musicians alike.

So maybe unique printing for individual items won’t revolutionise our world just yet, but this once print-based dream became a reality faster than we could comprehend it; we clearly cannot rest upon our morals just yet. Although the general consensus think that creative jobs will be free from the automated replacement epidemic, it’s doesn’t mean that our role as creatives can’t change drastically. At the turn of the 20th century Eric Gill wrote about the designer being a workman and an engineer, operating presses and crafting shapes into compositions, but today under the same title, the role of the human designer is binary to that of the early 20th century designer; even more so when compared to the computer.

If the worst comes to it, then we’ll have to adapt to the automatic hand presented to us—as an industry we’ve so far not only adapted to computers, but in fact diversified the entire process of creation to use computers and their automated delights. It might be a scary concept to think that our career could become the next task in a processed queue for a network of machines, but like always, we have two choices of survival in the face of change.

You can finesse your craft and stand firm against the changing tides, hoping that your community will still desire and see value in your work and how it stands against the common climate of the industry. Secondly, you can build your raft and follow the river of modernity; then when the moment is right, you strike your hammer and change the course of the future by defining how the river moves or how you move down it. Hope that made sense, in any way possible.

Time is money, but what is money?

In the age-old idiom, time is equal to the value of money—but in modern times, money is not merely the physical entity it was when said statement was made.

It’s a fair statement to define that any time taken to produce something should be repaid with money, because time is our most precious commodity; undervalued in both monetary and humane circles. I believe it can be said that money is to be the root of all evil, but it’s also an evolving beast; giving light to those who’ve previous seen the evil from the sole of the shoe, that money drove upon them.

As we see Britain be graced by fistfuls of new notes, we also see physical money become more and more irrelevant, with roughly only 8% of the world’s money having a physical existence. But alas, cogs still turn and creatives are still paid, whether the money can be folded or not—but money is in the mist of a rebrand.

When the day to day invoices are sent and paid on the magical digital highway, with the exchanging of money for services becoming little more than numbers decreasing in one account, to be screen to raise in another. Even with all this digital presence, money as an entity hasn’t changed too much; despite the ever oscillating exchange ranges and inflation, the value of a single pound is an easily translated amount for any given service.

But what is money if not the body we’ve always known it to be; what is money when it’s a unregulated, anonymous block-chain segregated from the banks that we’ve always known? With the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum leading the way in ‘cyrptocurrencies’ we’re seeing the sea of modern economy rocked by decentralised anarchic economies—it seems expected that these rebellious infrastructures should eventually cross paths with the rebellious careers of the creatives.

For those unaware, the above image strangely accurately explains how Cyrptocurrencies work. Whereas cash is printed by the government and released into the population to give physical means to it’s economy, Bitcoin (like others) release blocks on it’s currencies when computers ‘mine’ by solving complex algorithms, splitting the end amount by how many computers – or users – were used to solve said algorithm in a chain of infinite ever-changing algorithms.

For Bitcoin at least, there is no central bank or lender managing the money, it’s creator is a mystery and it’s value is rocketing annually—a nice change when compared to the post-brexit pound. As yet, I haven’t seen it become common place for creatives to be paid in any cryptocurrencies but as freelance becomes more worldwide with internet access becoming as common as electricity; I can’t see why being paid without a cheque book wouldn’t become a mainstay for the future of the industry. Here lies a problem though, money is already complicated and Bitcoin (or Ethereum) is even more complicated.

As it stands 1 Bitcoin is equal to £7,198 GBP* so a problem arrises in working out payment for any given creative service, unless of course you work at a price of £7,200 an hour. Then once you’ve set your price and likely been paid an amount similar in value to 0.14345675 Bitcoin, you need to ask where this money has come from—with it’s existence being anonymous and it’s legality in various countries being a grey area that even EL James would be jealous of.

Now you look at your digital wallet with more numbers after the decimal point than you’d imagine any calculator could comprehend, gained from sources unknown, you need to ask yourself how you’ll keep it and what will happen to it. Where a bank will give you a set interest rate and a high-street branch to withdraw that money from, you wallet exists and little more than an application on your desktop and the value of those points of a penny can jump more erratically than a gazelle on pure columbian cocaine.

Speaking of cocaine, cocaine is illegal and cyrptocurrencies are used to buy almost all illegal items available on the ‘darknet‘—this makes being funded by an anonymous source a risky income for you conscience. There is no real difference between legally bought Bitcoin as there is to illegally gained Ethereum. Though on the other hand, these decentralised digital wallets give people possible access to a global economy that they hadn’t previously had; people living outside regions of easily accessed bank branches.

I’m not sure how creativity can integrate to an anonymous economy as living job-by-job is hard enough, never-mind having to try and pay your water bill with 0.143754834658 Bitcoin. I’m also not certain how taxing these non-physical currencies would even happen but I’m excited to see whether it can become an arsenal for your average creative. Whether a honeypot to put away your first big pay cheque and gain a passive income on it’s rocketing value or even to allow creative work to be more available to those previously unable to get it—for good or bad.

I’m not personally certain about how I feel about the block-chain because it both scares and excites me; I love the opportunities it gives to the people on mass and the risks involved in an unstable, modern, rebellious economy. I like that I could give the chance to produce work for someone who doesn’t have the privilege of a standard bank account, opening the doors for creativity in the communities of lesser developed nations. But I also hold caution to how these ‘digital coins’ exist, where they come from and how people got them—I am a personal bastion for neutrality, anonymity and an anti-capitalist mentality but I have slowed my haste to join this economic revolution for my xenophobia and scepticism.

That said, I would certainly work for Bitcoin. Oh, and records. Always work for records.

*Bitcoin price correct as of November 27th 2017

It’s Grim Up North: Sarah Cowan

How could we ever decipher whether it’s Grim northward or not if we didn’t interrogate the owl loving, mushroom hunting and mug brandishing lady of the lakes? 

Living and working in the Lake District, in the ever comically named town of Cockermouth, this previous city dweller packed in public transport, trendy burger shops and continental Christmas markets for hills, rain and quiet evenings. As a freelance designer and illustrator in a modern age, you can truly work from anywhere—assuming that ‘anywhere’ has a wifi connection and ample electricity for thirsty shiny light boxes known as Macintosh Computers.

Even though my current adoptive home of Carlisle isn’t many more miles north than Cockermouth (HA!) and barely clings at it’s city status when comparing it to other northern powerhouses, I found the idea of a creative working amidst the hills totally bizarre and somewhat crazed. It’s a weighing game between quality of life and quality of clients; which by the look of Sarah’s work, she seems to be guiding that fine balance quite well.

With a basket full of foraged goods and a British wildlife observers book in our coat pockets, we squelch down the tree lined muddy track to the nucleus of Sarah’s creative reasoning. Can you smell scent of animal droppings and a post-city lifestyle? Smells great doesn’t it?

Sarah Cowan

Who are you, where do you come from and where do you live?
I’m Sarah Cowan, designer, illustrator, owl enthusiast. I was living and working in Manchester for the past 5 years but returned back to the rolling fells of the Lake District last year.

Who or what are your biggest influences?
I think nature has always been my biggest influence. I started drawing as soon as I could fit a pen into my grubby little baby fist, and my favourite thing to draw was animals. If I didn’t feel like drawing animals, I’d make some up instead (the terrifying evidence of which is shut away in random drawers in my parents’ house).

There is a lot of inspiration to tap into when you’re out for a walk, or even just staring at a tree. Colour palettes, patterns, forms and shapes are all there to harness if we take the time to stop and look.

What items that you work with, could you not work without?
Pencil and rubber, and a computer helps too. Even when I work on something digital I always start with pencil and paper. The rubber’s worth a mention because I always find the ones on mechanical pencils wear down too rapidly. It’s taken me years to find the best one—one that doesn’t rip your paper or make weird smears, or smells weird. It’s a Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser by the way. Beware, the link is strictly NSFW.

Being that London is the centre of British design, why here?
Design happens regardless of where its ‘centre‘ is.

I tend to look at design based on how it functions and looks rather than where it’s from, and I’ve seen amazing design work coming from all around the world. With the power of the internet we have more inspiration, tools and resources at our fingertips than ever before, regardless of where we’re based. There are exciting things happening in design in other places outside London, in and out of cities. Manchester for one is a thriving creative hub with an amazing community and its people rock, it’s the reason I moved there after university and why I still consider it my second home.

If I was given the option to move to London, I would still rather be among the lakes, forests and fells of the countryside. It’s a place that fuels creativity through its landscape and nature. I’m also too much of a country bumpkin to survive in a city the size of London. As much as I enjoy visiting it, the horror stories alone about rentable accommodation from my friends there are enough to put me off. I think I’ll stick to my little cottage in Cumbria. Good choice.

What is the worst part of being away from London?
There’s a downside to being away from London?
No, but really, I see more and more designers opting for a less stressful and creative life outside of the city. There’s really no worse part once you’ve built your contacts and client base.

Do you feel The North lacks culture and/or support for design?
It depends how you define culture. 
Is there a cronut bakery or theatre on every street corner? No.
Are there creative people doing an array of amazing things? Heck yes!

I think the North lacks support in a lot of things as well as design and the creative sector, but the people have a spirit all of their own.

What (design) work would you never do?
Work that would contradict my own values. I realise this a privilege, as not everyone can afford to turn down paid work in this way, but stick to your guns where you can!

Where does the north begin (or end)?
There was a time when I considered only Cumbria and Northumbria ‘The North’, as they’re the only two counties that literally touch the Scottish border. But then I met people from places like Yorkshire and Lancashire who insisted that they too were ‘The North’. This confused me initially, as compared to Cumbria, they were technically “The South” or “The Midlands” at most (this caused a great deal of anger when I told them this).

I then realised that “The North” is in relation to London – that people who are north of London consider themselves Northern. I’ve since changed my narrow-minded view and now refer to anyone outside of London as Northern, including my friend from Dorset. Dorset and Cornwall are honorary Northerners since it’s mostly countryside there (i.e. the natural habitat of the Northerner).

How do you have your tea? (Brand, sugar, strength, milk?)
The closer to He-Man’s skin tone the better. The first thing I do in the morning is boil the kettle and leave the tea to brew while I get on with my morning routine. I’ve been known to leave tea brewing for at least 10 or 20 minutes.

What is the name for this?

I seem to be one of the few people that doesn’t pop a vein when this debate rears its head. I call it a variety of names, I think it’s the filling that dictates which. Bun, bap, teacake, roll are all fair game. The one I couldn’t get my head around was “barm” when I was living in Manchester. When someone asked me to get them a “chip barm”, I thought they said “barn” because they were hungry enough to eat a barn full of chips.

Wouldn’t that be a glorious thing to behold? Yes, a thing of obese glory.

If you have liked what you’ve seen, please see my previous bout in interrogating people where I quizzed the ever lovely Lydia Leith and the deadly trendy Gary Bovill.

Creation for and of self

It may be apparent that I like writing things, and I clearly like writing about myself; so having the chance to do both for an external body, well that’s a body that I can boogie with.

Lecture in Progress is such body, the sister company to It’s Nice That – covering arts and design in various interviews, links and self-initiated content. As the name kind of gives away, it’s a learning resource to supply lecture levels of information for the informed. They asked me to write about myself, which I do all the time, but writing about myself for someone other than myself proved a real challenge.

When you write for you, there aren’t any hang ups on whether you come across like a bit of an egomaniac because of course you are, you’re writing about yourself. Like any creative output, when I do anything for myself I’m only limited to the suitability for it’s purpose that I’ve self defined. It’s clear I’ve got a bit of an ego; enough ego at least to want to write about myself regularly and express my opinion in hopes that others would care to see and read it.

Just like the difference that this platform has from my employment, I am the client for myself and the production of anything needn’t please anyone beyond the almighty I. Though to produce writing for an external, whereas all words past were for my own benefit, is quite a difficult task, wrapped in a strange familiarity.

Creating words of myself felt somewhat dull and undesirable, which isn’t something I expected to find. I assumed the passion I felt for voicing my opinions and observations would be partnered with how I could write about myself, but it turns out if you try and objectively look at yourself; you only mislead yourself into thinking you are either more dull than you realised or much more brilliant than the world does—the latter of which I won’t realise until much later when I develop the world’s first Vincent cult.

I have compared writing about myself and self-initiated design because they are both creative outputs defined and demanded by myself, but they are leagues apart in content. Whereas design for myself could be a self-promotional project, writing about myself is actually just making it about me. I’m quite certain that design that only involved promoting and displaying the physical existence of Vincent Walden would be horribly dull with a hint of knitwear. Maybe knitwear with a skull if I make it a little more edgy.

I’m convinced that up to this point you’ll have reached an overwhelming amount of Walden self-analysis so perhaps I should actually explain the article I was banging on about at the start, walls of text ago. In LIP’s series of interviews with recent graduates titled First Hand they are collecting a varied picture of early graduate life and the strife that comes with post-success career. I spoke about mistakes, the ones I’ve made and the ones I still make ’cause we’re all human, and the contrast in work I’ve found from working in-house for a charity then jumping so radically to a local agency where I currently reside.

I implore you to sign up, have a read and revel in their extensive content; not merely because you can read what I’ve written (because I’d ruddy love that) but also because as a student or a creative, their extensive catalogue of resources, links and articles is worth the small trading of an email address and name.

Stay excellent, love Vincent x