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.

Internships

An internship is in it’s most basic principle, is a learning program provided by someone exterior to your normal educational institutes—paid, or more commonly, unpaid.

To leave your normal environment and learn from another – most likely working professional – seems like an idilic way to ditch powerpoint slides and literature reviews. Travelling to foreign cities and making endless connections, it’s pretty neat really; especially when you go somewhere cool like Stockholm. (I reference there because I did that, look at me, look how cool I am. Please.)

The only problem is, you might not be paid for this opportunity. As I see it, this is fair enough, a door has opened that was not previously so accessible as it is now and unlike any education you’ve encountered so far, neither yourself nor the government are paying for the tutoring you’ll receive. But wait—if you are working free of charge, is it not possible that they are also gaining quite heavily from your learning experience with them? Smells a little like exploitation, if my senses don’t fail me.

When anyone speaks of internships, you’re never far from the term exploitation. Though to work for free isn’t directly exploitation, in the case of internships it certainly toes the line. The question is, how long are you working for and what is the ‘work’ that you are doing, because exploitation is heavily defined by expectation and understanding of the situation. Internships are a charity of education, and charity in all sense is dependant on position; offering to work gratis is rather opposite to be asked (or even made) to work for no pay.

I feel like the censored subtitles are a little redundant

Let me not discount all internships just yet, though it’s likely you’ll not be paid; it is also possible you could be paid, real money into your real pocket. The dream come true, to be paid to learn—only problem is, you’re rather likely to not be paid any good amount of money because you’re not officially an employee.

As an employee, you are paid for your responsibilities, knowledge and ability to work your role harmoniously in the given workplace; that along with contributing to tax and other local costs. Being an intern means you haven’t any employed rights or responsibilities, so clearly the amount paid would reflect the temporary position you uphold. It’s a confusing situation as you’ll often fulfil the roles of an employee without the benefits or restrictions that those working around you will have.

As far as internships go, I have personal experienced two unpaid 2-week positions that I would sing the praises of, but even just these two weeks were bolstered by the fact I had the ability to just about scrape by with savings and donations. The learning and experiences I got from these two short stints of time has been invaluable for me, but even now I’m still paying back a student overdraft; the remaining debris of ambition.

Even thriving in past wage-free internships hasn’t swayed my mind on how they operate and exist. I can see how easily a person can be exploited through an internship as unlike an employed position, there isn’t usually any legislation or terms to define what can and cannot be encompassed into the role of an ‘intern’. I’m certain if someone can justify picking up the CEO’s lunch as a learning experience, then you could easily find yourself sandwiches-in-hand most afternoons.

I have read studies claiming that internships lead to careers at roughly a 70% success rate but I have neither linked them nor based my argument on them here because they weren’t prevalent to the creative industry or even Europe—not to mention that they were co-funded by enormous names in right wing capitalist businesses that would certainly squeeze a little benefit from telling the exploitable that being exploited could be good for them.

So to now ignore studies, I have only my own personal experience and opinion to fall upon—how professional of me ey? Well, here is where I stand in the tennis court of internships. For me, they were something proudly displayed on my CV and taught me many ‘working’ strategies for non-design problems, which end up being very useful whether you notice them at the time or not. They also scared the hell out of me; a bucket of ice water in my pleasant warm tub of comfortable practice as a design student.

I also saw around me, those who sought the internships were also those who produced better work and sourced better jobs post-university. This was not a direct result of any unpaid time they spent anywhere but merely a catalyst for their hunger to learn; there is something endearing about choosing to learn over a life-time of crippling debt. Principally there are two things that saying yes, will grant you over saying no—firstly you’ve said yes, so you’ll have a much more exciting time than saying no but also for better or worse, you’ll make connections.

I’ve previously argued the differences of who you know versus what you know, but whatever the outcome is you’ll make connections, good or bad, it’s more than what would have happened had you not seized the opportunity.

I won’t say whether you should or should not do an internship, paid or unpaid; because I would put all my papers into the ballot of banishing unpaid internships despite doing multiple myself. It’s all perspective and availability, if you can afford to work for free it could be great for you but terrible for the industry and those who follow behind you in it, perpetuating the current model. Just think about it my dudes.

Design, where is your empathy?

Have you ever noticed that in any high density area, women are seen to queue endlessly for the toilet as men happily skip past into the ever revolving door of penis-only water closets?

It’s because architecture has been dominated and developed by men for as long as it’s existed, who through equality give the same amount of space for both genders bathrooms, ignoring that fact that one user requires more space than the other, in its majority. The equality of the two spaces creates an inequality for women dependant on their needs, whereas they should instead have equity on the peeing space required.

Design as it stands – and as it always has – is male dominated which gives it little room for female empathy; even if it is a rather inclusive industry. If only I had to reference the toilet analogy to make my case, it proves horribly sharp that our most permanent and sizeable design output – public architecture – have a distinct lack of empathy for women; or rather anyone non-male.

It’s a enormous pointing hand, illuminating a bright sign of ignorance that a public space incentivised for use by all is created without thought for the needs of all its users. It is correct that men and women hold of the same amount of possible space for releasing pent up excrement, but any women who’s found herself queueing upon a full bladder could tell you that equal space is not equal representation.

Clearly design hasn’t as much care for females as it does males, but what if you do not assign to a binary gender? – then standard public architecture doesn’t so much hinder you, but ignore you completely. Kate Moross is one said person who does not align with being male or female, but is also a prolific designer, now running and directing Studio Moross.

Kate has been outspoken about working to create empathy and power for those that find themselves in the trenches of design apathy—in an interview with It’s Nice That Kate describes her working situation as “I’m constantly battling peoples and businesses who don’t have a third or fourth or fifth box for when you sign up for something and have to enter your gender.” which is a situation I can’t image many designers would often consider, never mind the masses of male creatives that have never been confronted with the issue of not being able to find their gender on any given form.

Clearly, for Captain Moross making these small changes such as including the fifth gender box are a personal battle being fought for the masses of the hegemonically ignored, explaining in said interview “That’s something of a small battle I’m fighting every day”This may seem like a non-issue for many, but I can imagine that for the people it concerns it’s a courageous, empathetic fight.

It’s hard for me to understand the relevance of it, being that I fall into the category of your ‘average designer’ in many, many ways; but I know if I tried to do something as simple as sign a form and it didn’t allow for my full address that would drive me nuts, never mind trying to describe my identity from a selection of two inaccurate drop-downs.

mid-post pretty GIF

Just as peoples gender can be thrown onto the pile of ignored needs, so can disabilities. Though we see around us – in developed nations at least – building being developed and adapted to allow access to those operating wheelchairs and other mobility devices, we see the same thoughtfulness completely lost for those without obvious physical disabilities.

Though it may seem a far-fetched point, the cities and spaces we live in can be minefields for people with disabilities, one such being those on the autistic spectrum and the over-stimuli they face day to day. We as designers spend all our days making the most visually exciting, eye-grabbing material for our clients but when they put them up on billboards, here, there and everywhere it makes life difficult for those who find them offensive. Though the problem lies with the imagery designed, it’s the companies and councils planning and designing their cities in a hodge-podge fashion of capitalistic sprawl that makes lives for those with who suffer, a confusing, stress inducing experience.

 

If you look at the title, you’ll see me telling design that it needs more empathy but design is not a single person, blue in the face guilty of it’s injustices; it is in fact an entity build upon a community of people. People need more empathy. People need more empathy, in their design.

I too have lead you down a path of ignorance, I am not the great source of empathy that I may seem. I thought not of the people with dyslexia when I made huge bright yellow posters and I disregarded the needs of the people with poor sight when I refused to add alt tags to my posts, in an effort to save myself time. The empathy we need is the empathy to consider the users and decoders of the work we create, not just the client that it is being created for.

The fact is it’s much easier to point the finger than solve the problem, rather unsurprisingly. But should you be aware that something you are creating would be accessed and used by anyone in particular, give the women some more space to pee, understand that not everyone defines their sexuality as easily as an online clothes retailer and if all else fails, see our governments resources available on designing for accessibility.

Disclaimer: I am no expert of disabilities or women, if I’m miles off the mark with my observations please tell me, or lock me in the stocks and throw tomatoes at my ignorant noggin—either will do.

Protest art: Sharpie markers and sharper tongues

As we watch countless White men pretend they’ve been marginalised, exploited and abused—we observe their stupid Tiki Touch parades, laughing as our pen hits the paper. 

 

As long as stupid decisions have been made, there has been protest to those actions—likely starting with words, then probably rocks and eventually art. There is no better way of informing your oppressors that you are sick to the teeth of their ideologies than a 6-hour kitchen floor masterpiece, raised just above head height like a ‘Go feck yourself’ hair accessory.

Art in a modern protest is the mascot for it’s message; photographed and shared to reverberate a common feeling in the echo chamber of constricted social following. It matters not what the colour balance is, or whether you have any composition to your visual riot shield, because it’s the message that defines it as art, it’s existence as a product of passion giving way to it’s definition—hell, even memes can be protest art.

Your enemy and your opponent will not see your artwork and be thrust into your way of thinking, it’s not designed to change the mind of those who it attacks—protest art rallies those who seek solace in it’s message, sending ink based vibes reverberating around it’s environment. Punny, funny or serious; it reinforces that you share the same message with those in your picket, uplifting those in your community.

Let us leap into the past shall we? Europe, mid-century you say? Pooooof!
Paris 1968, pent up anger from a conservative government, the Vietnam war, poverty and unemployment forced students to their barracks, their barracks being drafts tables, silk screens and canvases—spawning art the reflected the frustration bouncing around the Parisian street, artworks to rattle off from the bricks of which they lay, not artworks to hang on the walls of the bourgeois that stand upon the downtrodden of the city.

 

Lampposts, railings, walls and windows—burning with bold imagery of a hatred for the establishment, a red fist rising above a factory as a blacked out officer raises his bludgeon to strike you; you will not be hit by 12″ of dense timber but instead the ideology of your peers, their passions and their fear. You are now the community, that is the power of protest art.

From where posters leave, fine art can pick up; with almost all famous pieces of art being a reaction to something, often a protest to a person, a way of life or of an event. Poignantly, there is a painting that I love dearly, spanning metres in height and width. Picasso’s Guernica is a monochrome wonder of enormity, painted through anger and empathy for the bombing of such named city. In my eyes this is Picasso’s masterpiece and I don’t want to show you it here, I think it’s more powerful if I describe it to you.

Pushed into a harsh landscape crop, the dark hues of black and white align with harsh shapes that vaguely take forms as steps, doors and walls. The scene is defining a suburban interior, though ripped and twisted; a light hangs from the ceiling but still a hand holds a candle to the chaos—this candle illuminating pictures upon the wall, the human touch of this household scene. Where you except to see people you see animals, spurred into the air in the madness and clatter of it’s bombing, a half torso screaming for release by the window, trapped under constricting shapes.

Human forms look rushed and misshapen, mouths shriek as they run to exist, others vulnerably stare at the top of the image. Despite being enormous, every shape feels pressed against the next, pushed and pressed together by the destruction and collapse of the bombing. The protest is the inhumanity in the bombing, how people become less than human as their very existence is destroyed.

The painting and poster are leagues apart in commercial value, but in the value of protest, they draw equal.

Didn’t they know Pepsi could have just solved the problem?

Whether it’s a sharpie scribble on a cardboard placard, or meters of oil paint—it’s purpose is in the message it screams in the face of it’s oppressor rather than it’s visual discourse. We all love protest art because we see our own ideologies reflected back at us, or we can share them with the world by raising our words into a non-human space, an arms reach above the crowd. Many artworks are created through a love for something, but protest art is a pure art form as it merely exists through anger, through fear, through protest.

Grab your brushes as they grab their pitchforks, the smart fight with knowledge but the confused fight with fists.