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

Judge a book by it’s cover: a poem

Every now and then, I feel I can only express myself in poorly constructed rhyming couplets—lucky for you, that day is today.

Luckily, I’m not poet

Judge a book by it’s cover,
You’ll thank me I’m sure,
Judge a book by it’s cover,
Try it yourself, to you I implore.

I always have and always will,
Books on the counter, shelf, windowsill,
Covers of techicolour, textures of silk,
Essential; bread, books, butter, milk.

Sensibility is not your friend,
Leap with your heart in lustful lunges,
Cradle all it’s edges first,
Blurbs are exciting like drying sponges.

If a book is any good,
It’s cover should be too,
Good words get wrapped well,
Pinks and greens, gilded in blue.

It won’t always work,
Crap will be a book or three,
But surprises make bad choices better,
Bookshelves recreating Paul Klee.

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.