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.