Automation in Design [Machines Shaping Our Future]

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Automation is taking place all around us, from mining to household appliances, vehicles to the retail environment. Oxford University has estimated that within the US alone, 47% of jobs could be automated within the next two decades. It should come as no surprise then that people are speculating about the future of automation within design, too.

Almost any industry you can imagine has embraced automation to a greater or lesser degree, and we are now happily palming off a number of tasks to our machine counterparts on a regular basis, and who wouldn’t? Physically demanding or dangerous tasks are completed effortlessly without the health and safety concerns of a human involved, and the repetitive, mind-numbing activities are completed rapidly, with fewer mistakes and none of the inevitable workforce grumbles.

Turn the conversation towards automation in design, however, and it seems to instantly get most people’s backs up. Is it such a stretch to imagine at least some elements of the design process could be handled more quickly and efficiently by a machine? Or do we really think that the design process from start to finish is such an amorphous, intangible concept that it can only be entrusted to flesh and bones?

One often-raised objection is that at its core, good design needs to generate a response or emotion with the audience, to make them feel something. We’ve not quite nailed the replication of the complexities of the human brain within machines yet. There have been some pretty impressive leaps forward within the field of artificial intuition, but no-one has yet built a genuinely funny robot. So how can we expect a machine to produce worthwhile, effective, interesting, challenging and intriguing design?

Even if we were somehow able to replicate the complexity of human intuition into machines, how do we program them to understand cultural awareness, the ability to play around with the subtleties of shape and color, and other nuances that are second nature to human minds?

Do we really want to shun the benefits that automation might bring to the industry? Even healthcare is embracing the notion, with automation developments being credited for increasing efficiency and improvements in patient outcomes.

Isn’t it time that we put our reservations to one side, explore the concept, and consider how it could help free up some human time to do what we do best – generate fresh ideas and innovative ways of thinking?

A brave new world

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When people hear ‘automation’, it’s often assumed it will result in job cuts, as it has in other industries such as manufacturing. But the quarter of a million graphic designers in the US need not panic just yet; it just might be the opportunity for change that takes this sector to the next level.

With design now moving away from the confines of a rectangular screen, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, augmented reality or mixed reality offer exciting possibilities to develop immersive concepts. Creative companies need to embrace change – including the inevitability of automation – in order to thrive and fully explore the possibilities offered through the latest techniques and ideas.

Credit the computer

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What about the criticism that automation could result in the dilution, or dumbing down, of the creative journey itself? Compare this thought process to the general art world, in which the most famous of artists from the old masters to the modern have employed assistants, albeit human ones, to enhance productivity. Damien Hirst, for example, has troupes of artist assistants to paint the thousands of spots on some of his pieces, but his works are still accepted as his own.

As the design world shifts towards new modes of expression and media, it may well be the case that a greater support network, such as that provided by automation, is in fact crucial in order for us to realize our ambitions.

Man and the machine

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Web design can now be largely automated without the need for professional input aside from the initial template. This trend could be replicated in the design world, with work traditionally carried out by individuals such as artworkers undertaken by machines once the initial creative work to set templates and visual style is completed.

As automation becomes more sophisticated and intuitive, not only am I convinced that it is the key to innovation within design and a golden opportunity to push boundaries and establish new ways of working, but anyone who doesn’t grab the reins and incorporate automation into their business is likely to be left out in the cold.

What does the future look like?

Whilst developments in artificial intuition make for ever-more convincing human-like behavior by robots, machines still rely on provided data sets, which have inherent boundaries.

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Rather than imagining a creative industry that has been completely taken over by robots, it’s much more likely that elements of the design process will be carried out by technology, with humans still at the helm, overseeing the work of the machines and fulfilling the roles that demand true creative input.

I for one am excited about the opportunities that automation will bring to the industry. It will provide the mechanics to shift the onerous, repetitive tasks towards computers and clear the way for the talent of designers to be put to their best, creative use. Who wouldn’t want that?

Let’s be honest – there is no true substitute on the horizon for the human brain. A machine just cannot make a judgement on whether a logo conveys the right message, or understand how a phrase or image makes someone feel… yet. As I see it, for the foreseeable future at least, the driving force behind the creative industry will still firmly be the creative humans within it.

You can read our NYC Summer 2017 Tech Preview where we covered an exciting social app that promises to maximize your night out here.

Jim Bull

Jim Bull is co-founder and CCO of Moving Brands, an independent creative company with studios in San Francisco, New York, London and Zurich. Established in 1998, Moving Brands enables businesses to transform their brand to flourish in the moving world. Along with dynamic start-ups, Moving Brands works with some of the world’s leading names including 8 of the 10 most valuable tech brands.