Graphic design is a profession that has followed state of the art technologies throughout history. The term graphic design was first used in the 1950’s, where it arose from the printing and publishing industry.1 In the initial part of this thesis, I am taking the liberty to include inventions and production methods that led to the term graphic design as we know it.
As we write 2017, we are in the middle of a radical change with the accelerating technological breakthroughs in computing power. This is described by Prof. Klaus Schwab as the fourth industrial revolution, a fusion of the biological, the physical, and the digital.2 What does this mean for a graphic designer? What kind of tools will we be used in the future? Will there be any jobs left, or will it all be left to robots and computers?
In the search of answers to these questions, I will first take a retrospective look on previous industrial milestones, and how they effected the graphic design profession. Next, I will explore the way a graphic designer works today, and what industry professionals are expecting in the years to come. Based on this research, and together with predictions from industry professionals, I will predict what the future of graphic design practice will look like.
I am a technological optimist. I believe that the possibilities that lie within automation and super intelligence are for the better. At the same time, I understand the skepticism. Many will have to change their profession and re-educate themselves, so instead of saying people will lose their jobs, I would rather say they will have to change their jobs.
My argument is that we should not fear new technology, but embrace it. In this paper, I will do my best to convince you to feel similarly. Through examples of groundbreaking revolutions and their outcome, and expert statements, it will become clear how new tools have revealed new methods that have created more work, time and time again.
Berlin, June 12, 2017
1 Ambrose and Harris, The Fundamentals of Graphic Design, 12.
2 Schwabe, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond.“
2.1 Print Reproduction
Today we take it for granted that the things we can see on a computer screen are reproducible on almost any medium. This is a result of science and technology through the centuries, that all have a string of relation to graphic design. In this chapter, I am highlighting a few of the milestones that made production cheaper, faster, and more available, to artists, industry professionals, and creatives. In some cases, craftsmen would see their profession disappear, but in all of them, new ones arose.
2.1.1 Movable type
A person working with typesetting might not consider themselves a graphic designer, but rather a typesetter. On the other hand, the ones crafting books before movable type were in my opinion absolutely doing work related to graphic designers, since they drew letters by hand, together with ligatures, borders, ornaments, illustrations, and arranged the content in a layout. With the movable type, each character and glyph was handmade, the difference was that they could be re-used.
The first known system of movable type, in this case using wood, stems from the Song Dynasty in China around the year 1040. This was however not a succeess, because they had already been using less expensive wood-block printing for two centuries.3 In Korea, the first known book printed with metal casted movable type is the Jikji from 1377,4 but we had to wait almost another whole century before the technology made a massive impact on global book production, starting in Germany.
Up until the 15th century, most book production in Europe was handmade by artisans, craftsmen, and monks. Making one single book could take a very long time, and it goes without saying that this was expensive and considered to be objectively exclusive to the powerful and wealthy minorities of society. Anyone who has ever tried to learn handmade typography knows that this is a skill that requires years and years of practice.
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with metal casted movable type in Europe between 1452-1455,5 together with the production of the bible (Media 1).
Movable type production did not entirely steal the jobs of the ancient bookmakers, it just changed the process, making it more efficient and affordable. Besides, Gutenberg created a whole new market and countless new jobs were made. As the technique spread rapidly, the book production in Europe went from a few million copies in the 15th century to almost one billion in the 18th.6 As a side note, this was not only in favor of the industry professionals, but the book- and printing market as a whole, from distribution and export, to local salesmen.
3 Ebrey and Schirokauer, “Technological Advances during the Song.”
4 Moledina, “The AEPM at the Jikji International Festival.”
5 Gutenberg-Museum, “Vor Gutenberg.”
6 Buringh and van Zanden, “Charting the ‘Rise of the West’: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries,” 417.
The history of print went on with many technological improvements and developments after Gutenberg. I will however fast forward a few centuries to what I consider the next groundbreaking invention in terms of automation, the Linotype machine (Media 2), patented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884.7 Earlier, typesetters would have to put every single character and spacing, one by one, in their respective place in order to form a sentence. In publications with longer running text, like a newspaper, this was highly time consuming.
The Linotype machine produced a molded slug with a complete line of text that further would be placed in a press form, ready to print. After use, the slug would then be melted and reused.8 It radically changed the effectiveness of typesetting and later replaced the movable type profession, since it was more cost efficient in the long run.
7 Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., “Linotype.”
At the end of the 18th century the introduction of the lithographic process enabled artists to produce a nearly unlimited amount of printed copies using all shades from white to black, and later, color.9 It was the German actor and playwright, Alois Senefelder, that made this discovery in the attempt of publishing his own rejected dramas.10
The French artist Jules Chéret (1836-1932), is considered to be one of the main influencers to modern poster design and the Belle Époque. He had his own lithographic printer, and from the influence of Japanese multi-colored prints and English large format, he created astonishing motives with the combination of bold typography and illustrations. Chéret is considered to be the first one to use the pin-up girl, a well known motive that was quickly embraced by advertisers to use sex as a tool of attraction and selling point.11
The lithographic print process was the first step towards offset printing, which still today serves widely as preferred printing technique for large quantity print runs.12
9 Müller-Brockmann and Müller-Yoshikawa, History of the Poster, 26.
10 Key, “Artistic Lithography: Its Present Possibilities,” 31-32.
11 Müller-Brockmann and Müller-Yoshikawa, History of the Poster, 39.
12 Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., “Offset printing.”
Phototypesetting was the biggest shift in prepress production since Gutenberg in terms of speed, cost effectiveness, and quality. It is dated back to the 19th century, but it was not until the 1960’s that it was taken into the mass production printing houses.13 Unlike the Linotype machine that required industrial production facilities due to the mechanical operation and metal type that had to be melted, a phototypesetting production line could be placed inside an office environment.
Light was exposed through plastic type strips on photographic paper, that later went to chemical development. The designers and editors would then use these to paste up the design. With this technique, it was possible to be more expressive and free in compositions and shaping of elements. At the same time more precise, sharp, clean, and creative.14
13 Ryan and Conover, Graphic Communications Today, 4E, 61.
2.2 Digital Graphic Design
World War II brought several breakthroughs in computer technology. One event that stood out was Alan Turings solution to decode the German encryption machine Enigma, and later his theories on computer science and AI (artificial intelligence). The Church-Turing Hypothesis of 1950 suggests that all means of computation is equivalent, it is only depending on the amount of memory it has available.15 And this is the core limitation to computer power, it is limited. There is no such thing as unlimited memory, even though some modern server facilities of 2017 have unbelievable scale, they could still be bigger. Another key aspect of the Church-Turing Hypothesis is the real time factor. Computers can calculate in speeds that a human would not even imagine, but in real world production, time is a constant factor.16
15 Kelly, “The AI Cargo Cult: The Myth of a Superhuman AI.”
2.2.1 Computer graphics
Engineer William Fetter who was working for The Boeing Company in the late 1950’s, was the first person to use computer technology to create physical drawings. Together with his team, they could calculate and foresee movements and interactions of crew and passengers without making physical prototypes (Media 3). His discovery was embraced by both scientists and artists, and in the 1960’s he took part in the establishment of a Pacific Northwest division of the New York based E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology).17
At this point, I would like to make a point to clarify the difference between a human and a machine. As AI is evolving (more on that later) it is important to understand that a computer does not have a consciousness like humans do. Fetters invention is a good example of this, the computer was drawing, but not by itself. Without the input from the operator, it would be useless.
Designer and engineer Jon Gold, previously working with Intelligent Typography for The Grid, now at Airbnb, provides a crystal clear statement about how computers relate to aesthetics:
“Computers […] don’t understand design at all. Not in the slightest. To a computer, fonts are a series of .otf files and a string giving them a name. To a computer, colors are a series of hexadecimal, RGB or HSL references.” 18
17 Oppenheimer, “William Fetter, E.A.T., and 1960s Computer Graphics Collaborations in Seattle,” 1-2.
18 Gold, “Taking The Robots To Design School, Part 1.”
The Apple iPad was released in 2010 and made it possible to draw and give shape to graphics in real time directly on the screen, but this was far from new. Almost 50 years earlier, in 1963, Ivan Sutherland submitted a paper as a part of his doctorate degree in philosophy, describing the Sketchpad, a man-machine graphical communication system. A light pen was used to draw, move, and erase straight line segments and circles on the screen (Media 4). Sutherland highlights in his paper the practical aspects of moving from a written to a visual interface to display graphics.19 Up until this point, one had to write code in order to make a computer create visual content, not so different from todays approach to generative design and web design, but before I discuss this, there is another accomplishment that deserves attention.
19 Sutherland, “Sketchpad: A man-machine graphical communication system,” 7.
2.2.3 Desktop publishing
PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), a group of researchers and engineers of the printing company Xerox was in the late 1970’s making experiments in their Palo Alto laboratory with an OS (Operating System) called Smalltalk, led by Alan Kay. Clearly inspired by the Sketchpad, the goal was to replace a typical office environment of physical documents and archives, with a digital interpretation of it.20
Xerox did not succeed in bringing their desktop solution to the mass market, but the idea was snapped up by a well known entrepreneur when he was given a tour of the facilities. This particular visit would turn out to change the world as we know it. This man was Steve Jobs. Two years later, Apple released the computer Lisa, but it was too expensive, and lacked the computing power to properly run a desktop interface.21 However, the following year the first Macintosh was presented, and until today we are still operating on iterations of the 1984’ interface, organization of menus and icon representations.22 Many improvements have been made, but mostly on the computation power, memory and speed. We are still interacting with the desktop computer on the same semantic level as 30 years ago.23
Friedrich Schmidgall is quoting Paul Dourish on an interesting observation on how humans interact with computers. When you look at a photography of a person working on a computer in the last two decades, one can likely identify the year or decade based on the persons clothes and hair, but not by the way he is interacting with the desktop computer.24
20 Johnson, Interface Culture, 48.
21 Ibid., 49.
23 Gold, “Taking The Robots To Design School, Part 1.”
24 Schmidgall, “Computer-based tools,” 59.
Just like Gutenberg’s printing press made it possible for texts to be published faster and easier, reach out to bigger audiences, and reduce the power of authorities at the time, the Internet did and is doing the same thing but on a much larger scale.25 The Internet has made it more effective, and easier, for people across the planet to collaborate in various forms. Conny Freyer, Sebastien Noel, and Eva Rucki from the design studio Troika brings up Wikipedia as an example of how an open-source Internet based project can create a constantly updated and user editable database that would be impossible to make earlier.26
It took a few years before the Internet became mainstream. In 1995, more than 44 million people were online. As a single mass of individuals it sounds like a lot, but at the time, this was equal to one percent of the world population. In comparison, in May 2017, there was over 3,6 billion users, which is 40 percent of the population. And these figures are growing every second of the day.29
Similar to any other techniques of computer graphic interface, HTML is based on code. One would need to write text in order for the browser to know what to generate (Media 5). Taking this into consideration, a new genre of designers was born, web designers, also referred to as web developers. Many graphic designers today are (and should be) familiar with the back end process of web design. That being said, in 2017 you don’t need to code a website. There are several programs that are designed with WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface. But still these are not running seamlessly. If you want full control of the appearance and functionality, there is no way around custom coding. I will go deeper on this topic in the next chapter.
HTML opened up a whole new playground for graphic designers. Now they were able to customize designs in a universal language that could be projected anywhere in the world (as long as they had the hardware and connection). New jobs arose together with titles like: Flash designer, UI designer, UX designer, multimedia developer, interface designer, web designer, cybergraphic designer, interactive media designer, just to mention a few.
25 Freyer et al., “On the invention of the first wheel, Gutenberg, Moholy-Nagy, and the Internet,” 48.
27 Berners-Lee, “Information Management: A Proposal.”
28 W3C, “Facts About W3C.”
29 The Real Time Statistics Project, “Internet Live Stats.”
It is impossible to talk about digital graphic design without mentioning Adobe. Ever since the release of the first Illustrator software for the Macintosh in 1986,30 they have been the number one choice for graphic designers all around the world. Following Illustrator was Adobe Photoshop in 1990, and with the release of the 2.0 version in ‘91, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black) workflow was introduced and Adobe manifested itself as a serious digital-to-print tool.
Today, Adobe’s portfolio of software gives users the freedom to work on nearly any platform, whether it is photography, illustration, video, animation, web design, 3D modeling, typographic layout, or print production. The seamless workflow and customizable interface makes it possible for you to optimize tools, commands, menus, and action scripts, in order to work as effective as possible, with high quality output. Out of endless functions and plug-ins available, there is one in particular I want to highlight. A function that actually does the work for the user.
30 Yegulalp, “Adobe Creative Suite: The history.”
In several applications, Adobe lets the user record every command being made, and create an Action (Media 6). This can be a single operation, or a string of commands. As an example, let’s say a graphic designer is creating a brochure for print, and needs to convert all the images from RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color to CMYK. Instead of opening, editing, saving, and closing every single document, it is enough to do it once, record it, and then play the action on all the other files that needs the same changes. One can just imagine how much time is being saved on just one magazine or book production.
I believe the Action feature is just a little taste of the new tools that will emerge in the future. In theory, close to all operations on a digital device can be automated, so why is this not yet implemented in more software? Is it because of computing power? Are producers holding back technology to earn more money by slowly introducing new features one by one? Or are the users simply not ready to adapt?
2.3 Summary of the past
In this chapter I have presented a few selected technological breakthroughs that all have had an impact on graphic design as we know it. Step by step, working production methods have changed, and automation has made it possible to create works in bigger quantities, at a higher speed, with better quality. And the result, a growing market offering more jobs and value to society. All the way from the movable type to digital software. If history were to repeat itself, it is plausible that we will see the same pattern when computer technology is powerful enough to do more tasks that up until now, we have been doing ourselves. Before we take a glimpse into the future, let’s look at the state of the art tools for graphic designers in the following chapter.
In this chapter, I am mainly examining tools that are being used by graphic designers, or tools that do the work for them. By present, I mean 2017. even though some of the study cases dated older are still in use today. Like in the previous chapter, I am trying to highlight the automation aspect of the graphic designers tasks and what the consequences are.
A graphic designer today has the possibility to create almost anything within a very short amount of time, if he or she knows how to use the tools. It is no longer necessary to draw with pen on paper, since various software can generate any possible shape imaginable, with greater preciseness and flexibility. One can of course argue that drawing by hand can be a much faster way of sketching and prototyping ideas, and that a person that draws can easier imagine how a visual end result should look like, but it is not a necessity.
3.1 Responsive environment
When we say responsive today, many people would associate it to the adaptation of a design from desktop, to tablet, and mobile, and vice versa. The flexibility of the organization of elements to fit into whatever medium. This is however not a new concept, and obviously a term that can be applied to various scenarios. A psychologist connected to Yale University in the 1960’s, O.K. Moore, made a list of definitions regarding responsive environments:
“… Permits learners to explore freely;
… Informs learners immediately about the consequences of their actions;
… Is self-pacing, i.e. events happen within the environment at a rate determined by the learner;
… Permits the learners to make full use of their capacities to discover relations of various kinds;
… Has a structure such that the learners are likely to make a series of interconnected discoveries about the physical, cultural, or social world.” 31
Even though the model is aimed towards a study environment, this structure is very much reflecting the way most creatives in any field works today, in particular in the fields of service design and design thinking, but also architecture, product design, and graphic design. Industrial designer Kees Dorst states a common feature of all professions related to design:
“…design is not one way of thinking, but two: it is a mix of creativity and analytical reasoning.” 32
31 Kay, “The future of reading depends on the future of learning difficult-to-learn things,” 28.
32 Dorst, Understanding Design, 14.
Graphic design is in itself a type of user interface. Information is organized in a particular way so people can navigate through it and read a message. A typical graphic designer in 2017 is not just a graphic designer. For one you have to know about the various output processing possibilities and limitations, in order to choose the right one for each specific task. But to understand and be able to operate computer software, whether it is coding, processing, color management, or other software interface gives a big advantage. Adding to that the marketing aspect, researching techniques, and understanding of target groups or other cultural factors. Last but not least the aspect of interaction and interface. The difference between traditional and digital media lies in the way we interact and perceive it. According to Simon Taylor, with digital we are:
“…physically, emotionally, and culturally experiencing information through tactile engagement.” 33
This does not only apply to the end user deliverable, but also the production itself, and how it is created. Designers are crafting their products in a very different way with digital tools.
Digital media with graphic user interface has brought up new challenges for the designers. Readability, hierarchy, and aesthetics in general are far from new concepts to the graphic designer and artist. Users of digital media today, whether it is a mobile- or tablet application, a website, or other software, have to be able to change the features like typography style and size, contrast, color, and arrangement of elements in order for them to customize the interaction to their needs, such as poor eye sight or simply a better workflow. Online platforms, and mobile applications often give the user the possibility to customize and personalize the appearance. This is another aspect that the designer needs to take into consideration, what elements is to be open for this, and to what extent.34
33 Taylor, “Physicality and perception,” 109.
34 LUSTlab, “The end of the word as we know it,” 15.
3.3 Generative design
Generative design is a discipline that arose out of computing power, the driving force behind it is CAD (Computer-aided design) 3D-modelling software developers. Generative design is in short words a series of codes that generates an end result, either as a single solution, or all possible iterations. The designer or engineer would implement a framework and rules, and the software will then create all possible solutions available.35 Further, one would choose the most beneficial outcome, and move back to step one to make further improvements, and this circle repeats until the optimal result is given. The biggest advantage, is that the software is able to calculate close to unlimited range of possibilities within a time only limited to the computation power. Munich based design studio Standardabweichung provide a few interesting scripts on their website where you can enter text, and define a few parameters that decides the end result (Media 7). This is a simple and good hands on exersise to understand the concept of generative design.
Professor Casey Reas,36 one of the creators of Processing, an open source programming language that can be used for generative design, claims that generative design is no different from other design practices. He states that all disciplines of design includes three steps: research, creation, and analysis. A generative design approach is merely reducing the time consuming task of making iterations.
Similar to ordering food at a restaurant, where you ask for a dish and the chef cook the meal. This is a crucial aspect, when considering the amount of time being saved, and liberated for other tasks. Not to mention the possibility to explore iterations.
Textile and surface designer Wera Fleck is more skeptical to the generative design approach, she argues that when a design made by computation is chosen, then the designer is reduced to a curator. She uses the term reasoned design to distinguish manual and autonomous processed design work.37 But what about the initial idea? Like mentioned earlier, a machine don’t know what to do unless it is told. The generation of the idea is fully entitled to the engineer, programmer, graphic designer, or whoever is driving the concept.
Speculative and computational designer, and co-author of the book Generative Design Benedikt Gross says that generative design implements the idea indirectly. Whilst in comparison, traditional design requires the designer to actively craft his ideas step by step all the way from initial stage to final product.38 This might be true to a certain extent. Yes, the software is doing a lot of the work for the designer, but there are nevertheless limitations and frameworks being defined by the creator in the initial stage, and through iterations. This should in my opinion also be considered as an important stage of the design process.
35 Autodesk Inc., “Generative design.”
36 Reas, “Software as medium,” 145-146.
37 Fleck, “Can design be generative? Characteristic features of a new design method,” 201.
38 Bohnacker et al., “Generative design,” 227.
3.4 Web design
HTML changed the world as we know it, and opened up for a market for graphic designers that is perhaps the single one providing most jobs in the graphic design industry the last two decades. But something is changing in the landscape of websites. How important is it for a business to have their own website in 2017?
Sergio Nouvel lists up a number of reasons why he claims the need for web designers will decline in his article Why Web Design is Dead. First of all there is Facebook Pages. Already ten years ago, in 2007, they made it possible for businesses to create their own page on the network in just a few easy steps already familiar to the user after making their personal profile. The service was, and still is, free, and offers easy-to-use marketing tools for tracking activity and boosting visibility. Nouvel is going as far as claiming Facebook Pages are causing traditional web pages to be without a purpose anymore.39
Another threat according to Nouvel 40 is the number one search engine in the world: Google. He draws the example of a highly typical behavior from people that are looking for information. They search the name of a restaurant, and in the search results, the direct phone number is revealed. This is shrinking the amount of visitors to the web page, but improving the user experience, it is a more effective information delivery. Nouvel has a good point, and not only does the telephone number come up, also the location, how to
get there and how long it takes, user reviews, most frequented hours visited, and how long people in average stays there, to mention a few.
But not all users of the Internet use Google to get information, and if your business has a similar name as other bigger ones, yours might fall down to the bottom of the page, or even end up on the following. Also, a company with their own website has the possibility to show who they are through custom graphic design, interface, video/motion, and other identity strengthening tools. In the conclusion of his article, Nouvel makes a quite strong claim:
“…web pages will […] be around for a long time, because they are —and will continue to be— useful for certain purposes. But there’s nothing interesting there for designers anymore. They are a commodity and a medium, no longer the default state for digital products and businesses.” 41
To say web design will be of no interest to designers in the future is a bold statement. Nouvel is provoking a debate, and highlights future challenges in a graphic designers daily work. One of them is AI, which has entered the web design field, among many others. A complete website can now be built in seconds after providing a few basic steps of information about the person, company, or service.
39 Nouvel, “Why Web Design is Dead.”
3.5 Artificial intelligence
Development of technology and the fear of it, has followed each other throughout history. Conserns has been expressed through science fiction literature, films, music and other art forms. A common message is that technology may outperform man, and that it is merely an extension of us, rather than a supplement.42 Founding executive editor of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly points out in an article of his, there is no ‘smarter than humans’ because intelligence is not a single dimension.43 Human intelligence and computer intelligence are two different things, and should not be put up against each other, if we do, we do not see the full potential of it.
At this point, AI is at the stage defined as ANI (artificial narrow intelligence) which means that it can perform rather simple specialized tasks, in most cases faster and better than any human. The next stage will be AGI (artificial general intelligence) where AI outperforms human reasoning and performance, if it is possible at all. Like Kelly outlines it, machines are not human, and will never be.44 But that might change. David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell from The University of Texas provides a radial system where 3000 of the 1,7 million species registered on planet earth are organised based on DNA (Media 8). This clearly shows the complexity of organic life, and computer intelligence has no place in this system. It is simply a different organisational structure of intelligence, and should be treated accordingly. But this might change, with the mix of humans and technology. More about Cyborgs in the next chapter.
Professor and author of The Design of Future Things Donald Norman is stating, that when a machine gives you a limited amount of choices, it is in a way deciding for you what to do by just giving a few options.45 I would say that it is not the machine that is deciding, it is the designer of the machine that made the decision before the machine was ever made. This is where AI stands out. It is able to make decisions, and learn from them. In this way, it does not need to be corrected by a human operator. In the spirit of sustainable designer Victor Papanek , an AI can be designed to redesign itself. This is obviously a concern that requires attention, as we do not want a technology that makes decisions all by itself. Future of Life Institute is a group that supports research and efforts towards human beneficial AI technology. Nick Bostrom, Erik Brynjulfsson, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk are just a few names connected to the Institute.46 This initiative is more directed to weapon- and biotechnology, but we should nevertheless be aware of the consequences and possible outcomes of fully autonomous tools, no matter what practice it is implemented in.
Roelof Pieters and Samim Winiger are exploring the connections between creativity and AI in their project CreativeAI.47 They argue that automation is not a necessity, and we might be better off creating AI systems that work augmented, very much like riding a horse. We should be able to control the pace and direction, but also let go of it. This is obviously relative to what kind of task is being performed. But when we are discussing design tasks, I very much agree that it is preferable to have access to interfere on any stage of an automated process.
Can AI have an aesthetic understanding? First of all, to define aesthetics is complex enough. How can it be that we find some things beautiful, and others ugly? Where do these parameters come from? Is it possible to teach one to recognize a well designed product? Philosophers and intellectuals have been examining these questions for centuries. Designer Kai Brunner gives evolution credit for our aesthetic understanding. We tend to draw inspiration from nature when giving shape to objects.48 If this is the case, if a human can learn it, then why not a machine? Lets say a program is fed with all recognized artworks, and award winning photography, product designs, architecture, sculptures, anything related to visual aesthetics that has been embraced. The AI should then in theory be able to draw conclusions on what is likely to be accepted by humans as good design or art.
42 Freyer et al., “On the invention of the first wheel, Gutenberg, Moholy-Nagy, and the Internet,” 48.
43 Kelly, “The AI Cargo Cult.”
45 Norman, The Design of Future Things, 3.
46 Future of Life Institute, “Research priorities for robust and beneficial artificial intelligence.”
47 Pieters and Winiger, “Creative AI: On the Democratisation & Escalation of Creativity.”
48 Brunner, “The automation of design.”
3.6 The Grid
In early 2017 there are several providers of AI website generators: Firedrop, Wix, and The Grid to mention a few. It works like this: Initially, the software asks a few questions on what business you are in, target group, and services offered. Then you add content, like text and images, and based on this, a layout system of typography, colors, and grids is applied, fully responsive, and partly editable. I will use The Grid as an example to show how the web designer is made superfluous, at least to some extent. In 2014, The Grid announced their plan to develop an AI driven website generator, and raised 4,6 million dollars for the purpose.49 The debate arose, do we need this? Will it be good enough? Is the web designer obsolete?
Their product has been on the market for almost one year now, and it does not seem to have made the impact some feared it would, and there can be several reasons for that. First of all, a company that hires a designer to create a website, not only needs expertise for the visual design, but also the photography guidelines, tone of voice, and user interface. Second, The Grid only supports e-mail support, which is making communication distant. The ability to have direct contact to another real person is reason enough to hire a human instead of an algorithm. Third, many companies have defined style guides to their external communication, with specified rules regarding color, typography, images, and so on. In order to transfer this to an online platform, it is preferable to use custom coding.
Wordpress is still the preferred platform for website owners of the Internet, currently hosting 28 percent of the world’s websites.50 Wordpress has a small learning curve, fast uploading speeds, automatic responsiveness, and almost anyone can create satisfying results with the use of templates. But at the same time, one can customize and code the backend, which makes it a good choice for any website purpose. When looking at pages that are created with The Grid, it seems like many of them are not potential clients for a designer, but rather ones that would choose Wordpress and do it themselves before AI driven website builders came around.
It will be interesting to follow the progression of AI website algorithms, as they improve themselves the more they are being used. However, it is reasonable to believe that designers will still play a key role in the initial stage of the process.
49 Lardinois, “The Grid Raises $4.6M For Its Intelligent Website Builder.”
50 W3 Techs, “Usage statistics and market share of WordPress for websites.”
3.7 Summary of the present
There are indications pointing towards the idea that it will be more important for graphic designers to work with their mind, rather than their hands. Generative design approach and AI is a good example of this. But aside from conceptualizing projects, one also has to distribute the message in the right form on the most effective platforms. In order to do this, it requires a great understanding of the ever evolving technological breakthroughs, and trending channels of communication. A graphic designer will never be fully educated, it is a constantly evolving industry.
AI is considered the biggest threat to not only graphic designers, but all kinds of occupations. Research suggests that a graphic designer has a 8,2 percent risk of being replaced by a machine within the next 20 years.51 In comparison, a bookkeeper is looking at a 97,6 percent risk. This supports the fact that a graphic designer is not performing linear tasks with foreseeable outcome, and will stay in demand even though technology will outperform humans in many operations. In the following chapter I will highlight more thorough speculations, from experts and myself, on possible working methods for the future, both regarding tools and how tasks are distributed between humans and machines.
51 Bui, “Will Your Job Be Done By A Machine?”
4.1 Job outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a projection for graphic designer job outlook from 2014-2024, where the overall growth is only one percent. In comparison, the total of all occupations is expected to grow by seven percent. They do however note that within graphic design there are many specializations, and that graphic designers working in newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers in this time frame will see a loss of 35 percent, whilst digital designers working on Internet platforms will grow by 21 percent.52
These statistics confirm that graphic design as a term and job description is fading away, and that a person with this degree or job title is likely to simply reform into another category of occupational title. It is not a forecast of unemployment for the professionals working as graphic designers at the moment.
52 Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook.”
My research has shown that a modern graphic designer has to be multidisciplinary, understand tools and means of communication and media production, whether it’s print or digital. At the same time, related professions must have basic knowledge of graphic design. The creative industry professionals is touching in on each others specialties as if they were one big symbiosis. Maybe we should just break it down to call ourselves designers, or creatives?
The contemporary and future graphic designer should at the least understand programming, or even better be able to program themselves. The Hague media research studio Lustlab confirms that the designer must be able to see the possibilities of a digital platform in order to design the optimal experience for the audience. They claim this is redefining the designers role, since the traditional approach was earlier a collaboration with programmer and designer, now the roles are melting together.53
53 LUSTlab, “The end of the word as we know it,” 14.
4.3 Experiences and value
It should be clear that humans and machines are not the same thing, and never will be. So what is the USP (unique selling point) of a human? What can we offer, that machine’s don’t? According to genetics expert Maciamo Hay: Sickness, fatigue, gastronomy, dreams, sexuality, temperament, intuition, sociability, and maturity.54 Think about the simple joy of looking at a beautiful sunset? A computer will not react instinctively emotionally to such a view, but it can have a pre programmed reaction to it.
Using AI to perform tasks will make it possible for designers to focus more on the medium and the message. According to Designer Rob Peart it is worth looking into the “…more fundamental questions of human communication and emotion.” 55 A task normally executed by scientists and philosophers, but what if designers were able to dig deeper within this field? It might show a different outcome. Also new ways of collaboration between the ones involved in a design process are likely to emerge. Slack and Trello are good examples of project management tools that are being embraced all over the world. But it is yet just another application, another icon on your dashboard, and another password to remember. What if these were integrated directly to the designer tools, like InDesign or Sketch? When a good framework is provided, one can spend less hours juggling between applications and tools, and more time on the creation and content itself.56
Graphic design should be considered a platform of experience. In whatever context it is presented, the viewer is navigating through a system of elements that are meant to provoke reaction, physical or mental. And this is an experience, no matter if it is the typographic treatment of the bible, a sign leading you to the right gate at the airport, or a banner advertising on a webpage. Professor of digital media Barbara Junge claims that the differences between virtuality and reality is slowly disappearing, and one of the consequences for designers, is that they are likely to design experiences rather than products in the future.57
Design director Lukasz Lysakowski 58 states that the future of graphic design should lie within problem solving, rather than the production process itself. (Media 10) This way, products become more meaningful, they gain more value, and the graphic designer will be more valuable. It is crucial to understand the meaning of value, how to find it or create it, but also how to make it visible. A graphic designer must be familiar with state of the art technology in order to distribute content to the right platforms. One must know the possibilities and limitations of existing mediums, and be updated to foresee what the next big thing might be. Sergio Nouvel argues:
“The designers who want to stay in business need to be experts in managing content and value across channels.” 59
54 Hay, “Could a machine or an AI ever feel human-like emotions?”
55 Peart, “Automation Threatens to Make Graphic Designers Obsolete.”
56 Nouvel, “Why Web Design is Dead.”
57 Junge, “Introduction,” 11.
58 Lysakowski, “Automation of Design.”
59 Nouvel, “Why Web Design is Dead.”
The word cyborg is short for cybernetic organism, a mix of technology and organisms, whether it is a plant, an animal, or a human.60 It is a concept that many might draw associations to science fiction, but considering the way we interact with media today, a user of digital technology could also be defined as a cyborg. A smartphone is not just working as an extension of our eyes, ears, and mouth, but also our memory. Every text message, e-mail, photograph, or whatever tasks being performed is stored. If a hammer is considered an extension of the carpenters hand, the same would apply for the graphic designer’s digital tablet. A skilled artisan uses his tools as parts of his body. A symbiosis that only can happen when the artisan is trained, and the tools are of great design. The result is not only a good product, but also an experience of pleasure for the user.61
Black Mirror (2011-) is a british television series that debates possible negative consequences of technology applied to humanity.62 In many of the episodes, we are projected with scenarios that are supposingly ment to be futuristic, but still feels very close to where we are today. In one of the episodes from 2011, The Entire History of You (Media 11), humans are equipped with a lens on the eye, that enables recording of everything they see. Five years later, in 2016, Sony files a patent that is basically the exact same idea. A contact lens that lets you record and even store and watch videos directly on the eyeball.63 The product is not shipped yet, but it gives an indication of what we can expect.
In order to create the best experience possible on a digital platform, brand consultant Oliver Reichenstein claims that we need to think about the interface as an extension of the mental processes instead of analogies of our body. He brings up the bicycle as an example of how it became an extension of our legs, serving the same purpose, taking us from A to B, but in a very different way.64 We should be open to think differently about the way we perceive information. Online newspapers are now replacing the traditional typographic reading experience with video, and one is more likely to look at a youtube tutorial than go to the library when learning how to change tires on a car, all available with the tip of a finger wherever you are in the world.
60 Clynes and Kline, “Cyborgs and Space.”
61 Norman, The Design of Future Things, 18-19.
62 IMDb, “Black Mirror.”
63 Michallon, “Sony files to patent new contact lenses that can record video, store it, play it back - and adjust zoom, focus and aperture automatically.”
64 Reichenstein, “Improving the digital reading experience,” 187.
4.5 Human interaction
Design is an active process, and this is why it can not be left alone to algorithms and computers to perform. The importance of reacting to a given design is what makes the human designer unique in this relationship. The computer can process and create, but the designer has to judge, conclude, and change the outcome of it.65 Executive creative director at SapientNitro APAC, Claire Waring states: “A designer’s role will evolve to that of directing, selecting, and fine tuning, rather than making.” 66 Additionally, the preliminary process will be of greater importance.
Typographer and graphic designer Peter Van Blokland uses the word fuzzy about the meaning of the word design. He says it is very much depending on opinion and context, and yet undefined. He claims further that common characteristics of designs is that they are made with a series of iterations, selected from a numerous of possible solutions, and often going back and forth when one solution proves itself to not be the optimal choice. It is a constantly shifting process of learning and developing, in contrast to a production process that can be seen as more linear.67 Van Blokland is here touching in on what I claim to be a strong argument for the need of human interaction within design processes. A program can create the iterations, but it can not know which one of them would serve the best purpose of a specific task.
Many good solutions were created by coincidences, simple gut feel, or other ridiculous reasons. When David Carson was designing the book Probes, he made the content page, playing with the number 540 which represented the amount of pages. Later, the publisher decided to reduce the book down to 400 pages, but Carson liked the design of the content page so much that he just kept the 540 concept. The result is a design that has no relevance to the content, other than an intention to something that was there before, and of course a funny story.68 This is a great example of a design decision that an AI would never do, and underlines the importance of irrationality. As humans, we need to play, to fail, to explore, and simply be silly.
Design thinking and human centered design is both approaching design challenges with the user in focus. Through collaborative and exploratory research, prototyping, and analysis, the goal is to make as user friendly solutions as possible. Several decisions being made throughout these processes lies within the human aspects, like already mentioned emotions. One would for example ask how it feels to be using an interface. Specially in design thinking, there are many techniques to investigate a subject, through role play, or brainstorming. This approach opens doors and creates connections that might only be possible through this play. Besides analytical skills, randomness and intuition is one of the strongest features of a graphic designer. Lukasz Lysakowski argues:
“As designers […] we will need to value input as much as we value output. We will need to get out from behind our screens and create solutions based on soft skills of human interaction. We will need to think of design as a problem solving toolkit as much as a product production process.” 69
65 Fleck, “Can design be generative?,” 200.
66 Peart, “Automation Threatens to Make Graphic Designers Obsolete.”
67 Van Blokland, “Who remembers E-books?,” 70.
68 Carson, “Design and Discovery.”
69 Lysakowski, “Automation of Design.”
4.6 Touch and voice
The technique of drawing with our hands on a surface is carved into our genes. Using tablets to mimic the same movements have been a preferred option for visual artist for a long time, and is rapidly growing as the devices are getting more affordable. Worldwide tablet market leader Wacom close to doubled their net sales from 2012 to 2016.70 Their multi touch gesture- and stylus pen operated screen tablet Cintiq, provides a glimpse of what might be a new standard for digital graphic production. There is no need to have the computer and screen separated, and further a keyboard and mouse attached. It can all be integrated into one device that allows the user to work with their hands directly on projected visuals.
Services like Google Assistant and Siri is implying the potential of virtual assistants in digital technology. Adobe is at the moment slowly releasing their AI and machine learning tool Sensei, which includes automating processes like image tagging, face expression editing, natural language processing, and voice control.71 The Adobe research team has leaked previews of how their Sensei could be used as an interactive agent in photo editing by simply giving voice commands for operations like cropping and transformations.72 These technologies are just getting better every time it is being used, and in theory, close to all commands can be executed.
If these two features are combined, we are left with an interaction environment where the traditional mouse and keyboard is replaced with hand gestures and voice commands. An approach that is far more intuitive and effective.
70 Wacom Co., Ltd., “Annual Report 2016.”
71 Adobe Systems Inc.,“Adobe Sensei and Adobe Cloud Platform.”
72 Adobe, “What If You Had An Intelligent Assistant for Photo Editing?”
4.7 Cloud services
Cloud services is replacing the traditional local hard drive data storage. There are many advantages, it is cheaper than investing in a secure file vault, and you are less likely to risk potential loss from theft, fire, water damage, or other typical incidents. Most importantly, information is available from potentially any device on any location. This means you can access data from a mobile, desktop, or tablet, whether you are at home, in the office, or on the beach. When this is applied to a team working on the same documents, it radically increases the productivity and makes it possible for all parties involved to apply desired actions that are implemented immediately.
The potential of cloud services is huge. At the moment, many of them are specialized in backing up the users hard drive, or editing basic documents like texts or images. Adobe has in recent years changed their software plan to what they call Creative Cloud. Moving away from the traditional purchase of a licensed version on a CD or DVD, all of their software is now only available as downloads, and the users pay a monthly or yearly fee to use the ones they need. Within the Creative Cloud lies a library function that allows for settings, images, color palettes, drawings, brushes, patterns, and other assets to be captured and synchronized between applications.
I can picture a future scenario where cloud synchronization allows for instant communication and editing. There would be no need for a stationary system. One would only need a portable device that logs in to a server where all the computational resources are stored. Not only working documents, but also the software itself. When collaborating with others, they can be invited to have access as a reader or contributor on specific documents or programs.
4.8 Mixed reality
MR (mixed reality) allows virtual objects to be integrated in the real world. Magic Leap is a Florida based company that is in great secrecy developing a technology using MR. So far they have only released small teasers of what to expect, but it looks very promising.73 The current technology is a pair of semi-transparent glasses where you see everything around you, additionaly, virtual objects is projected as if they were part of your surroundings (Media 12). The potential of MR in a graphic designers work is hard to imagine. This could render physical protoyping to be obsolete, as it would be possible to view anything in true scale from a first person perspective. Not to mention the new challenges of designing graphic user interface that is ment to adapt on top of the real world.
73 Kelly, “Hyper Vision.”
4.9 Summary of the future
Graphic design is a term that is likely to be replaced by other more specific job descriptions. Technology, has not only changed the way graphic designers work, but expanded the profession into multiple branches. There will be a reduction in the total working force as we know it, but what is not included is the potential new occupations that are likely to be concieved by combining graphic design skills with others, like programming or soft skills like human interaction.
Tools are likely to be more effective, and will potentially liberate designers from time consuming tasks, making it possible to expand their knowledge, specialize, or bring more clients to their portfolio. I believe the desktop computer will be superflous, and substituted with voice commands and on-screen hand gestures. There will be no need for local storage on individual devices, as increasing connection speeds will allow servers to deliver information within milliseconds.
Nobody knows for certain what the future will look like, and there are a lot of speculations and trends pointing in different directions. As we have surpassed the milestone of computation memory and power, it is now up to the collective industry to push technology further. It should go without saying, but it will be more important than ever that one should imagine that anything is possible, and try to think outside the box when approaching every task. Collaboration and open source is likely to be more important, and through for example generative design, we will see unimaginable solutions in creative projects, graphic design included.
A good user experience design is invisible. If this claim is applied to the tools that are being used today in graphic design, there is big room for improvement. Try to imagine an office where technology is invisible. Just like sound and smell, it flows in the room, available from all corners, and only reveal itself when it is needed.
What makes the graphic designer unique and irreplaceable for a machine at this point is not the product being shipped, but the process of getting there. The research, reasoning, trial and error, selection, user testing, iterations, discussions, revisions. The creativity. The potential of AI is huge, and it will be really interesting to follow the evolution of this technology, and how the design industry as a whole will implement it. Not only in crafting, but also in management, marketing, and research tools.
Aesthetic complexity proves itself through all the different expressions that is out there. All designers have their personal signature on their works, even though they might be related to each other and using similar techniques and styles. If an AI was to take over the complete design process, would we lose the variation and complexity? Would everything look the same? Hopefully this will not be a matter of concern, but we must be open to the possibility that full automation is achievable.
Through my research, I am however convinced that the graphic designer is irreplaceable. Computers and machines is likely to take over many of the tasks that is being performed by humans today, but graphic design is a process that is both tangible and abstract, just like people are, and that is in my opinion the most fundamental and unique feature that will be key in the future. Besides, why do people choose this occupation? It is varied, complex, ever evolving, creative, communicative, infuential, and last but not least, it is fun!
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Media 1: The Forty-Two Line Bible. Johannes Gutenberg. Genesis 1-1, folio 5, recto. From the Morgan Library. Accessed June 1, 2017. http://www.codex99.com/typography/images/incunabula/gutenberg_morgan_lg.jpg.
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Media 6: Screenshot of an Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 Action script.
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Media 9: What is associated with artificial intelligence? High pace group mindmapping from the class “Research Proposal” with Prof. Emily Smith. Various contributors, 2016.
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Media 11: Toby Kebbell in Black Mirror, The Entire History of You, 2011. Accessed June 1, 2017. https://image.tmdb.org/t/p/original/lhZmmQ6HSIYCo4Rxe6pmHMvkJE6.jpg.
Media 12: Still of a video preview from Magic Leap, 2016. Accessed June 8, 2017. http://cdn.pingwest.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/magic-made-real.jpg.
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