AI and Machine Learning — 2019 The Year of Design Thinking Automation

John Knight
Oct 18, 2015 · 5 min read

Can machines do the work of designers? Is it possible that computerised design tools and systems go beyond just rendering and do the full creative bit too? Could Design Software replace Design Thinking? It sounds far fetched but I think so. Just look at how easy design software is getting; that won’t stop in fact the notion of ‘designer’ will become more and more meaningless as more people and machines do it.

I believe we are at the beginning of a revolution where machines gradually take over swathes of traditional design jobs including work in concepting, visualisation, production and refinement. In this new world the creative process itself will become Design Thinking 2.0. Human aided design will continue; but only as niche artisanal crafts or within highly technologised workforces.

The human hegemony in creativity is ending. The first signs of automation can be seen in bordering areas such as marketing and even in hard-core disciplines like programming itself. Given that both marketing and programming can be delivered from a discrete set of inputs, developed according to a set number of variables and output through a defined number and type of channels, they can logically be automated and so design can be too.

Check out what’s happening in advertising for example. What was once a wholly human enterprise, built on human ingenuity is now increasingly mechanised and done at the touch of a button. Rather than Mad Men we have an increasingly ‘programmatic’ workforce involved at every stage from strategy and spend through to creative exploration and delivery. True some bits rely on human imagination and that may well continue but the creative direction of a campaign is a definable and separable piece of work that can fit into an automated process around it.

Dynamic marketing and the possibilities of endless real-time optimisation through digital connectedness is merely the tip of the iceberg of creative mechanisation. The creative worker will be a rarity soon as we see more tools such as MVT enter the design lifecycle. Optimisation speeds up feedback loops with the potential to make tactical refinements by machine rather than through the traditional human creative director. Take the behmoth of Design Thinking, ideation; that too can and will be taken apart and put into generative concept development software and systems.

Programmatic exemplifies the core generative quality of Design Automation. Sophisticated algorithms that target, improve and personalise design deliverables means that reverses the creative principle of one size fits all and the human/computer split in creative work. It cannot be long before someone links targeting, optimisation and creative production technologies together to create marketing workflows that are greater than the sum of parts and deliver highly personalised creatives (in the ad sense).

You might think that advertising can be more easily reduced to numbers and thus automation than other creative jobs and sectors. I would argue that design is not just as amenable to mechanisation but is implicitly built on it. Perspective was no ‘designerly’ notion but a scientifically based and enabled technological shift in rendering reality. While the design community promote warm, fluffy Design Thinking, the reality is that creativity itself is but a set of reducible cognitive heuristics applied to external stimulus and human need through a mix of people and stuff.

With core capabilities such as Design Thinking becoming automated in the near future, the need for human-aided design will decline. As design lifecycle systems are linked together and the learning algorithms they use exposed to real world problems, the machines will gradually take over. And do a better job than people, maybe? Don’t worry, creative people are likely to find ingenious ways to get by and subvert the rise of machine learnt artistic activity. But swathes of what we now call the Creative Industries will be computerised leading to the precise role of human creativity being reduced in scale and refined in scope.

Imagining this near to future world of increasingly mechanised creative work, we can only guess at how far the shift between people and machines will go. What is clear is that the potential to network nodes of production (e.g. ideation through to distribution) is a close at hand opportunity. In the next few years, expect designers to work within a highly technologised process (Design Science) that will include origination and refinement of everything from banners and cars. The people involved? they will be as likely to be math graduates as aesthetes wiht less sticky notes and sneakers and more fractal equations in their pocket.

Soon creatives will pull the levers of design systems and dial up wizz rather than authoring or creating artefacts from scratch themselves. Merged authoring and optimisation programmes will produce arrays of new stuff which will then be tweaked and endlessly refined probably without human intervention other than by an increasingly active audience. Rather than a world of singular one off designs we will consume stuff in a continual aesthetic flux and experience dynamic personalisation predicated on automatisation.

Design Scientists will tweak the values, select the parameters and apply relevant aesthetics models for the system to work with rather than working up stuff and passing over to developers. They’ll probably build generative experiential programmes based on gestalt principles rather than rendering. Design Thinking will be a filter to apply just as Monochrome, Novelty and Complexity will be. Anything transient like fashion will go to the way of machines and stuff will move and change at clock speed rather than good old seasons.

Tomorrow’s creative might get their hands dirty too; to tweak the outputs of the machines to take off the artificial edge that will be the bane of the future designer and consumer. Everything will look the same endlessly. Premium products and services will be marked by their artisanal feel and slow to market trajectory even if they are digital. Indeed it’s probable that the only ‘designerly’ trades which survive in their pre-digital form will be the crafts such as typography where the hand, eye and imagination are a value add and the boutique product and service makers. Even some of the marketing bodes are reacting against programmatic and promoting a hands on premium offer. Lastly, consider the authenticity premium in other artisanal fields including photography and writing: Walter Benjamin, Malcom McLaren and Warhol were all correct just a bit behind the curve of all out cultural automation.

Dystopia? Not really the rise of Design Science is merely automating that most human of needs — novelty, which fortunately will no longer be a worry for the designers of the future as there will be a programme for that. Instead design will have the potential to reach deeper into experience and produce the most exquisitely human kind of things.

©John Knight, 2015

John Knight

John Knight

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Entirely personal views on #DesignScience #Ergonomie #NewWaveUX Making sketchy futurstic stuff with paper, pencils, humans and binary since 1964 PhD @aaltoARTS

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