If you’ve been to a restaurant that processes payments through Square, you’re probably familiar with this interface:

“A payment is not completed until you’ve passed the signature and confirmation screen,” reads Square’s Support Center. Like its pen and paper equivalent, the digital signature signifies an agreement between the merchant and the customer. It’s intended to be a means of verification, a guarantee that I’m good for it 👌.

But where hand-written signatures can be differentiated by depth and line thickness, digital signatures are “written” in a single line weight and by one’s pointer finger. This provides signees with limited control of their signatures’ shapes, lengths, or arcs: traits handwriting experts use to determine whether a signature is authentic or fraudulent.

For me, the use of a physical metaphor in a digital tool prompts the question: What is the value of a signature, particularly in an age where AI can replicate human handwriting?

Despite the implications of AI’s that tap into & replicate our creative characteristics, I still believe that the intention to create art comes from our very human need to communicate: to make intelligible our thoughts & feelings; to shape meaning.

Back to Square.

Square eliminates the waste of paper receipts by sending the customer a digital copy of the receipt as an email or a text.

Halfway through the receipt is a copy of the signee’s digital signature; it’s easy to miss & dismiss. Clicking on the signature, however, allows the signee to download it as a PNG.

The digital signature appears atop a transparent background.

This discovery provided the inspiration for our zine: We could quickly create collaborative doodles that would become digitally available for us to do whatever we wanted. We could use an otherwise trivial thing to make art!

Rather than altering the signatures, though, we decided to stay true to the constraints of the medium from which they came.

To create a vector from the digital signature, the PNG is brought into Illustrator, Live Traced, and Expanded.

We also decided that we would document in the zine the time & place of the digital signatures. For me, these time & location stamps are small tokens of some of my favorite memories with one of my favorite people. Looking at the doodles, I can remember which parts came first — which parts were Raymond, which were me, which were us building on what the other had drawn.

The vector is brought into Photoshop and placed on a canvas equivalent to 1/8 of a US Letter paper. Time & location are taken from the receipt.

We started these doodles in the beginning of June. By mid-July, we had compiled more than enough doodles to fill a 12-page 8.5" x 5.5" zine.

The challenging part was picking a title for the front cover. We didn’t want the front cover to stray from the medium yet we wanted to differentiate it from the inside pages. We didn’t want to be too literal yet we wanted to acknowledge where these signatures came from.

We realized that the title had literally been in front of us:

Square’s digital signature interface

We traced the instructions on the screen, personalizing it with our own imperfect “handwriting”. And for the back cover, it was only appropriate to conclude the zine with our actual signatures.

Each page of the zine as an artboard in Photoshop.

When I told my friend Brian about this zine, he responded, “I always see the young kids disrespect the fuck out of the iPad signatures at Toast.”

Who’s checking?

P.S. Tip your bartender. Especially if they let you doodle.

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