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Abstract

In 1984 Apple’s Macintosh started the desktop publishing revolution in Graphic Design, encouraging designers to move from the workbench to the computer screen by virtue of the ability to change fonts or colours with just a click of the mouse. Today, we are on the verge of a different revolution – Artificial Intelligence in Design. The question would be if it is going to replace us completely or benefit us in some way or another. Within deep exploration of the subject and comparing other areas that have been already influenced by it, I can state that we have nothing to be afraid of, as long as we are in control. It will even have the capacity of letting us explore different channels of communi- cation and visual interaction with end-users.

Acknowledgements

I am taking the opportunity to express my deepest acknowledgements to everyone, who has been helping me complete this research project. I would like to specially thank my tutor Dr. Simon Bell for inspiring my thirst for knowledge with his passionate ways of teaching, and motivating me to apply myself in order to complete this module with gratitude for the knowledge I acquired.

Introduction

In 1984, the desktop publishing revolution (Tselentis, J. 2017) began with Apple’s Macintosh, allowing the graphic designer to move from the workbench to the computer screen, having more control over his content than ever before. He could change a font or a colour with just a click. Despite the hand-crafted materials’ high-end look, the solution to the otherwise stressful decision-making problem behind it, has made its way to the digital realm, where with just a simple key combination, every wrong action could be retrieved. It has simplified the whole process. With that brief look back in history I aim to show that Graphic Design has already been influenced by a tiny bit of Artificial Intelligence, helping the designer achieve more for less. With the recent versions of our most beloved graphic software like Adobe Photoshop, for example, we are capable of working faster and more efficiently, thanks to the dozens of shortcuts and functionalities, designed to ease down the physical work and let us spend more time on the general idea of graphic design – conceptual thinking. Back in the days, designers used to struggle for hours in order to complete a simple task that today’s generation is doing with a click of the mouse. But this is just the beginning. Predictions for the future in the area vary and they are all united around the bright opportunities we will come onto. For example, according to Miguel Lee, 

“Specialized and highly technical methods of executing work inevitably become simple ‘buttons,’ empowering designers to realize their vision and build richer and more meaningful experiences without technological hindrances. The battlefield for high-end execution will continue to evolve away from a heavy-lifting contest and into a chess game.” (Lee, M. 2017). 

Therefore, we are on the verge of a similar revolution, as Artificial Intelligence makes its way more and more into the graphic design field, exploring new ways of visual communication, taking on to a variety of new platforms and channels. As with the past events that I mentioned, some services are now thoroughly trying to adapt to the new wave of technology coming our way. For example, “The Grid” is a service that claims to be using AI to build a website, without any coding or design skills needed whatsoever: “AI websites that design themselves” (Anon. 2016). Apps like Prisma or Autodraw, on the other hand, help you create interesting graphic outcomes with pictures and doodles for fun in a matter of seconds. And although their method of work execution may be different, all these services are united by the general idea of allowing the user to have an effortless experience with a satisfying and swift result. How? By getting rid of the mundane tasks that are accompanied with the creative process! After all, according to the Coventry University’s Graphic Design Programme Specification (Coventry University, 2012), the graphic designer is responsible for demonstrating a deep understanding of the creative task, that he has been assigned to do, and execute it accordingly with an intellectual and original approach. He is supposed to have the knowledge to identify the matter of the brief and respond to it suitably, in order for it to do its purpose correctly. I dare to claim that some of the tasks that we have to do have nothing to do with that definition and would classify as “mundane”. Moreover, the design process in general is a complex string of research, planning, experimenting, brainstorming and crafting, so therefore, some of the tasks in the whole process desperately need to be automated. For example, creating a wireframe for an app, or match colours, or anything that requires physical work in that matter. Its possible applications are endless.

Chapter 1

The mundane designer tasks in the creative process.

Nowadays, every designer, often or not, finds himself in the situation of not knowing how to approach a specific project: “What colour scheme should I use?”, “What font combination would be appropriate for this concept?”, “Is this layout going to fit the typography?” – the list goes on. So, according to The Grid’s slogan, I can easily come to the realization that many of these questions will be answered as Artificial Intelligence develops – automatically generated, personalized content that fits our likings as designers, and gets the boring job done, just by a couple of clicks. Generally, the graphic design process is a long and unique process, that requires not only great technical skills, but intellect and creativity as well. Time is precious for each project. Therefore, it is only a matter of time for us to realize that the simple tasks, that we usually do by ourselves, should be automated, so we can concentrate on what is really important for the project – applying our imagination and understanding of the matter. Isn’t that the main responsibility of a graphic designer, after all? Speaking of my own personal experience, whenever I get assigned with a creative task, I often find myself confused by all the resources I have got to choose from and combine, and usually it takes me some time to identify my starting points for each project. So, I ask myself “what if I had a tool that generates all these for me?” – getting a handful of options to start off with, like a template, but highly personalized and unique. The same thing goes for the technical execution of certain tasks, that I sometimes struggle to complete, only because it is consuming more time, that my deadline allows me to. All these “errands” could be really boring to complete too, making the creative process rather tedious than interesting in general. Let’s take a look at some of the frameworks I use when designing a website – Font-Awesome1 and Bootstrap2. They are both developed with the purpose of simplifying the process of technical work, allow the designer to easily make alterations throughout the creation of a website and use these ready-made resources freely. This is a small-scale example of the first step of how Artificial Intelligence is set to help our design society out – by having loads of already-made design resources, that it combines in working order, on our demand. Moreover, designing graphic materials in different variations is one of the annoying tasks we come across in the creative process. It could be really time-consuming and demotivating. Similarly, there are some algorithms that are designed to generate those for us. For example, Netfix have developed a script (Brownlee, J. 2017) which creates posters from scratch by detecting certain image’s focal point, text placement and image clustering. It easily adapts itself to fit a certain target audience, by adjusting the language of the film title, for example. Yes, all these could be easily made by a human being, but think about the time that is being saved throughout the whole process. Let’s look at what Erik Brandt, professor of graphic design at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, says (Gosling, E. 2017)

“I would benefit from a voice recognition interface to use with programmes like Illustrator or InDesign, where I could sit comfortably and say ‘right I’d like a big red circle…no, a little smaller,’ and so on. That idea of a surround sound interface VR environment is almost already initiated in a sense, I’m not talking Minority Report style with the specialized gloves, but a system which would work intuitively and purely by voice interactions. That seems quite attractive to me – I would like to just be able to say ‘I’d like that a little tighter, let’s adjust that by 0.5’. That sort of system also makes the idea of teaching design really exciting too. A real barrier for a lot of new students in particular is that there’s this illusion that there’s something we’re not teaching them, or these ‘secrets’ that could somehow solve design. With an interface like the one I described, it would be much easier to convey the fact that design is a physical thing; it’s an activity, it’s emotional and it’s within your grasp, it’s not just about the computer!” (Brandt, E. 2017).

Thinking about his words, he is utterly righteous, making good points and predictions. However, there is something that makes his words even more interesting and the reason for that is an experiment by Autodesk with a robot called Bishop (Conti, M. 2017). This robot has been set up to help a human being cut out holes in a drywall for outlets. Sounds boring, but the interesting bit is that Bishop is being told in plain English what to do in real time, combined with simple hand gestures to result in execution of the task with perfect precision. In this collaboration, the human brain is used for what is really important for the job – awareness and decision-making, whereas the robot is responsible for executing the physical work and used for the things it is good at – repetitiveness and precision. This example shows that if the mankind has managed to come up with that kind of workflow for a simple task like that, then it could be applied anywhere.

Chapter 2

AI is going to make us get out of our comfort zones, why is this a good thing?

“Comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows in there”

It is pretty common to all humans to enjoy the comfort of their environment. The habits, that we develop over time, the cosiness we feel doing what we know how to do. However, it is actually a double-edged sword. We are “programmed” to feel that way, but nothing great would have ever happened, if some people hadn’t been curious enough to step outside and explore the endless possibilities that risk-taking offers. For instance, think about the large impact the first iPhone (Grabham, D. 2017) made with its launch, replacing the physical keyboard with a touchscreen, revolutionizing the mobile phone experience, making the feeling of using it similar to the experience a computer offers. With it, a gigantic wave of technology development has flooded the area, in order for us to have all these smart gadgets today. Thanks to that, a revolution started in the web design field, allowing mobile phone users to navigate through websites directly via their phones, wherever they are, setting a new test before web designers – shrinking the content of an entire website into the small screen, but as we can all see, the solution was born with responsive websites, that automatically detect the resolution of the viewing device and adapting to it its content. It is the butterfly effect that made that revolution happen – if Steve Jobs had not gone out of his comfort zone, this would have never happened, because the comfort zone in design is going with the flow. Similarly, in the design process, whatever brief we are given, most of us approach it with the exact same pattern of work that we are used to. However, the question is how will this continue to happen, if something reshaped our perception of “work”? If something set a similar test before us, that we certainly needed to pass. Think about the way cinemas in the past had big signs on the front and each day, people were changing the letters on it in order to announce the day’s projections. When the world went digital, not only people weren’t responsible for changing them each day, riskily climbing on a ladder, but they could fit the whole week’s projections on screens. Digitalization brought ease into the experience these workers had. Ironically, somehow the results from going outside the comfort zone bring more comfort and convenience than in the first place. But what is so comforting in the everyday tasks that we repeatedly do over and over again? Where exactly could we draw the line between comfort and boring, because it is a really thin one. These kinds of tasks may vary from day to day by being different in context, but in the end, the general approach of executing them is the same. Maybe the fact that we are all so used to doing them made them our understanding of comfort. But if everybody was keen on doing these same basic tasks constantly, we would never have seen any development in the world, not just in graphic design. We have a community today, that is rather too unsure to take a risk and try something new and experiment. Fortunately, as AI develops to the level of becoming an integral sidekick to every designer and the mundane jobs in the process get taken over by it, we will have no choice but to emigrate from the comfort zone and start exploring new horizons. Think about how much the creative world is going to expand and develop by making the designers change their habitat. Imagine how much creativity will follow this revolution by inspiring designers achieve more and push themselves to reach new peaks, because let’s face it, this is what risk does. It is addicting and motivating. And maybe in the future, what we call today “getting out of the comfort zone” will become that zone instead.

Chapter 3

How is the User Experience going to get affected?

Nowadays, the most powerful digital services have a well-developed strategy by personalising a service for given target audience or even specific users. We come across it daily in the newsfeeds of the social networks, search engines, online-shopping websites and a variety of other online services. However, what really is intriguing is what exactly is the designer’s role in this ecosystem? Designers usually do not have the skills to create something similar – developers are responsible for those. If we look at Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” feature, we see that it uses a design template that it fills with specific for each user songs, and displays it as a piece, while its recommendation system does the work in the backend. Amazing! Now imagine every online service or software having this kind of functionality, the possibilities would be literarily endless. Actually, there is a term for that called “Anticipatory Design” (Busche, L. 2015). If you think about it, it has been around for ages now, ever since “Clippy3” in Windows. It basically works on the pattern “if the user does this, then show them that”. Of course, with the development of technology, there are now a lot of tools that are doing sophisticated functions according to users’ behaviour, but the general idea stays the same. With that kind of integration in the software designers use, it would be able to study our work habits and learn from them. More importantly, it would gather data from the users, which is essential for the design process. A great example of anticipatory design is Facebook. For ages people were notoriously labelling the social network for alienating people from one another, but now they have a feature, which shows in real time where your friends might be, based on yours and their locations. That way, they are encouraging people to make actual physical encounters. As machine learning is developing at such fast paces, it is not going to be long before we start to live in a world, where computers generate certain results, just by collecting data from the users, without their technical contribution and doing a lot more in a matter of seconds that no human can. That way User Experience is going to change for the better, with AI’s possibility of personalising its content specifically for each and unique user. With that in mind, designers will mostly benefit – imagine a software, that learns your habits – helping you on a project, before you even started, or simply telling the computer “I want a responsive layout for a business website” and in seconds you get a variety of choices, matching your criteria. Interestingly, it is happening right now. In fact, Autodesk are developing a software called “Project Dreamcatcher” (Autodesk, 2016) that does all that. The developers define it as a generative system, that understands its users. They give out as an example their attempt to create a drone chassis, that needed to be as lightweight as possible. All they told it was that it must be with four propellers, light and its shape – aerodynamic. All the choices regarding materials and dimensions were left to the Artificial Intelligence to make. Then, the computer calculates how to generate perfect matches for the criteria and after a short while, it comes back with thousands of designs to choose from, ready for manufacturing, that no designer would have imagined by himself or done in that timespan. What gets me the most is that there have not been any images or drawings of a drone chassis in its database, meaning it created all that by itself. Similarly, they used it to create a cabin partition for the new Airbus A320, that is half the weight of the original, but stronger. It is simply building a more efficient world for us to live in. With that in mind, that kind of technology is transferable to a great amount of areas, including graphic design. Especially graphic design. It can revolutionise the way we create. By collecting huge amounts of user data and learning behaviour, it could make the creation of a poster for example, dependable on just the idea. And done in minutes also. Adobe are now working on a project Adobe Sensei, which literally does most of these tasks. It constantly collects huge amounts of content and user behaviour in order to create this design “Utopia” in the future. Moreover, it helps with everything along the creative process, from font adaptation and image matching to finely targeting specific audiences. It even suggests better solutions for the user’s design problems. Does that mean AI has now intuition? Let’s say I want to go for a drive, but there is a solid snow cover on the road. Logically, I wouldn’t take the risk, thanks to my human-made decision produced by my intuition. And we usually take these decisions simultaneously. Machines are now starting to develop that kind of instinct and soon enough we’ll be benefiting from the best possible feedback. We’d be able to receive an error check that is not only generated in a matter of seconds, but extremely accurate. More importantly, it could be used to solve important global issues that we have been battling for ages in our age, not only in design like global warming or water shortage for example. 

Chapter 4

What is the next step?

“It’s dark sci-fi stuff. Machine learning isn’t dark sci-fi stuff. It’s technology that’s really going to positively impact people’s lives.” (Hudson-Powell, J. 2017)

Unfortunately, I can not state with certainty what exactly is going to happen in the world of graphic design with the invasion of Artificial Intelligence in it. Luckily, there are some perfect examples of how AI’s interference made creative professionals from similar areas to start having different job roles now. It is going to augment us and the way we work, and we’ll be doing the same thing for it. It is going to help us create a better creative world. For me, the path we are walking on right now and our destination are as much in favour of the physical world, as it is for the digital. Although a lot of people preach the idea of robots taking over human jobs in the future, and is actually true in some sectors, I want to explore the idea of a world where robots, Artificial Intelligence and people start to inhabit a new collaborative workspace. A world, where we all work in sync, distributing the tasks evenly and accordingly. Let’s take for example the robot Bishop from Chapter I again. It recently worked on a project called “The HIVE” (Autodesk Applied Research Lab, 2015) that had a goal to prototype the whole process of human-robotic collaboration by solving a difficult design problem and to propose a new workflow for the future with that group project. The humans were responsible for manipulating the wooden material, which would have been hard for the robot to do. On the other hand, Bishop did the winding, which would’ve been almost impossible for a person to execute. And it was all controlled by AI. They all worked in complete unison to build the item perfectly. And this is exactly what we can expect from the future. Imagine having that kind of expert help in the everyday design workflow. There are tons of designers that I personally know, who complain that despite their knowledge and ideas, they can’t complete a certain project properly and the way they want to. Isn’t that the same issue with the example I just gave? It will simply extend the graphic designer’s capabilities and allow us to create everything we are aiming at, because mundane is not only the things we find boring to do, it is the things we hate doing too.

Conclusion

In the future, the general idea of Graphic Design may be still keen on conceptual ideas, historical reference points and good visual language, but the process of how designers will deliver it will surely change and even become specifically concentrated towards conceptual thinking, interaction and exploring new virtual horizons. We just need to adapt to these changes. Artificially generated typography, colour schemes and layouts are going to march their way in and help us get rid of this rather boring process of choosing these by ourselves individually. Imagine endless choices, right in front of us, generated in a matter of seconds. That way, instead of spending hours on finding the appropriate assets, designers would hopefully use that time to develop a deeper understanding of the creative task and create a better experience for the end user. In order to achieve that and have an actual benefit of, AI will need to be designed to collect as much information for a given project as possible, so it can be specific in its suggestions. I suppose most people’s reaction would be “Hey, if I get all these choices, why should I pay so much for a design from a professional, if I can do it myself?” but we as designers, will still have the power to apply skills, that are beyond anything that is artificially generated. Moreover, graphic design is going to be so different in terms of deliverables, that only the trained professionals will be able to cope with the job. As humanity is about to start adapting to more intuitive and interactive tools in the everyday life, the need for new types of designers will follow. With AI’s help in the graphic design process, we as designers will be responsible for new tasks in it, having to learn new things. Due to these facts, we should be happy with this development, since there has not been a major revolution in the way graphic design is delivered for ages. In the past we were responsible for making the connection between creativity and intellect, and visually explain our ideas, but soon enough, we will be let to have more time for making that connection, leaving us with the really important creative tasks. As the time goes by, our kind will be continuingly trying to improve how AI thinks and creates, meaning it would need more and more data to analyze, in order to satisfy our needs. In other words, User Experience will definitely get a turn for the better as machine learning develop. It will be strictly personalized, since there will be huge amounts of data that AI will be collecting. Unsurprisingly, some people may find this threatening for their personal details, but with the help of AI and the data analyzing capabilities of which, designers would exactly know what the client desires. It will become more intuitive with all that information it collects too, meaning that it will not only be friendly to the end-user, but to graphic designers as well. To put it differently, the tasks that are not within our likings and are rather mundane, will be taken over by Artificial Intelligence. It will learn our work patterns, adapt to our workflow and become a crucial part of the design process. We are already starting to experience this with the development in the software, we have been observing lately, with the tons of features and new separate applications developed specifically for a certain area of Graphic Design like is Adobe Experience Design to web design. To summarize, we have nothing to worry about, as long as we are the ones who have the power to command over its behavior. Seeing the progress big organizations are making in the area makes me believe that we are about to reach new horizons of creating, interacting and even thinking! I am looking at a future in which designers and Artificial Intelligence are working together, augmenting each other and crafting stunning graphic outcomes.

Illustrations

  • Autodesk Applied Research Lab (2015) Hive: A Human and Robot Collaborative Building Process

References

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Appendixes

  • 1 Font Awesome is a font and icon toolkit based on CSS and LESS. It was made by Dave Gandy for use with Twitter Bootstrap, and later was incorporated into the BootstrapCDN. Font Awesome has a 20% market share among those websites which use third-party Font Scripts on their platform, ranking it second place after Google Fonts.
  • 2 Bootstrap is an open-source JavaScript framework developed by the team at Twitter. It is a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code designed to help build user interface components. Bootstrap was also programmed to support both HTML5 and CSS3.  Also it is called Front-end-framework.  Bootstrap is a free collection of tools for creating websites and web applications.
  • 3 The Office Assistant was an intelligent user interface for Microsoft Office that assisted users by way of an interactive animated character, which interfaced with the Office help content.