Robots will take over design—just not good design

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The robots are coming! The robots are coming! At least that has been the mood around BrandCulture lately. We have a client who has made it their mission to battle the coming robo-workforce invasion that threatens to take everyone’s jobs. Aiding them in this fight has us thinking about our own jobs, though. In particular, we wonder whether robots will be able to produce a serviceable simulacrum of the most creative aspects of our work, like design.

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts in the UK recently released a report claiming that a full thirty-five percent of all jobs would be automated in the UK by 2030. So called “creative” jobs, though, will supposedly be spared. An interesting notion considering that most governments are currently pushing people into STEM fields. Keep in mind, robots have proven to be pretty darn good at math.

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Are “creative” jobs really any safer, though? It depends on what you mean by “creativity.” For instance, robots are quickly taking over writing. Apart from the millions of bots that spam Twitter, the Associated Press now has robots writing hundreds of articles daily through their Automated Insights platform. Robo-writers can handle simple writing tasks with alacrity. And this is what lots of writing actually is, simple and repetitive. Robo-writers do not bode well for all the twenty-something “social media specialists” we know.

While robots may handle these sorts of simple “creative” tasks with ease, we’re not expecting any Shakespearian sonnets or their ilk out of the robots. And therein lies the rub when it comes to creativity. Robots are great at repetitive creativity like tweets and simple AP articles. But rich creativity, like Shakespeare, or dare we say it, this blog post, will be more difficult to automate.

We believe the same holds true for graphic design. Squarespace, for instance, already greatly simplifies the creation of web design. There is no reason to think that a robot could not assemble the elements of a Squarespace template without human intervention (and then have Automated Insights write the copy). “The Little Boxes on the Hillside,” cookie cutter approach to design, as we mentioned back in November, simply doesn’t cut it.

Web designers who mail it in by mixing and matching a few template elements for have every reason to fear the coming robot overlords.  But there’s an opportunity for a golden age for skilled designers who will be freed up from drudgery to focus on thinking and advancing truly creative designs. We can’t assume the intentions of the coming robot revolution are beneficent, but losing our design work is not among our fears.

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