The Plague of Sameness by@jessekorzan

The Plague of Sameness


AI won’t steal designers jobs. It’ll steal their sanity.

I’ll cop to it, I am as enamoured with the prospect of a smart mirror as anyone else. Or any number of intelligent software applications.

In fact, I work at a startup making an honest effort to build smarts into our own products and services.

In short, I am definitely down for the oncoming robot revolution.

That said, I am somewhat frustrated by it. I love the startup grind. Being in the trenches is fun. It means being wrong (a lot), cranking out iterations and surviving in a constant feedback loop. It takes thinking on your feet, relying on your team and endorsing risk. It’s almost the Pirates Lifestyle.

Talk of AI’s impact on design challenges my utopian Pirate paradise.

Certainly, efficiencies will be gained.

Personally, I can’t see AI being anything but jargon for a designers toolbox for a longtime to come. We’ve had smarts in tools like Photoshop for years. The only thing that’s changed is the culture of tech and it’s influence on the practice of design.

The majority of advancements that artificial intelligence brings to design are “assembly line” efficiencies. Cropping assets faster, crunching data to optimize user behaviour, finding 101 colour palettes at the push of a button. There’s plenty of chatter about “auto-layouts” and self-optimizing design systems. That these miracles could even take over the job of designers.

I am not so convinced. I could see the rank and file production gigs being outsourced to our robot brothers and sisters. I’ll concede that more in-depth roles in the design workflow will eventually be consumed by technology. But I have a very hard time visualizing that. I have this blind faith in being painfully human.

I’ve been a designer too long. I know how fussy, emotional and irrational humans are. Ego, trends, taste, style, culture, flannel… it’ll be a long, long time before most of design can be handed over to The Machine.

The role of AI in design, for the immediate future, is essentially automation. 
Not Drone Draper 2.0. And fairly mundane. Mundane being the challenge to my Pirate Lifestyle.

Automation == Opportunity Cost

And that’s what nags me. In digital design, we’re already fighting with the Plague of Sameness. Automating repetitive legwork and production workflows has an opportunity cost. What we gain from this technical edge is fraught with compromises. The emotion in design, the little quirks of craftsmanship, the ability to differentiate, the advantages of style… the more we automate our workflows, the more we risk losing the intangibles of design.

Sidebar: A quick read on assembly line and mass production in Wikipedia, and you can grok a little 20/20 from the auto industry.

I wouldn’t want to watch an assembly line as much I don’t want to have my digital experiences all the same. Short cuts are cool, but it’s fun to learn the hard way. That’s were craftsmanship is seeded. The alternatives are death by a thousand cuts. Each algorithm that claims to aide design chips away at our collective coolness. And the less attractive the work becomes. It sounds… boring. Really boring.

The Plague of Sameness may promise the better conversion rates or DAU, but it’s not getting my sanity. I’ll take the weird, the quirky, the risky. I’ll take the absence of boredom.

Writing this on Medium (and using the Hemingway app), I recognize the irony here. But the words are mine, for better or worse, and that keeps me interested in what I am doing.

Karl Marx, I am not. I simply don’t want The Conveyor Belt to dull my days.

In short, I am rooting for craftsmanship.