DESIGN AGENCY IN THE AGE OF AUTOMATION

Duration 3 days Dates April 29th, May 1st, May 19th Time 10 until 15-ish Class method Collective lectures, group discussions and individual work Results Modular letters, design generator Tools Laptop Code level Beginner to intermediate

During three days, we are going to work around the theme of agency and automation within design. What is the role of the designer in the age of automation? To what extent can agency be attributed to a non-human apparatus, and in which ways can a program and a person co-create? We will explore these questions through a simple hands-on approach.

The workshop is divided in short blocks of collective lectures, smaller group discussions and individual work moments. The main goal of the workshop is the gradual creation of a design generator through a number of short exercises, a process that will be fueled by discussions and coffee breaks. The first day of the workshop we will create visual material together to feed into our tool. The second day we will start with code and test this material in some simple programs and tools. Finally we will use a piece of code created for this workshop to make our own version of a poster generator. We will eventually collect the results on a website.

On this site we share material, instructions and a schedule, however these can all be adapted depending on our needs. Because of the unusual medium (online) of this workshop, the format itself is flexible as well.

Hard skills (code)

Some basic programming skills

Soft skills (methodology)

  • Co-creation
  • Conditional design
  • Modular design systems
  • Basic principles of automation
  • Parametrization
  • Curation

Discussion topics

  • Co-creation
  • Automation
  • Precarity

DAY 1: CO-CREATION

10:00 – 11:00 Collective Presentation Vera + questions 11:00 – 11:15 Individual Break 11:15 – 11:45 Collective Introduction participants 11:45 – 12:00 Collective Introduction workshop 12:00 – 12:45 Individual Exquisite Corpse – iteration 1 12:45 – 13:00 Groups Discuss results iteration 1 13:00 – 14:00 Individual Break 14:00 – 14:45 Individual Exquisite Corpse – iteration 2 14:45 – 15:00 Groups Discuss results iteration 2 15:00 – 15:15 Collective Conclusion day + input

This is a warm up day, where we are going to approach rule-based design systems without too much coding. We will repeat one exercise with some basic restrictions to make modular letters together.

Exercise 1: Exquisite corpse (45 min per iteration)

We are going to start our design program on a microlevel detail. For this exercise, we cut up the alphabet in 6 basic shapes, and divide these shapes amongst ourselves. For each iteration of this exercise, we are going to make a reproductions of the basic shape you are assigned. You can make this reproduction in any way and deviate as much as you want, as long as you keep into account that your design connects where the level of detail, and alternate from the original shape.

Try to ask questions that relate to the theme as a starting point of your design. What does automation mean to you? Does it excite you, make you anxious, or something else? How would you like to collaborate with your tools? Would you like surrender some agency in exchange for time? How does automation already manifest in the surroundings of your practice? The goal is to design one shape per 45 minutes per person, so don't overthink it.



  1. (5 min) Each of you gets assigned a part of a letter and one extra restriction per round.
  2. (30 min) Find or create a similar shape to your part of a letter. Base the design on the theme and how you relate to it.
  3. (5 min) Edit the image(s) with a tool you are comfortable with (see Tips for help). Make sure to create a PNG file of 1080 x 1080 px.
  4. (5 min) Upload your result to the folder.

Restrictions for each iteration

  • Make your design black and white only. No gray!
  • Output a PNG file of 1080 x 1080 px.
  • Do not communicate with other people that have a part of your letter.
  • Use material you have at home physically, or content digitally.

Tips

  • Analog creation: use paper, pencil, clay, string, foam, shadows... Photograph or scan it.
  • Digital creation: use simple shapes, try basic programs, screenshot elements of your interface and enlarge them...
  • Analog sampling: Use images or letters you find, cut them up. If you have a scanner, cut them up, enlarge them, repeat.
  • Digital sampling: use found material that is open for use with modification with Google Images's Tools, images or gravures from historical events, fragments of videos ...
  • If you need to render a picture or scan to a complete black-and-white image, you can use Photoshop's Threshold Adjustment. In Preview you can also accomplish this, via Tools>Adjust Colour. Drag the black (left) Levels tag completely to the right side of the spectrum, and set the Saturation to the minimum. You can tweak the amount of blackness by playing with the Contrast.

DAY 2: ADAPTATION

10:00 – 10:15 Collective Introduction round 10:15 – 11:30 Collective Coding crash course 11:30 – 12:00 Individual Break 12:00 – 12:15 Collective Introduction exercise 2 12:15 – 12:45 Individual Exercise 2: Parametric design 12:45 – 13:00 Groups Discuss exercise 2 13:00 – 14:00 Individual Break 14:00 – 14:45 Individual Exercise 3: Modular letters 14:45 – 15:00 Groups Discuss exercise 3 15:00 – 15:15 Collective Conclusion day + input

This day we will dive right into programming with a crash course. We will test our skills with the use of a simple program we build together, using the material generated on the first day as input.

Exercise 2: Parametric design (5 – 10 min per iteration)

For this exercise, we are going to prepare the way we want to change the letter program. With the knowledge that you've acquired, choose at least 3 parameters that you could implement on the tiles to make our letter system more interesting. Make a mock up in a software you are comfortable with of how one of these letters could change. You can address visual terms such as size, shape, colour, but also more conceptual terms or logic could apply. You can try to tell small stories in the combination of tiles, use contrasting tiles and similarities that relate to the theme as a starting point of your design, but also focus on design.

Exercise 3: Modular letters (30 min)

Pick the one parameter or a combination that you like the best from the previous assignment. Try to look in the example code and see where you could implement your logic.

  1. (5 min) Start the example script we worked on.
  2. (30 min) Tweak the parameters on the top of the code. Try out different things and try to save as many PNGs during your process (press "1" in the browser). If you feel adventurous, try looking in the rest of the code and change parameters there. Vera will help with this.
  3. (5 min) Make an order of your iteration: from most to least favorite.
  4. (5 min) Upload your result to the folder.

Restrictions for each iteration

  • The tiles have to remain the same size, but you can change the amount of it.
  • Output the letter as a square PNG file, at least 1080 x 1080 px.
  • Output at least 3 different versions of the same letter per iteration.

Tips

  • Feel free to try out some combinations in other software you are comfortable with.
  • Make the letters of one word or short sentence.
  • Change the amount of tiles per letter, add effects, filters, colours.
  • If you have questions, ask!

DAY 3: AUTOMATION

10:00 – 10:15 Collective Introduction round 10:15 – 11:15 Collective Discussion 11:15 – 11:30 Individual Break 11:30 – 12:30 Individual Exercise 4 12:30 – 12:45 Groups Discuss 12:45 – 13:45 Individual Break 13:45 – 14:45 Individual Exercise 4 – finishing up 14:45 – 15:00 Collective Conclusion workshop + proverbial drinks (probably coffee)

This day we will continue programming. We will finally reach our goal of creating a composition generator.

Exercise 4: Composition generator (60 min per iteration)

We are going to make posters, zoom backgrounds, or other compositions with the letters we have made. This time you will be given a script that you might not entirely understand, but try to tweak the parameters.

  • (5 min) Open the example script. Make a copy.
  • (45 min) Tweak the parameters to fit your idea. Vera will help with this. Try out different things and try to save as many PNGs during your process. If you feel adventurous, try looking in the rest of the code and change parameters there.
  • (5 min) Make an order in your collection: from most to least favorite.
  • (5 min) Upload your process to the folder.

Restrictions

Keep the letters in the grid.

RESOURCES

Inspiration

  • Exquisite corpses
  • Sol LeWitt’s instructions
  • Exercises de Style by Raymond Queneau
  • Conditional Design Workbook

Resources

This site was created for the workshop "Agency and Automation in the Design Field".
Vera van de Seyp, April 2020

Academy

Design Academy Eindhoven

Department

The Critical Inquiry Lab

Tutor

Vera van de Seyp

Typeface

Arial Narrow