When graphic designers started to work with creative software, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they experienced the intervention of a new kind of automation for the very first time. A simple graphic design action like typing text into a ‘textbox’ and subsequently ‘dragging’ it with a skilled movement of the computer mouse to a certain position on the page -i.e. the digital or ‘virtual’ page in itself an automation of a real-time physical process of handling a piece of paper – would be instantly overruled by a ‘snap-to-grid’ function. The software would automatically place the text on a point on the layout grid as closest to where the designer had ‘dropped’ the text box.

Most designers would and did cringe by such an invasion of their design autonomy.

Their anger and frustration would flare up especially when they were dealing with those programs that had these automated functions enabled by default. Software packages renowned for triggering discontent among designers were of course Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. Both creative software packages mainly developed for everyone else but designers. It was meant for people that did not have any design skills but wanted or needed to come up with professionally designed slides and brochures in their daily office tasks.

It is interesting though to use this as an example because it shows that we are not talking about the automation of human labor any longer. Unless the dragging movement of a computer mouse, the tool to interact between the real and the virtual world, between the human and the machine, is considered labor of course. Nevertheless, it is not so much the automation of the actual physical dragging of the text in a certain position as it is the assisting power of the automated functions within the software that becomes the dominant character of automation from then on. Automation as aid or assistance.

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The Automated Designer is a research topic studied for the author’s MBA thesis paper at The Berlin School of Creative Leadership.