The Robots are Taking Over Design!

A major trend in technology, not just for graphic design, is AI, or artificial intelligence. No longer just something that exists in cheesy mid-20th century Sci-Fi, AI is used in computers, in cell phones, in streaming service algorithms, in creepy “smart home” devices, even in electric cars made by egomaniacal billionaires. 

During their 2017 Adobe Max conference, Adobe released Adobe Sensei, a platform that is “designed to collapse the time between marketing ideation and execution”. Adobe Sensei is useful for a number of people in different professions, including data analysts, marketers, designers, and advertisers. For graphic designers, Adobe Sensei can automatically identify faces and buildings in images, which makes them easier to categorize and edit. Adobe Sensei can also make dramatic edits, such as removing an entire car from a video and seamlessly replacing it with pavement.

Wacky stuff.

A few new features in Adobe Photoshop’s 2021 update utilize the capabilities of AI technology. Sky Replacement, Refine Hair, Pattern Preview, Live Shapes, and, perhaps most excitingly, Neural Filters. However, there are risks to using Neural Filters. The technology to make Neural Filters look 100% realistic isn’t quite there, but considering the speed at which technology is improved, it will be soon. And when it is, designers will have the power to alter people’s expressions and skin color in photos. Unethical use of this technology could have negative effects on the people in the photos and the audience for them.

With AI being so integrated into Adobe products, this means that AI for graphic design is both inaccessible and accessible depending on the person. The full Adobe Creative Cloud Suite costs a staggering $635 a year, with individual programs costing $20.99 a month. This is a fairly hefty price to pay, but it’s an absolute necessity for any graphic designer since Adobe has its claws fully hooked into the industry.


LEGO Braille Blocks – Accessible Design?


In mid-2019, the LEGO toy company announced a program made with visually impaired children in mind- audio and Braille building instructions for their kits. This idea came to fruition after blind entrepreneur Martin Shifrin contacted the company. As a child, he enjoyed building LEGO sets off of instructions that a friend made for him in Braille. After her passing, Shifrin wished to honor his friend’s memory by giving other children the same opportunity to explore LEGOs that he had been given. 

Shortly after the project was announced, LEGO announced another product- Braille blocks. The aim of the product is to assist blind or visually impaired children to learn to read Braille and to immerse themselves in a fully hands on, fun, and engaging learning process. In an informational video put out by the company, they also tout the social interaction aspect of their product- the Braille blocks allow the user to interact with both other visually impaired children and sighted children.

The problem that this product is addressing is the low literacy rates of visually impaired children. According to a study published on Braille Works, only 8.5% of visually impaired persons between the ages of 4 and 21 knew how to read Braille. This lack of literacy closes visually impaired people off to a whole form of communication and contributes to a growing rate of poverty and unemployment in visually impaired people. This product can effectively teach children Braille from a young age, but does not tackle accessibility issues that they may face later in life that may be solved better by just creating more auditory content alongside printed content, as not every child will have access to this learning material.

From what I can see from the product itself, it seems to be made specifically for visually impaired children and their teachers in mind. The informational material however does not seem to be targeted at visually impaired people which is a misstep on the company’s part. For example, this informational video put out on LEGO’s YouTube channel is text and music only- there is no audio explaining what is being shown in the video or even what the text overlaying the video says. Another problem that this product has is that it is only available to “select institutions, schools and services catering to the education of blind and visually impaired children”- meaning that the Braille LEGO sets aren’t accessible to visually impaired children in public schools or in alternative education.


Annotated Bibliography Source #4

Ethics for the Starving Designer

This document is an abridged version of the author’s thesis- unfortunately the full thesis is no longer available online and the author did not respond to an email asking if I would be able to view the thesis in its entirety.

The author of this booklet is David Goh, a Singaporean graphic designer. In 2012, he wrote a paper titled “In Pursuit of Ethics” as a part of his graphic design undergraduate thesis. In addition to making this abridged version of that paper, he also made accompanying videos in the same style as the booklet. Goh now works as a freelance designer and illustrator in his home country.

This booklet touches on ethics in design in both a global and a Singaporean context and features cases studies from multiple countries and cites the manifestos of many previous designers who strived to uphold ethics in their work, including Ken Garland and Dieter Rams. Goh writes in length about universal ethics in design- the difficulties in establishing a set code abided by everyone globally and ways to adapt and accommodate those difficulties. Goh also found that his fellow peers did not really seem to care about the gaps in ethics present in the design discipline. He touches on apathy and what that means in the greater context of the field. 

Goh, David. Ethics for the Starving Designer. Self-Published, 2012



Annotated Bibliography Source #3

First Things Further: What are the Ethical, Social, and Political Implications of Design, and Can They be Utilised for Positive Change?

Unfortunately, this dissertation has no named author. There is no name on the publication and no name on the website hosting the PDF file. The only things known about the author are that they are a graduate graphic design student, since this is their dissertation. However, they included an extensive list of referenced sources in their bibliography and dissertations are academically reviewed so I feel like this is an important source regardless of if the author’s name is on it or not.

This dissertation is named after the designer Ken Garland’s 1964 manifesto. In this manifesto, Garland calls for designers to pivot from advertising to form “more lasting forms of communication”. This paper is meant to touch on his manifesto and expand his points from a modern day perspective, complete with academic resources. In the first section of the paper, the author explores in depth what ethics in design are and what aspects of design are affected by ethics or the lack thereof. In the next, the author uses sources to explain how design affects the society around it. And in the last section of the paper, the author looks at how other designers attempt to approach ethics in their own practices and how they succeed or fail to adhere to those ethics. 

n.a. “First Things Further: What Are the Ethical, Social, and Political Implications of Design, and Can They Be Utilised for Positive Change.” 



Annotated Bibliography Source #2

Ethics: A Graphic Designer’s Field Guide

This handbook is an expanded and revised version of the author, Eileen MacAvery Kane’s 2010 MFA thesis titled Ethics in Graphic Design: A Call to Arms for an Undergraduate Course focusing on calling for the implementation of strong ethics courses in an undergraduate graphic design curriculum.  Kane currently teaches graphic design and other related topics at Rockland Community College.

Ethics: A Graphic Designer’s Field Guide is meant to be the crash course in designer ethics that Kane feels was never given to graphic design students during their time in college. It is meant more as a tool of information and personal discussion rather than a hard set of rules that she feels designers are obligated to follow, although she does include mentions of illegal practices in design and how to make sure not to engage in them while designing. In her book, Kane covers a number of topics ranging from the legality of using copyrighted images, general plagiarism, integrity in photo manipulation techniques, the influence of designers, the ethics of designing directly for companies and products that engage in practices like greenwashing, and the morality of the discipline in terms of how it upholds a branding system as the highest indicator of value.

Kane, Eileen MacAvery. Ethics: A Graphic Designer’s Field Guide. Self-Published, 2010



Annotated Bibliography Source #1

Graphic Arts and Advertising as War Propaganda

James Aulich, the author of this paper, is a research professor at the Manchester School of Art who focuses on writing about the history of wars, mainly in Europe and Vietnam. Aulich is a member of several projects, including the Visual Cultures of Magazines Research Project and the Propaganda, Publicity, and Advertising Research Project.

In his article, Aulich describes the role that the graphic arts played in the creation of propaganda during World War I. A portion of the article touches on the rise of the poster as a minor to a major artform in the different countries fighting the war. A section of the article lays out the relationship between advertisement and propaganda; when the war hit, there was a shortage of paper to print ads on and products to advertise, so the marketers and graphic designers who worked in advertising pivoted to propaganda. This shines a deeper light into the mindset of the people in those positions. The propaganda they were pushing might just as well have been another product for them to sell. Another section of the paper highlights an underhanded tactic used by designers while creating propaganda- pieces that would intentionally lead readers to believe that it was created by the group that was insulting them.

Aulich, James: Graphic Arts and Advertising as War Propaganda , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-10-08. 



Eco-Friendly is Human-Friendly

I believe that being environmentally conscious is one of the most important things we can be not just as designers, but as people who live on Earth. Ever since the industrial revolution, humans have been guilty of excessively using the resources that the Earth has to offer, and the environmental consequences of those actions have been dire. Here in the Willamette Valley, we’ve felt the devastating effects of man-induced climate change in the last year; a once-in-a-century wildfire burning down homes in early September 2020 and a freak ice storm just last week that caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose power are just two signs of the events to come in our lifetimes. And that’s just in Oregon.

In combating climate change, we must look at the underlying cause- money. Companies make things to make money, and to make more money, costs are cut as closely as they possibly can be. For example, raw materials or the entirety of manufacturing might be expedited to countries who usually greatly underpay their laborers and do not have the same environmental standards. So, not only do the production plants produce more environmental waste, the environmental cost to ship the materials and products overseas is much higher. Companies can choose to keep manufacturing local but that would eat into profit margins, and since selfishness is a necessity when one wants to make millions, the people in charge of the companies aren’t likely to make the switch.

So if companies aren’t willing to be more environmentally conscious, its up to the consumer! The glorious system of capitalism allows the consumer to vote with their wallet, so the consumer can vote with their conscience! But to offset the minimal cost of keeping products eco friendly, companies will jack up the prices so their profits can stay the same. There’s also the green tax, where just putting “Eco Friendly” on a product can allow companies to raise the price of that product (even if it doesn’t cost more to make). So most consumers can’t afford to shop eco-friendly, and even if all of America only bought products that left small carbon footprints, it wouldn’t stop or reverse climate change.

But just because I can’t singlehandedly solve climate change myself by buying bamboo and metal over plastic doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t watch my waste, so I am. For starters, I am trying as much as possible to keep the things I buy local. In another class I’m taking, we had to document a number of food items from our pantry and fridge, and while looking where the items are produced and packaged, I found that a startling amount of my food comes from out of state. Now when I grocery shop, I try as much as I can afford to to buy food products produced locally. I try to do the same now with the things I create. I buy art supplies mainly in brick-and-mortar stores. While they have to have their inventory shipped to them, so does an Amazon warehouse, so by buying in stores, the  cargo plane fuel and the fuel for the delivery truck. Because of COVID, I don’t really make anything physical, but when I can, I will make sure to use eco friendly papers. As soon as my WIX website is at the end of its billing cycle, I’m finding a more eco-friendly web host and building my own site. While these actions are incredibly minor compared, I feel that ethically it is my responsibility to leave as small of a carbon footprint as possible.


Graphic Design is Political

Ever since I became old enough to form my own opinions and learned to stop parroting what I heard at home, I’ve held a strong dislike for politicians. Any politician, no matter the party, no matter what they say they believe in their little election campaigns. I’ve vowed to never work in politics or do anything that directly benefits a politician ever. 

The problem with being an American, however, is that  e v e r y t h i n g  is political. Public safety? Political issue. Black people being abused by the state? Political issue. A crazy high number of people not having access to healthcare? Political issue. Politics is everywhere and you can’t escape it here. You can’t afford political apathy because to be apathetic to politics in America is to ignore the suffering of millions of people. So since being an American is so political, the fact that graphic design intersects with politics is not surprising to me in the least. What was surprising to me is how learning much evil has been created through graphic design. 


Politicians and regimes need propaganda to rise to power and stay there, so they need the work of artists and graphic designers to create their graphics. Nazi propaganda was so powerful that an important religious symbol stolen from the Buddist, Hindu, and Jain religions is no longer associated to those religions by Westerners and can probably never be reclaimed by the followers of those religions in the West. To cite a recent example, an intense social media propaganda campaign elected a bankrupt reality television star to the most powerful political office in America. 

These two separate political entities occupied their respective countries almost a century apart from each other, but graphic designers played a key role in helping both. Which is why it is incredibly important for all modern designers to be aware of the impacts that their designs may have on their audience. It is every artist’s job to create ethically, which is incredibly challenging in the modern world. While of course there were designers who fully supported the people they were creating for, there are plenty who take the jobs available to them because they are jobs and they need the money. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will be able to live in societies where people are no longer forced to make difficult choices like that just to be able to feed themselves.  


Baskin Robbins’ Minty Fresh Look

International ice cream company Baskin Robbins recently announced a brand new visual identity for the company, complete with a new logo, a new wordmark, an updated typographic system, and new packaging for their products ranging from bowls to smoothie cups to pints. The company has not yet given an exact reasoning behind their decision, but it may have to do with an outpour of criticism from designers and customers alike. One of these critics is brand design legend Debbie Millman, who, in her podcast, urged design firm Jones Knowles Ritchie to give it the ol’ Dunkin treatment

A few years later she would get exactly what she asked for, as Jones Knowles Ritchie is the firm behind the ice cream company’s new identity. It seems as if Baskin Robbins made a fantastic decision when choosing where to seek help- compared to what they had previously, their new visual identity is an improvement over the old identity in every way.


Baskin Robbins’ new logo and wordmark have a few noticeable changes, but overall do not deviate too much from the original. For starters, the duller pink and blue are now electrified in a manner that is definitely closer to neon than farther from it. The same “hidden” 31 is still identifiable, but the strokes have been changed so that they’re more in balance with the rest of the logo. The logo now is able to stand firm as a complete unit.


Although the changes to the logo were needed, out of the logo and the wordmark, the latter has definitely been given the bigger rework. Jones Knowles Ritchie worked in tandem with award winning type foundry Face 37 to develop a new typeface exclusively for Baskin Robbins. This new font gave their wordmark what it needed the most: consistency. 

Towards the top of Baskin Robbins’ “About Us” webpage, the company proudly claims to have “a favorite for everyone”, and this rebrand is an attempt to appeal to everyone. While the new bright pink and blue colors would easily catch the attention of children and adults alike, the font crafted for Baskin Robbins is definitely more mature and modern than the dated and overly wacky one that it replaced.

When I first found Baskin Robbins’ new visual identity system, I was fairly against it. I knew Jones Knowles Ritchie was a huge design firm so I knew that Baskin Robbins had to throw an extraordinary amount of money at them for their rebrand. Ignorantly, I really didn’t think the end product justified the amount spent on it. But, after spending a good amount of time comparing and contrasting the two, I have to say that it’s grown on me immensely. Personally, I did not realize there were so many things wrong with the original logo and wordmark until I saw the redesigned version. These changes were most certainly for the better.


Maybe the Medium isn’t the Message Anymore.


McLuhan describes hot mediums as ones that ask for little audience participation and only engage few senses. Examples of hot mediums as given by McLuhan are print media, like newspapers, and movies. By contrast, cool mediums give the viewer less information and allow their audience to fill in their own blanks. McLuhan called mediums such as comics and television cool. 

It’s difficult to apply McLuhan’s theory of “hot” and “cool” mediums to the internet, or to most modern media for that matter. Today, you can choose to engage with things as much or as little as you want to. There’s different levels of engagement depending on what exactly the media you are consuming is. Saying “the internet” is a hot or cool medium way oversimplifies what the internet actually is. “The internet” could be Twitter or Snapchat, which could be considered “hot” media, or it could be or Wikipedia, which require more attention and more reading comprehension, so they could be considered “cool” mediums. But even that doesn’t really hold up, as people use all of these platforms for different reasons. Some people rely on Twitter as a news source and place to organize and not just to add to other people’s posts with unfunny GIFs, so would that make Twitter a “hot medium” then? Or is one part of Twitter hot and another part of Twitter cool? I believe that McLuhan’s theory is appropriate for the popular mediums of his time, but maybe not past the 1980’s.

Let’s talk about a medium of communication and entertainment that no man who lived past 1980 would have even dreamed of- video games. Yes, there were video games in the 80’s, but not like today’s ultra 4k surround sound FPS video games. These days, video games are sometimes created to tell a story and communicate real world ideas to their audience. But, some are also just created to entertain. You will not walk out of a session of playing  Candy Crush or Stardew Valley with a new perspective on your own life or on current events and they engage multiple senses, like McLuhan’s definition of “hot” media. However, there are very difficult video games you can play, like platformers and puzzle games. These games, like the “hot” games, engage with multiple senses (touch, sound, sight), but in order to play them, the participants must use critical thinking, logic, and hand-eye coordination and there is little room to fill in their own blanks. These games are neither “hot” nor “cool”.