Ally or Enemy?

Speculating on the future of design in the age of intelligent machines.

Design research
Future scoping
Speculative design
Concept prototyping
Art direction
Digital Design
12 weeks

This is a practice-led research thesis project for MA Communication design in Falmouth University. 

Research paper available upon request

The Challenge

To speculate on the future of design under this three questions:

  • Are you afraid of robots taking over your job?
  • Do we still think the creative industry is safe from automation?
  • Will AI/robots be an ally or enemy to designers?

The Outcome 

I created Michael Barnes – a computationally generated (Python, Markov chain sequencing, etc.) “designer” complete with unique portfolio, biography and manifesto. Barnes represents but one randomised version of a potentially exponential number of “designers” and “portfolios” that could have been algorithmically generated – thus acting as a provocation around the future of design in the age of intelligent machines. 


Throughout my master’s degree, I was very interested in the intersection between design, technology and human. To continue my previous project {  }topia, I decided my MA final research topic as ‘Future of Design’.

I first brainstormed to pose different questions imagining the future of design industry.

Understanding Emerging technologies

While conducting a research about how far current technology has come, I explored and studied the area of Moore’s law, quantum computing, machine learning, neuromorphic computing etc.

With today’s technology accelerating more than ever, I started to contemplate on what role I could play as a designer dealing with this big phenomenon.

Exploring the intersections of art, technology and fictional narrative

I looked into how other artists and designers respond to the advancement of technology and apply that into projects in different forms. From the first ever exhibition exploring the intersection of computer and art, ‘Cybernetic Serendipity’ in 1968 to real time code art, ‘Re-coded by SFPC’, technology has always been an critical medium for artists and designers.   

Also, my idea was influenced a lot from fictional projects using narrative of improbable scenarios such as ‘Meet Graham’- an interactive lifelike sculpture showcased through a road safety campaign, ‘Tinfoil hat’ worn in the belief or hope that it protects the brain from government surveiliance.


3 Key concepts for the project.

From what I explored, I set a goal to use this project to make people to explore and engage with provocative questions about future when we have AI/Robots take critical part in design industry. Rather than giving a solution, I wanted my final outcome to be interpreted poetic and playful.

I did the Oblique strategies card exercise to come up with ideas into action. This process further inspired me and provided interesting and relevant ideas to help construct final outcome. 

Final Concept 

Artybollocks generator came up during
oblique strategies exercise. This nonsensical instant artist statment generator was fun to play with but also posed some questions about the issue of automation in creative industry.

Is AI/Robot an ally or enemy to designers?
Do we really want this to happen?
Then what would be an ideal AI?

To highlight these questions about technological futures and open a discussion with a broader audience, I came up with an idea to make fake persona’s website - a public platform where people can explore, speculate and contemplate on questions about future possibles.

Experimenting and tinkering

With my idea of a fake persona, I flied to New York to bring my concept to life. I attended a two week intensive course in School for Poetic Computation(SFPC). This programme was designed to explore the practice of generative writing using Python.

With no previous python experience, generating a predictive text machine to make a fake persona within a short period of time was challenging but extremely rewarding. While learning and working with amazing teachers and peers, this stage of the process helped me tremendously to find a viable solution and bring it into life.

One of quotes from the last class by Taeyoon Choi really resonated with me.

SFPC describing itself as a decelerator instead of an accelerator also met my goal of the project - to provide time and space for speculating about future while technology is accelating more than ever.

From Ross Goodwin’s Predictive text machine class, I learnt about Long short term memory(LSTM) and explored different algorithms that are used to make a predictive text machine with data of my own choice.

This became the basis algorithm for the final solution.

Implemented Solution

Using Python, I experimented with Natural Language Processing(NLP) and used Recurrent Neural Networks(RNNs) to make a predictive text generator. This was built as a website to give experience and pose more questions about future of design.

Michael Barnes is a fake persona generated by the computer algorithm, collaborated with a human, myself, as a public platform to speculate and contemplate about the future of design in the age of intelligent machines.

Every text on website including his name, biography, manifesto and project blurb are entirely fictitious. ‘He’ has been computationally generated using a combination of tools (Python coding, Markov Chain sequencing, existing image generators, etc.) and data ‘scraped’ from various materials and websites. Thus, Michael Barnes represents but one randomised version of a potentially exponential number of ‘designers’ and ‘portfolios’ that could have been algorithmically generated.


Barnes may not be the best designer yet, and his website is a hoax. However, he is a method to underline where we are at with current technology and how much we want this technology to be involved in our lives in the future.

Visit his website and ping him a message. He will get back to you in less than a milli-second.

Copyright © 2019 Sekyeong Kwon