In the Future Graphic Design Layout Will Be Automated

DesignScape is an experimental system from Adobe Research and the computer science department at the University of Toronto. Its purpose is to demonstrate a system that “aids the design process by making interactive layout suggestions, i.e., changes in the position, scale, and alignment of elements.” The user is presented with a set of elements typical to most design problems—a headline, blocks of text, logo, icons and illustrations, contact information, etc. As these are manipulated, the system automatically generates new layout suggestions based on the input. The user can choose one of the suggestions to further refine, at which point the system generates still more suggestions. It’s like having a design assistant at your side as you figure out a layout problem. Watch this video to see it in action.

The examples here are crude, both in the quality of the basic elements and in the suggestions that are generated by the system. But watching the video, it’s apparent that there’s a respectable “layout intelligence” at work here; the system is making reasonably well-informed decisions about how the elements should be placed in relation to one another, resized, aligned etc.

In fact the “quality” of the design decision-making in DesignScape is based on data gathered through asking humans to produce layouts via Mechanical Turk. It’s easy to imagine that a wider scale effort involving more designers and/or more qualified designers could, at some point, produce much more refined outputs.

Even so, what’s on display here all seems fairly academic until it’s demonstrated on a tablet. Fine tuned manipulation of design elements is difficult on touch surfaces; in this context, the idea of assisted graphic design layout suddenly seems not only viable but desirable. Rather than something that might come someday in the future, it suddenly feels like something that could make sense now.

It seems safe to say that while a certain segment of graphic design will never be completely replaced by automated systems, at some point in the near future systems like this will become commonplace, either as a replacement for lower-dollar design needs, or even as a complement to big ticket design processes. Remember, there was a time when many of the world’s most famous graphic designers scoffed at the idea of ever needing a personal computer to do their work.

Learn more about DesignScape, and read the paper, at