Creative jobs will be "mechanised and
outsourced just like car manufacturing"


Photograph by Shutterstock

News: automated tools threaten to make designers redundant as machine algorithms replace human creativity, the Mayor of London's former cultural strategy manager has claimed.

As a result, Britain's creative industries could suffer the same fate as the country's eroded heavy industry and manufacturing sectors, argues Tom Campbell in a recent post for the culture and creativity consultancy BOP.

"We have become accustomed to the notion that manual labour in the UK has been rendered obsolete, uncompetitive or poorly paid," he writes. "To put it bluntly, it seems that high-skill occupations can be mechanised and outsourced in much the same way as car manufacturing and personal finance."

Power, intelligence and creativity now reside in the digital tools of the design industry rather than with the people who use them, he says.

"Using many of these applications becomes no more than clicking through a series of menus and agreeing to recommended choices," he argues. "The modern creative professional is becoming increasingly like the machine operator of the Victorian industrial economy."

Campbell also believes there is no reason why the work of a British designer could not be done faster and cheaper elsewhere.

"Much is often made of the 'creative process', but it is just that, a process, and as such, it can also be an algorithm," he says, pointing out that while politicians celebrate creativity and economists try to measure it, "computer scientists have been getting on with understanding and replicating it."

Last month the UK government abandoned controversial plans to remove design and other creative subjects from the school curriculum. D&AD president Neville Brody had previously described the plans as "insanity", telling Dezeen: "The creative industries need high-quality creative graduates. If we're not getting the graduates, we’re not going to sustain the industry."

However Campbell believes that although the creative sector is highly educated, it exhibits the characteristics of the unskilled service sector: "Uncertain career progression, low levels of investment in training, precarious working conditions, eroding wages, and the endemic use of unpaid interns and casual labour."

Campbell argues that the process of delegating creative jobs to computers has already begun: "It may still be some time before robots are writing novels or painting pictures, but it is striking how many of the UK’s most high-profile creative industries have already been automated," he argues. "In music, for instance, it is disquieting how easy it now is to produce a record of commercial quality."

Photograph by Shutterstock.

  • I’ll never believe that a machine has inspiration, vision and creativity. We are safe!

  • h.a.

    The next job to be mechanised is the politician.

    • Duncid

      And that would probably be an improvement!

  • Crack

    Let’s start with the bankers first. Oh, I see we have.

  • Nick

    I find these observations very limited in the general spectrum of the design world, but accurate and desirable for some aspects of it. The argument should revolve around the notion of creativity.

    If we take the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of the word, it states: the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.

    My first concern is that general opinion has it that creativity belongs to everyone, therefore assuming that a creative job could be done by everyone: everyone could come up with a slogan, everyone could design furniture, everyone could write a book (see the great success of websites such as Etsy or the possibility to self-print offered by Amazon et al).

    In my opinion, this has brought the differentiation between these new jobs and the more classical ones: I NEED a lawyer or a doctor but the logo of my company could be designed by my infant daughter since she’s so creative and colourful.

    What I’m trying to say is that yes, creative jobs can be outsourced as long as they are merely creative but not anymore when they become “cultural”.

    If culture is the soil on which a creative job grows, it will not be replaceable. The newness that isn’t proofed by culture is at risk of not being such, therefore is viable for reproduction, delocalisation and disappearance.

  • Calen

    This is pretty silly. I’m sorry, but no actual creative job is being replaced by software or robots anytime in the near future.

    It’s one thing to have a machine craft something from the idea created by a human, but it’s a much bigger thing for a machine to create originally and with purpose, to cater to the physical and emotional needs of human beings. My internet goes down every three weeks. My microwave over-heats my burrito still and the vending machine still can’t understand that my bill is wrinkled and what to do with it.

    It’s going to be a long time before there is no human involved in the creative process of design. Oh, and where are these programs so I can just prompt the pre-designed options and get my chair design rendered and 3D-printed without having to think about it? I’ve got a few weeks left on my ID degree and I could really use a break.

  • Frank


  • Hayden

    I look forward to the day my tools know what to make, and why and for whom.

  • Damian

    If the goal is to produce a record of commercial quality this Campbell guy is lost anyway.

  • Although designers are indeed facing highly efficient feedback software in their design process, it is too simplistic to say algorithms could replace them. Several speculations about AI tend towards an intellegence which is above all different from the brain’s. Therefore, designers should constantly consider how they work with computers and what the specific qualities of both participants in the process are.

  • rorystott

    The ignorance of this opinion has made my jaw drop and my mind boggle its way right out of my mouth. Now I have to clean up this mess. Can anyone assure me that he is definitely a *former* politician and this will not be used to reinforce any policy? I tried to Google him but all I can find is articles about how he resigned as Johnson’s aid after admitting to shoplifting.

    “Using many of these applications becomes no more than clicking through a series of menus and agreeing to recommended choices,” – I will give £10 to anyone who can give a bona fide example of this being true in a creative profession.

  • I am absolutley positive that there are many other kinds of jobs that will be automated before the creative industries will. Many other human skills are more easily suplemented or replaced by a computer.

    One has to ask when can a computer do a better job? Maybe determining a proper treatment to a diagnosis (IBM Watson)? Maybe determining investment potentials (robot trading etc)? Optimising logigistical flows etc (Business intelligence).

    For example I believe that the skill of analysing is much more easily computerised than the skill of creating. How many funds beat a computer-driven index funds? Let’s start there!

  • Luke

    Most of my design comes from inspiration from other fields. There are no new ideas, only assimilations of many others to create a new whole. As such a computer could do this, however there are so many potential inputs, variables and irrational feelings that go into creation that couldn’t be approximated. Maybe the programme would need a random irrational element to truly imitate the human design process.

  • Peter

    “Much is often made of the ‘creative process’, but it is just that, a process, and as such, it can also be an algorithm.”

    I fear he may have not fully understood the creative process, simply because algorithms work using logical step-by-step formulas and the steps taken in a designers process can and often are rather illogical.

  • bonsaiman

    I was quite sure Brazilian politics were the worst in the world (I live here) but hey, England came fiercely into the game!

  • No problem. There is a lot of creativity needed to make computers that replicate creativity.

  • As a designer, I can understand the indignation of many of these comments, but I think as an industry we must face the fact that whilst there is unlikely to ever be a machine that can replace the core of our creative thinking, there is no denying that what used to be the craft of turning concepts and ideas into reality is already well on the way to becoming a commodity, provided through computers.

    Our priority as designers should be to embrace this change and separate the thinking from the doing so that we may raise our profile as professional people and leave behind the impression that we are simply donkeys that have a Mac, and that anyone could do what we do if they had the same equipment.

    By doing this we should be able to build more profitable businesses that charge highly for conceptual thinking, but use the global marketplace to drive down the cost of the production of our ideas, or even persuade our clients that with a bit of help from us, they could do that production part of the process themselves!

  • Creativity is a quality by nature. Robots throwing out crazy funky structures does not equal creativity.

  • Stephen

    Rather then berate an opinion that a seemingly ill-informed adviser may have about the design industry and designers creativity, I think he raises some interesting points.

    There are many industries and professions facing changes due to computers. The advent of 3D-printed buildings could have a huge hit on the construction sector, automated cars could see the demise of haulage and taxi drivers. Why would we need a taxi driver when we could jump into an automated cab and let Google work out the quickest route and drive us there? The design industry will be impacted – it’s just a case on how and when.

    Creativity is a much over-used word, from the five years doing finger painting in schools to the footballer using their creative skills to put the ball in the back of the net. Designers are much more then creatives making things pretty: we are problem-solvers, negotiators, researchers, psychologists, behaviorists and futurists, engineers and artists.

    The design industry needs to inform and educate other industries about the skills we have and the value we add. The benefit we can provide by being in the boardrooms and at the very start of a project. And if one day a computer is creative enough to make another computer look desirable, then so be it. They are many more problems in the world to be solved by designers then just making boxes round technology sexy.

  • Ivor

    Strike me that this idiot is the sort of person that got us into the mess we’re in now! Would he feel safe in an automatically designed aircraft? Where everything is done by computer? Ask Boeing – the 787 is grounded.

  • Stefan Neyman

    As a creative person myself I am shocked. As a rational person who also has a keen interest in science I am shocked at the reactions.

    Although we pride ourselves on our creativity we also often seem to ignore the fact that true originality does not exist other than what is created by chance. Creativity is the cultural application of things you sample from the world around you. This is how organisms deploy cognitive capacities. This is the ‘tech’ of creating. Creativity is no magical act happening in some esoteric realm. If you think this you probably don’t really do this in a professional capacity worthwhile.

    There have been experiments in generated content and the results should worry us all deeply. Sure, the best work done is the hardest to automate, but most of us don’t do the best work. Most people do really average work. The exceptional work is done by maybe 10% of the industry.

    Think back only a decade and see what you could do on your own compared to today. Think back another decade still and start to get the point. This is happening and is a product of technology.

  • Shrike Hyperion

    If outsourcing and mechanisation is steadily going to make a growing number of jobs obsolete, what can be done with an expanding and economically burdensome welfare class?