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Location: Bellevue, Washington, United States

Nathan is both a writer and designer of books and eBooks and is part-owner of boutique publisher Long Tale Press, LLC. He is available to help make your eBook or Book publishing project come alive with great book design.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Why “The Vulture Papers”

Several years ago Mary Doria Russell wrote a terrific book called The Sparrow. In it she wrote of a type of person who sat at the edge of a worker’s desk and watched exactly how his or her job was done. When the analyst had thoroughly completed the job, he or she wrote an artificial intelligence program that could do the job just as well as the worker.

The workers at the desk were referred to as sparrows and the analyst was the vulture.

Over the past several years, I’ve been analyzing the design of documents, both on-screen and on paper, and inventing methods to automate huge chunks of the design process. Having been a publication designer, I feel a twinge sometimes about making design an artificial process. So I started referring to the papers I was writing as Vulture Papers.

When you start to look at the whole process in as much depth as I have, one thing you will surely discover is that designers won’t be replaced anytime soon with artificial intelligence. But the 80% of a designer’s function that deals with calculating grids, typesizes, and adapting from one media to another can be automated—freeing designers to focus on the 20% of the job that sets them apart as designers rather than assembly-line workers.

But, I still feel like a vulture, so I’ll keep publishing “The Vulture Papers.”


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