For this year’s AIGA conference, held last week in Minneapolis, Adobe sought out papercraft artist extraordinaire Kelli Anderson and asked her to “make something interesting” for the attending designers. This is her specialty: Anderson counts among her previous projects a miraculous paper record player and TinyBop’s gorgeous anatomy app for kids. Her latest invention: a paper calculation wheel that answers the very big, very angsty question, “Should I take that job?” It’s a much cheaper alternative to a life coach.
Calculation wheels were “pretty much the apps of the last century,” Anderson tells Co.Design. “It’s a type of volvelle which converts user inputs into answers via the magic of die cuts.” They were originally called computers because they computed things, like cooking measurement conversions or farm-planting quantities.
Answer four questions about the career path at hand: “When considering the working conditions, you catch yourself wondering…” “How much will this work improve things?” “Is it in your wheelhouse?” and “So, what’s the money like?” The volvelle then yields a fortune color, landing you either in red “perfect job” territory (where “you might actually touch the void”); the blue, honest day’s work zone (“your parents will totally get it!”); the purple land of sellouts and rich soulsuckers (“You’ll be able to buy your own island!”/"Which you’ll need to hide your shame"); or the brown zone of crappy hell jobs (at least “You’ll discover new ways to cultivate your sense of humor”).
“The physical design process on the project was a real pain in the ass,” Anderson confesses. “Surprisingly so. I made 15 mockups before I even got the thing to yield unique answers to every input combination.” After plowing through a major math- and algorithm-induced headache, “I had to determine what questions to ask. I only had four wheels, so there could only be four qualities for assessing a job. I sat down and read Alain de Botton, William Morris, Marx, Shop Class as Soulcraft and debated with friends about 'good creative work' vs. 'bad creative work' and about craft and pleasure vs. rewards and pleasure.”
She wound up with four “universals:” fit, pay, ethics, and working conditions. “If those things are good, your work will almost certainly be fulfilling.” As design inspiration, she cites Joseph Weizenbaum’s 1966 ELIZA program, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jessica Hische’s “Work for Free?” flowchart.
Anderson has been lucky enough to have avoided the muck of brown-zone labor, but says, “I’ve definitely found myself in work situations as an adult where I’ve accidentally ended up making $2 an hour on a project, haven’t slept for days in a row, and left seriously resenting the client. I’m not naming any names because I realize that I invited these circumstances into my life through … poor decision-making! There is pleasure and pain in all types of work and I haven’t figured out how to dodge the pain yet.” Papercraft painkillers, coming up next?
More on the Existential Calculator and Kelli Anderson can be found here.