Bookmark Beat: EP 10

Preserving the digital world (and the physical one along with it)

I'm back with another one 🥁🥳 This time, we're talking about preserving digital (and physical) history, error messages and how designers can start leveraging AI to improve their workflows…

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An intro: Once you see it…

Sometimes design is about solving real problems for real people. Other times it's making things work in a way they've never worked before… but one thing is for sure, not matter what discipline of design you practice, once you start thinking like a designer it's really hard to stop.

I often find myself in an elevator, lamenting the order or placement of the buttons. The notorious Norman door will have your cursing at the words “Push” or “Pull” emblazoned on either side. Or maybe you'll zoom in on a screenshot of an unfamiliar phone and find yourself asking, “Which emoji scissors close?

Like the Matrix, once you see it, you can't really unsee it.


How might we preserve history?

Last week, I was turned onto Discmaster - a layer on top of, accessible from pretty much any browser, that lets you search all the archived CDs on the internet's largest archive.

It's absolutely amazing.

A simple search for music brings up memories of 16-bit bops, intro screens, and hours of playing with config files to get a new game running on my computer. I highly recommend traversing up the breadcrumbs of a disc once you find an interesting file and see what other treasures you can uncover on the same CD. I've already spent more than a couple hours hunting for random inspiration.

Despite the legal ambiguity around ROMs, I've also been seeing more and more games taking on a second (or even third) life in this era of global interconnection: from Mortal Kombat+ (a fan reissue of the early Mortal Kombat Games with some quality of life improvements) to OpenMW (a complete rewrite of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that's been worked on for over ten years).

There's even FreeCiv, which started as a clone of Sid Meier's Civilization, but has since been slowly morphing into something completely original - all based on community feedback!

So, I suppose, it's just as important to preserve history as it is to let it influence the conversation of today. We shouldn't just be able to access old technology, we should also interact with it. How might be bring the music, images, games and ideas from the past into the present?

Perhaps that's what's latest (and way less controversial) foray into digital preservation is supposed to be. Democracy's Library aims to make government research freely accessible to all. But I worry, similar to how healthcare companies dumped over 600 terabytes of data to comply with US regulations, that all of this information has too much noise and not enough signal…

Who's going to parse it all and pull out relevant tid-bits for students, companies and the public? Journalists? Researchers? Random folks on the internet?

I'm not sure.

But preservation is not just important for the digital world. We're now seeing how digital archives of real places change the way we remember the places themselves. In Real Life Mag's Location Not Found, Angella d'Avignon asks the question “How do you map a loss?” and attempts to answer it with images found in an unlikely place - Google Maps:

Cal Fire’s map is informational, stoic in its matter-of-fact manner of handling melted-down plots, as opposed to Street View and its blue dots, which allow you to follow the life of a Paradise resident click by click…

I, like many who grew up in Northern California, find myself mourning the loss of so many towns, homes and possessions that have burned up in the ever-expanding fire seasons. Yet, now that we have digitized so much, I wonder if what we consider lost has changed somewhat.

Now, for a hard shift in tone

Content design was in the news this week. There's been lots of conversation around a September blog post from one of Wix's lead UX writers, Jenni Nadler, When life gives you lemons, write better error messages.

I have been on both sides of the argument between “error messages should be specific enough to help developers debug issues” and “users should not be scared off by our errors”. In the article, we learn how the UX writing team at Wix found balance between these two approaches and their list of takeaways should probably be taught in every UX school:

  • There’s a difference between generic and unclear messages.
  • Generic errors are the result of bad development and product… We must all care about preventing/fixing them together
  • Ask more questions to avoid assumptions
  • Take advantage of learning opportunities
  • Write error messages like you’re talking to a friend
  • When we work together, we build better products

If you're wondering where to get started with improving copywriting, I highly recommend The Content Design Book, Conversation Design or just

AI is just becoming another tool in our toolbox

It wouldn't be a Bookmark Beat if I didn't mention in AI at some point. It seems like half of my bookmarks nowadays are about AI in some way. In Sarah Drummond's The future is what you think it is, the preeminent service designer uses Dall-E to generate images for UX storyboards.

This sort of thing will likely become even more prevalent as Microsoft is starting to integrate AI-generated images into its Office suite.

But if you want to get started now, and happen to have a good computer (e.g. an M1/M2 Mac or Gaming/Video production PC), the open source community has made some pretty slick UIs for Stable Diffusion - an image-generation AI similar to Dall-E and Midjourney:

  • InvokeAI is a bit more complicated to setup and use, but it has a lot of features
  • Diffusion Bee is much simpler and runs like butter on my M1 Mac

Coda: Hire more designers, OK?

It's not every day that someone outside of your discipline understands your context just as well (if not better) than you do. But in less than 7 minutes, John Cutler proves that he does. In his video from 2019, John explains how the work for designers expands as a team grows, how that affects the team, and - most importantly - how it disconnects designers from the day-to-day work of the teams.

Whether you're a designer, on a team with a designer, or a manager of designers, it's worth the watch (or the re-watch, if you saw it years ago).

Now onto the…

Tweet of the week

hate when a job asks you to set “goals”

my only “goal” is to remain employed so that i can continue to pay for my living expenses while finding fulfillment in the areas of my life unrelated to a day job

~ @kycarrerolopez

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See ya next beat 🥁😎🥁