Bookmark Beat: EP 18

AI's attempts to replace human creativity + how we can build a better design field

Welcome back to the Bookmark Beat πŸ₯ Your weekly monthly quarterly breakdown of all the things around the web I found interesting. In case you forgot about this newsletter (I know, it's been a while), I'm Dani - Designer at Stemma (now part of Teradata) πŸ‘‹ I usually write about design, games, space and music. All opinions are my own and don’t represent my employer, etc. etc.

If you're new to the beat, you can always check out the archive. Most of the links I share stay fresh for a long time and are relevant months (and possibly years?) later. So head back there, if you end up liking this one!

I've been making a list (of tabs) and checking it twice… so there's A LOT of links in this beat. Use the headers to find the stuff you're interested in and don't be afraid to bookmark this and come back later 😁

Want to know what podcasts and music I'm listening to? Or maybe you just prefer more frequent updates on my latest bookmarks… if so, check out the “I am” page on my website.

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Intro: The best listicle of the year

Remember listicles? The little slide decks with ads interspersed within them? The bane of our existence as content teams asked designers to mockup yet another carousel? Well, throw those preconceived notions away, because has made another website that blew away all my expectations: Internet Artifacts

Instead of a countdown, the interactive “exhibit” walks through a timeline of inventions, creations and abominations on the internet. And while the nostalgia sucks you in, the “plaques” next to each item provide some context that even I didn't know!


Let's talk about experiencing (and making) art

In the back of one of the books I read this year (sorry! I can't remember which one!), the following video was recommended: John Berger / Ways of Seeing

In this four-part series, Berger adapts his controversial early-70s book into an intoxicating visual experience. He finds a way to critique the western aesthetics of oil-based masterworks while drawing a thru-line into modern advertising and the commercialization of art. In one part, he cedes the majority of the conversation to a group interview of women to get their perspective on how art objectifies women and changes their own view of themselves. It's something I wish we'd see more often in modern documentaries, which is why it's amazing to see that it came out in 1972!

In October, I also had the opportunity to go to New York to see the Guggenheim, MoMA and The Met. This critical lens was extremely helpful in my approach to the work there, especially the Guggenheim - which explored the Black experience and others on the edge of visibility.

Connecting the dots between these experiences, I've been inspired to make a bit more music. You can find it on all your favorite streaming services as Puppy on Parade (e.g. Spotify, Apple Music, etc.)

Shout out to Universal Audio for writing articles that made me better at actually finishing tracks:

Interlude: The playlist

Before we dive into the rest of the beat, I wanted to provide some recommended listening: The 8-Bit Big Band

Throw this big baddie on shuffle and grab a coffee, because we've got quite a bit more to cover before I sign off for the year…

Can we please stop using AI to “make” art?

An AI generated image of a stop sign that uses the wrong shape (a diamond) and has an uneven “O” in the middle of the word “STOP”

Image “created” by 33776725 from Pixabay (Generated by AI, obviously)

It wouldn't be a Bookmark Beat in the year 2023 if there wasn't some mention of AI. This time, I've got a couple of recommended videos and a call-to-action.

First up, Amelia Wattenberger's Climbing the Ladder of Abstraction talk from the AI Engineer conference. In this talk, Amelia (a great pusher of interface boundaries in UX) imagines a world where we can “zoom” in and out of context without waiting for some designer to generate an interface at each level. I don't know if this will be possible anytime soon. If it is, I'd love for it to be able to remember my customizations without sharing my data with some corporate overlord (see Vishnu's post for more thoughts on that).

To contrast this utopian perspective, Jason Barron's Design AI is a Myth: The Danger of Paper Tigers is a perfect tour de force. Filled with historical context and cautionary tales, Jason's talk inspires us to think differently about the coming “AI Revolution” and ask what value these tools are really bringing to us (as creators and users).

On a more musical note, Google teamed up with “music creators” like Charlie Puth and T-Pain (or, more likely, their rights holders) to “Transform the future of music creation” πŸ™„ This blog post combines an imagined user interface with a bunch of terrible-sounding AI-generated tracks to try to convince us that they're democratizing access to musical creation (as opposed to what they're actually doing - making it easier to sound just like everyone else). Not to be outdone by some hand-wavy demo, Microsoft actually released this (via a partnership with Suno) today.

Instead of wasting my finger-strength tearing this abomination down with my own words, I think it's more in the spirit of this newsletter to link off to someone who's thought about this in a more philosophical sense… specifically Rev. Tom Emanuel's Tolkien, A.I., and the Temptation of the Machine. This piece challenges us to ask ourselves what our purpose is for creating things and “what power does A.I. purport to grant its wielder?” It's worth a read, even if you're not the God-fearing type πŸ˜‰

Now… let's make some better stuff

Completely unrelated to AI and more to the credit of the rise in interest rates, the tech world has changed a lot in 2023. I've already written about how layoffs are a ridiculous way to manage short-term financial expectations… yet they just. keep. happening.

So here are some links to inspire the folks who are out of work or simply checking out of their jobs:

  • CSS is fun again. There's never been a better time to start coding on the web. The tech has mostly caught up to the way designers think about layouts and the syntax is becoming more and more approachable. For more, check out What's new in CSS and UI: I/O 2023 Edition
  • Design is also seeping into the terminal with GitHub's monaspace making even the ugliest of programming languages prettier in my IDE. Meanwhile, some engineers and writers at Squarespace, Replicate and Smallstep have created CLI Guidelines to make designing for the command line easier for everyone. So whether you're working on a DSL (Domain Specific Language) or want to contribute to less-UI-heavy projects (there's plenty in open-source), here's your push to do so!

While we're at it, let's make a better field for designers

A construction fence outside a tennis court with vines growing up and around it

Life finds a way. Photo taken on a Canon ML point-and-shoot with Fujifilm 400 film.
(I felt icky only having an AI-generated image in here, so here's a real photo, film grain and all)

I know I'm not the only critical voice in our field… The State of UX from UX Collective is out and is more bleak than ever. Meanwhile, Cory Doctorow is calling us all to Halt the Internet's Enshittification. Design Thinking is killing critical thinking and “the business” still doesn't understand why we still need to fix the shit we were convinced to “put off until after the MVP.”

But there is hope.

We can leverage the tools that bind us by using them to find new jobs. We can reorganize our work days to find more creativity, serendipity, and collaboration with our teams. We can unionize.

Remember that you have value and don't let others gaslight you into thinking that only comes if you connect your work to some nebulous concept of “business value.” Designers have the skills to bring new and novel ways of thinking to the table. We can learn from those who came before us to break out of the “safe” boxes that our companies want us to think within and orbit the giant hairball instead of spending all of our emotional energy trying to untangle it.

I believe that we have a unique opportunity to make design even more relevant than it is today by considering the environment (both physical and psychological) that we work within and changing it for the better. We don't need to “prove the value of design” if the people within our company find working with design to be more pleasant than working within the accustomed constraints of capitalism.

The New Designer makes it easier to build things “the right way” just as much as they make it harder to build things “the wrong way.” We can (and should) use service design to prevent bad decisions. And, if necessary, we must obstruct, confuse and make more difficult the projects and processes that are unethical or contrary to our values. Conveniently, the CIA wrote a guide in 1944 explaining exactly how to just that!

So hang in there y'all. 2024 is going to be a bumpy ride!

Coda: Books I'm reading

Last time, I shared the books I was reading and y'all seemed to enjoy it. So here's a few I've finished between the last beat and now:

  • Minor Feelings is a collection of essays that examines the Asian American experience, the frustrations of friendship and family. It was sometimes difficult, other times humorous; but mostly, it shared a context with me that I was otherwise oblivious to. I enjoyed it very much.
  • Go As a River doesn't pull any punches. Taking place on a peach farm in rural Colorado, this story of young love and loss after loss after loss pulled me in with its gorgeous descriptions and kept me reading long after I stopped crying.
  • Design is a Job (2nd Edition) is the zine you've always needed. Vulgar, helpful and true. I nodded along to the things I knew already and learned a lot more about myself and the situation that many designers are stuck in today.
  • And, of course, War & Peace (Unabridged) via Modern Serial (and, simultaneously, via the amazing audiobook by Neville Jason). It's still just as good as last time I wrote about it! By this time next year I should be done with it.

Thanks for hanging out with me through this longer-than-usual beat. What did you think? Would you rather have shorter newsletters more often? Or do you like these deeper dives?

Let me know! Either way, I'll catch ya next beat πŸ₯πŸ˜ŽπŸ₯