On Sunday night, February 4th, we held our annual Christmas cookies decorating ritual. A couple months late because of an ill-timed Covid infection in December, and someone’s visa complication throughout January. But! Elissa and Jarod finally made it over and we had a great hang. Another good year.
The Iconfactory is using Kickstarter to fund a new app meant to curate all of your social media and RSS feeds into a single location, Project Tapestry. They make beautiful applications, so I'm sure this one will be no different. It's an idea that's been tried many times before without lasting success. I’m curious to see if they have a new approach which will work where others have failed.
Michael Beirut with a great take on a benefit of AI:
"A majority of the world is boilerplate, and that's a good thing," Michael says. "Because all of us are motivated by two opposing kinds of needs. One is the need for predictability and comfort. And the other is the need for surprise and excitement. If you get that balance wrong and everything is just comfortable and predictable, you get bored. And that's not good. But on the other hand, the antidote to that isn't 100% unpredictability, surprise, and entertainment, because then you get too overstimulated and start to freak out. There's a certain reason why you wouldn't want every building on Fifth Avenue to look like the Guggenheim. It just would be too crazy in an unpleasant way. This architect was admiring some anonymous building somewhere in Manhattan, and they said, 'You know, what makes a city great is its ability to put up and maintain something like this, a perfectly good kind of background building that actually does its job well and isn't calling attention to itself.' But if you examine the details, you see that they're sound and built to last, and the tenants are satisfied. And then down the block and around the corner, there's something more special and showy that provides a great foil for that.”
So maybe ChatGPT, Midjourney, and all of those other new generative AI programs can be responsible for doing the boilerplate really well. Now, you've got time to do something a little more interesting. "Everyone dismisses boilerplate as crap that's not worth anyone's time," Bierut says. "You could argue boilerplate makes the world go round, whether it's in architecture, design, or writing. Boilerplate makes things that are special look and feel more appropriately special. Maybe that's an appropriate way to think about the promise of AI, but I don't know."
This tracks with how I've been thinking about AI with respect to design (or any creative profession). It's going to be a tool which helps with boring, rote elements of a process. It'll be able to recreate and fuse older iterations of a craft in order to more quickly produce what had come before. It's just not going to be reliably able to make something humanist and new. At some point, the boundaries of what AI can produce will be obvious, and human beings will bend culture back to what is more fully human.
You can't believe the tech bros about this. They're going to claim AI will be possible of anything — including self-awareness and then becoming our new god. Whatever AI creatures they do eventually create will look and act like them, because people are only able to create gods in their own image. In the case of AI, that god will also be white, male, and techno-centric.
Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing how art and society eventually push back on the upcoming AI-obsessed culture. It should be really human. Really tactile and emotional. Think about how Grunge reset the table on music as we turned into the 1990s. AI stuff will always look clean and rich. It'll have a pristine quality to it, even when prompted to not. Because it's expensive. And it's run by rich people. The pushback to it is going to be a good time. It's going to be the Guggenheims on a street full of forgettable buildings.
I listened to 1,869 tracks released in 2023. I liked 837 of those. 237 were rated best of the year. Only 47 of them made it into my Favorites list. In the last few years, fewer and fewer new tracks seem to resonate with me. I'm becoming more discerning, and I'm aging out of the music made by the young, as naturally happens. I try really hard to keep up with The Youths, yet music made by those in their early twenties continues to reflect the lives of people in their early twenties. I'm almost 43. So it goes.
In 2023, I ended up connected mostly with the records from artists who were already among my favorites. I really dug a lot of jazz and blues from the last year, but those rarely land in my Favorites list. I'm still a pop and rock guy, at heart, I guess. It's kind of bananas how many records were released this year by my favorite musicians: Gorillaz, Blur, Animal Collective, Yo La Tengo, Wilco, Margo Price, The New Pornographers, Youth Lagoon, Belle & Sebastian, Bongeziwe Mabandla, Deerhoof, Feist, The Go! Team, two from The National, four (4!) from Robert Pollard. Not all of them ended up favorites for the year, but that's still quite a list.
My listening habits have evolved in one way, I've noticed. I've been listening a little more to songwriting, specifically. That's taken me back to country music and the catalog of older songs I had once ignored. Spent more time with records from the 60s and 70s. Payed more attention to lyrics than I traditionally had before. Lots of singles from lots of artists, but plenty of The Band, Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, George Jones, and the Staple Singers. I can see myself growing further down this route as time passes.
2023 was also a year I listened to a lot of Robert Pollard. I finished my trek through the full 2,500 songs of his I have access to. I have been a fan of him and Guided By Voices for 25 years now, but his music has really been hitting the spot for me, lately. Straightforward rock. Unpretentious. Made with love and playfulness. Famously prolific, he put out four records this year. His music simply speaks to me, and this year I fully embraced that. He's so good.
I made a few wonderful music discoveries this year: Sparks (which I'll probably write more about at some point), Mandy Indiana, Zach Bryan, Charley Crockett. And a few rediscoveries after closer listens: Fruit Bats, The Staple Singers, The Band. Maybe it's safe to say that my music listening habits deepened this year, rather than expanded. I'm continuing to appreciate stuff in new ways. Fewer surprises as I get older. But that doesn't mean there isn't more to learn.
That's where I am as we go into 2024. I plan to focus less on new music by new artists, and instead spend more quality time with the music I know I love.
Here are my favorite albums of 2023:
- Blur - The Ballad of Darren
- Gorillaz - Cracker Island
- The National - First Two Pages of Frankenstein
- Fatoumata Diawara - London Ko
- Guided By Voices - Nowhere To Go But Up
- Zach Bryan - Zach Bryan
And the Honorable Mentions:
- New Pornographers - Continue as a Guest
- The Arcs - Electrophonic Chronic
- Youth Lagoon - Heaven Is A Junkyard
- The National - Laugh Track
- Yo La Tengo - This Stupid World
- Sparks - The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte
- Feeble Little Horse - Girl With Fish
- Fruit Bats - A River Running To Your Heart
- Lonnie Holley - Oh Me Oh My
Here are a couple playlists on Apple Music, if you're interested.
Favorite Tracks for 2023. Changed the rules for this year's playlist. It's all 47 of my faves, not just one track per artist.
Pitchfork magazine is being folded into GQ. I've been a reader for over twenty years now, and so this is a bummer. I read maybe one out of every 300 reviews, but it was still a good place to catch wind of new artists, or which older artists are putting out new material.
Kornhaber does a pretty good job of capturing my attitude towards it:
The irony of Pitchfork is that although it has long been thought of as a keeper of cool, the site itself has never been particularly cool; one admits sheepishly to reading it. This is not just because of its reputation for snobbery and its sometimes exasperating prose. It's also because to absorb the logic of Pitchfork is to believe in the authority of each individual's ears and brain. Saying you're a Pitchfork person can be mistaken for saying you take its opinions as your own, when ideally it just means that you want a discerning companion for making your own discoveries and judgments.
I never really cared what Pitchfork said about anyone. I'm able to have my own studied opinions. But if they cared to write about someone, I figured they were worth the attention, for good or bad.
This is probably the end of the site, but the real Pitchfork killer would be the sunsetting of its RSS feed. If I can't follow the music news without also getting posts about what watches movie stars wore on red carpets, then I'm out out.
Time to start looking for more places for independent music news.
Yesterday was one of those good days as a designer where a solution to a tricky problem falls into place, everyone is very happy with the results, and it looks good. It can be surprisingly hard to hit all three. Especially in a large organization with dozens of competing agendas.
This was for a small, repetitive piece of UI — a stack of 250px x 100px cards — each already dense with images, text, and other info. The requirement was to also include three to five new affordances; buttons for performing different actions. One of those actions would account for around 95% of the clicks, so preferably that one would be larger. After a couple dozen iterations, it all fell into place. Voilà. C'est fini.
Most of my work lately has been systems-level stuff. Cross-tooling design patterns and functionality. Or complicated workflows with numerous newsroom roles working in coordination. Or intra-department work where Editorial Tools and Consumer site design are partnering. These are all satisfying problems to solve. But there's nothing quite like the feeling when a piece of UI clicks into place right before my eyes. That's what pleases the soul of the art school student in me. Balance, weight, color, space, and purpose.
New art for the hallway wall. If you know, you know.
Good morning from snowy Brooklyn. I was going to go into the office today, but I’ll take any chance like this to work from home. I’m assuming everyone else is doing the same. The return of the ol' wintery mix.