My Favorite Design Articles of 2019

Dan Saffer
Nov 29 · 4 min read

Are these all really design articles? Some of them, sure. But some maybe not. Who cares. Write your own damn list if you’re going to be a purist.

Managing visibility on YouTube through algorithmic gossip, Sophie Bishop

Taking gossip seriously can present a valuable resource for revealing fragments of information about algorithms during particular algorithmic moments. It holds the opportunity to engage more meaningfully with talk at the boundaries of algorithmic systems, and to reflect on how these boundaries are constructed and reified.

System Dynamics in Design Systems, Sean Blanton

Design systems are far more than the product they export. They are educational programs and support networks, bug reporting channels, experimental projects, and so on. And there are actors in that system that will do things with that design system that we might not expect. Our ability to recognize and respond to behaviors we don’t expect can impact our ability to design design systems that are resilient — systems that can grow and evolve as the company, its goals, and the people who are a part of it grow and evolve.

Why I am Not a Maker, Debbie Chachra

The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture — that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving — is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Fixing a complex system, Alan Cooper

Complex systems cannot be directed. They can barely be managed or even understood. They can be influenced, however, by the slow exertion of steady force. But even gentle force pushes the system into disequilibrium, and a complex system that has been disturbed from its equilibrium is unpredictable.

User experience as legitimacy trap, Paul Dourish

Indeed, the great irony of the notion of user-centered design is that users (or people) are not, in fact, at the center of it at all. Design is. Something can be more user centered or less user centered, but the phrase guarantees that design will always be present. The limits of design are then the limits of our capacities to intervene.

Let there be light switches, Dan Hill

When you touch the switch, you are subconsciously sensing the presence of others who have done so before you, and all those yet to do so. You are also directly touching infrastructure, the network of cables twisting out from our houses, from the writhing wires under our fingertips to the thicker fibres of cables, like limbs wrapped around each other, out into the countryside, into the National Grid.

Towards a playbook for UX leaders, Uday Gajendar

A playbook may offer the path forward to improving how we assess and recognize the distinctive nature of UX leaders of different backgrounds and qualities, going beyond the standard portfolio.

Good design was always accessible, Sharlene King

Whatever academic disagreements we have about design and its meaning, we tend to agree that design has to be used or it’s just decoration. There isn’t any nobility in design people can’t use.

A Study on Driverless-Car Ethics Offers a Troubling Look Into Our Values, Caroline Lester

Most players sacrificed individuals to save larger groups. Most players spared women over men. Dog-lovers will be happy to learn that dogs were more likely to be spared than cats. Human-lovers will be disturbed to learn that dogs were more likely to be spared than criminals.

Your Smart Toaster Can’t Hold a Candle to the Apollo Computer, Alexis Madrigal

Without the computers on board the Apollo spacecraft, there would have been no moon landing, no triumphant first step, no high-water mark for human space travel. A pilot could never have navigated the way to the moon, as if a spaceship were simply a more powerful airplane. The calculations required to make in-flight adjustments and the complexity of the thrust controls outstripped human capacities.

The Dark Side of Techno-Utopia, Andrew Marantz

Information wants to be free, but so does misinformation. The printing press empowered reformers; it also empowered hucksters, war profiteers, terrorists, and bigots. Nor did the printing press eliminate the problem of gatekeepers. It merely shifted the problem. The old gatekeepers were princes and priests. The new ones were entrepreneurs like Gutenberg and Caxton, or anyone who had enough money to gain access to their powerful technology.

Reflections on Business, Design, and Value, Andrea Mignolo

Why is learning through designing valuable to a business? By embracing ambiguity and exploring divergent futures, design activities can increase flexibility and decrease risk.

Moment Prisons, and How to Escape Them, Louis Rosenfeld

The problem here is we plant a flag, to create an understandable moment. To make sense of a new thing, or an ambiguous thing, we resort to one-line definitions and 200 word job descriptions. In those moments, we create prisons that we can’t yet imagine. And those moment prisons will annoy, constrain, and literally harm us in the future.

How “Good Design” Failed Us, Nikil Saval

Most of the things that we hold in our hands and stare at, day after day, are examples of “good design” — great design, even, in terms of their inextricability from life. But more and more their social benefit seems questionable.

Design and Machine Learning, Matthew Ström

Design and machine learning function like a flywheel: when connected, each provides value to the other. Together, they open up new product experiences and business value.

AI Ethics: Seven Traps, Annette Zimmerman and Bendert Zevenbergen

Rather than thinking of ethics as an attribute of a person or a technology, we should think of it as an activity: a type of reasoning about what the right and wrong to do is, and about what the world ought to look like. AI ethics (and ethics more generally) is therefore best construed as something that people think about, and something that people do. It is not something that people, or technologies, can simply be — or not be.

Dan Saffer

Written by

Designer. Product Leader. Author.

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