Artificial Intelligence and Web Design

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Hello, World. I am your web designer…

Recently, I read an article about using artificial intelligence (AI) for the instructional design of courses. Initially, that frightened me. First of all, it might mean less work for instructional designers – which I have both been and run a department working with them. Second, it’s hard for me to imagine AI making decisions on pedagogy better than a designer and faculty member.

Of course, using AI for that kind of design is probably limited (at least at first) to automating some tasks like uploading documents and updating calendars rather than creating lessons. Then again, I know that AI is being used to write articles for online and print publications, so who knows where this might go in the future.

I just read another piece asking “Is Artificial Intelligence the Next Stepping Stone for Web Designers?” and, of course, my concerns are the same – lost jobs and bad design.

Certainly, we are already using AI in websites, particularly in e-commerce applications. But using AI to actually design a website is very different.

Some companies have started to use AI for web design. A user answers some questions to start a design: pick an industry or category (portfolio, restaurant, etc.), enter a business name, add a subtitle/slogan/brand, upload a logo, enter an address, hours of operation, and so on. The AI may offer you a choice of templates and then in a few clicks, the basics of the site are created.

This is an extension of the shift 20 years to template-driven web design. Now, it is based on machine learning techniques with human intervention at the initial stage by providing their desired information and probably again after the site is created to fine-tune.

I do a lot of designs in Squarespace and they are clearly using AI and machine learning to get you started. Do you still need human intervention? Absolutely. Does the human need to be a “designer”?  Clearly, the goal is to allow anyone to do a good job of creating a website without a designer.

In my own work, I still find many people need someone with experience and training to create the site, but they can oftentimes maintain it on their own if the updates are simple. I have also had clients who with just a few clicks have completely wrecked their websites. And there is no Cntrl-Z or Undo button to put it back together again.

AI will change – dare I say revolutionize – many industries and design is certainly on the list. When AI can make the process more efficient, I am all for it, but I stu=ill like the human factor in any design project.

Book Cover Design

All “best” lists are opinions and open to argument. I saw this Best Book Covers of 2020 list and it reminded me of a design assignment I used to use with my students.

My eye went to the one book on the list I actually own and have read which is Jane Hirshfield’s poetry collection, Ledger.

My first journal when I was 12 years old was done in a ledger that my father has lightly used and I found on a shelf. It had odd lines and was clearly meant to put some order to the contents – though not meant to order a seventh-grader’s thoughts on life.

I like the book-on-book design. I like that the ledger’s lines look like a chart and almost like a topographic map (which I also love and have collected). Does the cover tell us anything about the poems inside? It makes sense after you read them but not really before you open the book.

Looking at that site, you see a wide variety of styles. In my assignment, I asked students to consider all the elements of design we had studied (line, color, composition, typeface etc.) but I did ask that the cover tells us something visually about the book’s plot, characters, or theme. Of course, outside the classroom, a key element is to catch your eye and the content of the pages within often seem irrelevant. Did the designer even read the book? Not a requirement.

The list comes from a survey of 29 professional book cover designers. The three best that this group chose for 2020 are Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station; cover design by Lauren Peters-Collaer, Joyce Carol Oates’ Night, Sleep, Death, the Stars; cover design by Jamie Keenan and Lidia Yuknavitch’s, Verge; with a cover design by Rachel Willey.

Those three didn’t particularly grab me and they probably weren’t following all of my assignment parameters. I did like the True Love cover below because it is simple and also uncomfortable. I like all the “white” space which allows for clean areas for the text.

I looked up this book to see what it is about and according to the Amazon blurb it “captures the confused state of modern romance and the egos that inflate it in a dark comedy about a woman’s search for acceptance, identity, and financial security in the rise of Trump.”  The cover seems to appropriately warn that this love ain’t so true.

 

I like this cover for A Children’s Bible for some of its rule-breaking – the way the deer blocks some text,; that the birds – though blocked by text – seem to also be sitting on the words; the uneven right edge; the menace of the fire and burnt edge that the animals are looking at or heading into.

It’s a busy cover and not improved when the publisher puts on an award sticker which usually seems to be placed rather randomly. Yes, I know that it’s all about the marketing but it’s another reason why I like white space in a design.

I also like the

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Mary South, You Will Never Be Forgotten; cover design by Jamie Keenan (Picador, August)

 

coverThe cover image benefits from being viewed at a distance, as this smaller image shows the face clearer.

I also looked this book up on Amazon and was surprised to find a completely different cover. That often happens with books published outside the U.S. But the author, Mary South, is American and the image used on her own website is this one with three emoticons.

The book is a collection of stories so it may not have one tone or theme. Do the three emoticons fit that content better than the overly enlarged pixels of the woman’s face cover?

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