⚡ New Event: Artful Design ft. Ge Wang
Humanist engineering, computer music, eating chips, and anti-harassment
Lots going on at Reboot right now, so I'll keep it snappy:
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Now, our next event:
📖 artful design by ge wang
Ge Wang is a Stanford CS professor, tech entrepreneur, musician, and HAI Faculty Affiliate. His manifesto, Artful Design, is a playful exploration of how we shape technology, and a meditation on how technology shapes us. From engineering to art and form to function, Wang walks the reader through the design of tools, toys, games, apps, instruments, and social experiences.
Join us for an open Q&A on designing beautiful and humane experiences:
🔊 our take: designing for a better world
By Ben Wolfson
Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime by Stanford professor Ge Wang is a TED Talk in comic form with the content of a textbook. Using his own work as examples, Wang weaves a theory of design with its implementation in music, toys, video games, architecture, and eventually, the pure interaction of people and society with technology. Not satisfied with merely teaching good design, Artful Design builds into a lofty manifesto positing the importance of ethical decision-making and humanist engineering.
Artful Design begins with a series of case studies from Wang’s career, including the apps Ocarina and Magic Piano from Smule, the company he cofounded, and the less mass-market Stanford Laptop Orchestra. Sprinkled through each case study are a series of fundamental principles (numbering a stunning 137 in total), ranging from the relatively straightforward—Principle 1.6: Design is interplay between function and form—to the philosophical—Principle 7.12: Not everything worthwhile is a problem to be solved. Around the case studies and principles, Wang holds a Socratic seminar with the reader, his collaborators and mentors, and the philosophers, designers, and science fiction authors he brings into the book.
The book culminates in Wang's manifesto for Artful Design, from Principle 8.1: What we make makes us to Principle 8.25: Transcend—make something useful that is also worthwhile in itself. Here, Wang emphasizes that design is entirely about choices. The designer is not merely complicit in these choices, they are the explicit actor, and thus design becomes “artful”—created by an individual who has chosen to do good. This artful designer, this humanist engineer designs within the confines and needs of society. In a world full of dark patterns and millennial-branded state violence, Wang's ideal offers jaded creatives a hopeful, generative alternative.
As I read Artful Design, I wished I was in a class with Wang, and it led me to watch his talks on YouTube. But that said, I don’t really know who this book is for. It feels most like a textbook, a paper manifestation of his Stanford classes, or a Platonic ideal of what a conversation with Wang is like. I began dubious about the graphic novel format, but it excels at turning the book into a classroom discussion, something a new student could follow without taking the pre-reqs. But while it's readable to the layperson, the best audience might be one who can put principles in practice. Artful Design makes me want to find a young designer or developer who will go through it in detail, undertake the projects assigned after each chapter, and come out the other end a more thoughtful humanist—an artful designer.
📘 Design Justice by Sasha Costanza-Chock is open access! It's a fascinating (and more radical) complement to Artful Design—drawing inspiration from community organizers and activist movements designing for those who are traditionally overlooked.
😋 "A chip. A chip. A chip. Another chip. The chips come like ocean waves, like human breaths, serial but unique, each part of a huge eternal rhythm but also its own precious discovery."
🗣️ Ben recommends this podcast on science/tech policy, AI, and data justice.
⛔ Project Include founder Tracy Chou launches Block Party, an anti-harassment product for Twitter. (To learn more, I recommend The Internet of Garbage, a short book that dives into the history, legal frameworks, and potential fixes around online harassment. I wrote a brief review here.)
🤖 Did someone say CS + Social Good?
💝 a closing note
In light of the brilliant chip essay linked above, I asked the team: "What foods do you turn to when the world is ending?"
Jasmine: I'm more into hot liquids. I love flat whites, thai tea, and Coupa Cafe's tiger chai for finals week on campus. Also, soup: french onion, pho, potato leek, sundubu-jjigae.
Jihad: Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Plain. Nothing else. The foundational dessert.
Ben: It’s a really unhelpful comfort food in the pandemic, but a green chili steak burrito and unlimited chips and queso from my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant back home.
Jessica: My mom's frozen steamed buns—2 minutes in the microwave = the perfect apocalypse/lazy/sleepy/busy meal that also tastes like home.
Jordan: Air fried broccoli and cauliflower. I intended for it to be a side dish, but more often than not, it ends up being the only thing I eat for dinner.
—Jasmine & Reboot team