By Helen Armstrong
176 pages, softcover, $29.95
Published by Princeton Architectural Press
Early on in her book, Big Data, Big Design: Why Designers Should Care About Artificial Intelligence, author Helen Armstrong makes a cogent observation comparing the different approaches a data scientist and a designer would take in organizing a dinner party—the former working up from the ingredients, the latter working down from the guests. Its point—that in working collaboratively, they’ll avoid “optimized meals that no one wants to eat”—neatly introduces her belief that designers should care about machine learning (ML) for some very compelling reasons. The need to protect users’ human rights, values and interests; the possibilities that nonhuman cognition offers; and the ability to harness and control ML as a design superpower will, she believes, position the designer as superhero rather than slave to the machine. In that world, Big Data, Big Design is the Jarvis to Tony Stark’s Iron Man.
As a professor of graphic design with a focus on ML, digital rights and accessibility, Armstrong constructs an authoritative publication through three central essays plus thoughtful mini-essays and Q&As from educators, researchers and industry professionals. Real-world projects illustrate process and development while also addressing urgent questions about the intersections between ML/AI and design, and how the “confluence of human and machine is key” in issues such as bias, privacy, discrimination, manipulation and surveillance. The book offers a nuanced balance of the practical with the theoretical and philosophical, giving it a strength and depth that make it both a pleasure to read and an excellent educational tool. —Yolanda Zappaterra