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Embrace the Unpredictable

December 1st, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

In nature, no two things are ever the same. Life is imperfect, unpredictable, and beautiful. We can walk through the same forest every day and see differently colored leaves. We can look up at the clouds every minute and watch a whole new formation. The physical world is transient and ever-changing. What if our designs were a little more like this?

Often, we spend hours, weeks, even months carefully crafting our websites/applications, sculpting every last pixel until they are just right. Then, we set them free into the world — a perfectly formed, yet static snapshot of something that once was a living, evolving thing.

There is (of course!) nothing wrong with this way of working. But what if we let go of the idea that there can be only one final version of a design? What if our interfaces were free to take more than one form?

I could write forever about this stuff, but I think it’s best to show you what I mean. Naturally, here’s a Pen:

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Try clicking the “Regenerate” button above. Notice how the interface changes just a little every time? By parameterizing aspects of a design, then randomizing those parameters, we can create near-infinite variations of a single idea. For those familiar with generative art — art made using a system that includes an element of autonomy — this is likely a familiar concept.

For makers (particularly perfectionists like me!), this approach to design can be incredibly liberating.

For the folk who use the things we make, it creates an experience that is truly individual. In randomizing carefully chosen aspects of our interfaces, they become ephemeral, and to me, this is kind of magical. No two people will ever see the same version of our work.

The web can be a cold, sterile place. By embracing the unpredictable, we can add a joyful, organic touch to our creations — to me, this is the essence of generative UI design, and I would love if you gave it a try! SVG, Canvas, and CSS/Paint API are all excellent mediums for generative work, so pick the one that is most familiar and experiment.

Just remember: apply carefully, and always be mindful of accessibility/UX. Magically evolving designs are great, but only if they are great for everyone.

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