Plus a brief explainer on the SVB meltdown 
The Last Few Weeks.

A monthly roundup of product design, email, and climate news.
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Welcome to issue #10.

Welp, 2023 was the year most of us learned about the term “bank run.” The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank last month rocked the American startup landscape. Market Mood explains what happened:

  1. SVB was the 16th biggest bank in the US, catering mainly to tech startups.
  2. With a giant influx of deposits during the pandemic, SVB invested these deposits heavily into long-dated government bonds.
  3. As interest rates climbed over the past year, 1) SVB’s bond investments lost A LOT of their value, and 2) the tech sector suddenly needed its cash back.
  4. SVB was then forced to sell its bonds for a big loss, causing a frenzy and everyone panic-pulling their money from SVB (a classic bank run).
  5. Finally, SVB’s stock cratered -60% & halted overnight, causing the bank to collapse and forcing the federal government to step in.

Internet hugs to those who lost money and startups without enough assets or cash to attract traditional banks. This sucks.

Not to make light of a bad situation, but there truly is a Simpsons skit for everything.

In this issue: Coding with AI, designing for AI, and the war on cars.

artwork by Kemal Sanli

№1: Product Design

For the past few months, I’ve designing AI features at Dialpad. AI is not new to us: live transcription, conversation summaries, sentiment detection, auto-generated checklists,… we’ve been doing stuff like this for years. AI has been one of our main strengths in a crowded market.

But then OpenAI released GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 along with a dirt-cheap API, and the entire world caught up overnight.

Not to be outdone, we’ve been stepping up our game to reassert our market strength in AI. We’re thinking about things in three ways:

  1. New features we can offload to GPT.
  2. Existing features that can be faster and more accurate with GPT’s help.
  3. Stuff that’s unique to Dialpad that we do without GPT.

We’ve got projects going in all three categories.

As a lead designer on these projects, I’ve spent the last few months learning about how ChatGPT actually works and how to design AI products from folks who’ve been doing this for a while, including Dialpad’s NLP and ML engineers. This, of course, includes a heavy dose of ethics (which we all really need right now).

Jeff Goldblum quote from Jurassic Park saying 'Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.'

Working on something that hasn't been attempted by many people before has been an immensely enjoyable experience, and I’m constantly learning as I go.

If you’ve been working on AI stuff, I’d love to hear your story! Reply to this email or ping me on twitter.

№2: Email Geeks

This week some email friends will be discussing email development in the age of AI. It’s free, you should check it out. I’ll be listening in.

Since AI’s already on my mind, I organized my thoughts on the event’s main question: Can bots handle HTML email development?

I’d say: yes and no.

The “Yes” part

I think AI can handle the routine, mundane parts of email code. Write HTML for a button that works in Outlook. Generate a CSS reset. Find the missing that closing tag. Create an accessible color palette. We’re either looking up or automating a lot of this stuff anyway, so I see AI as one more (albeit advanced) tool in our toolbox.

I also think AI can get more complex tasks started. Write copy for basic email (which I will then heavily edit and add to). Write an HTML email template (which I will adapt to my needs).

The “No” part

AI needs a lot of direction and hand-holding from a human being because it doesn’t know what to do on its own. While AI can reliably output code snippets and basic HTML, it still struggles to create entire templates (I’ve tried!) or handle complex (real-world) code, especially if it needs to integrate into a larger system.

Geoffrey Litt describes AI as “a junior developer who is very fast at typing and knows about a lot of libraries, but is careless and easily confused.”

There's so much daylight between the basic HTML document generated for the joke website and the front-end code I write every day. - Josh Comeau

Over time AI will improve, but for the foreseeable future I think humans will be needed to massage AI’s output and tie it all together into the larger system.

Simply put: AI needs help from someone who knows what they’re doing.

Folks who lean too heavily on AI will miss out on learning the fundamentals of what good email design / copy / marketing actually looks like. They won’t be able to massage an AI’s output because they won’t know how.

Tweet from Halli saying 'To become good at something you need to practice being bad at it for a long time. Over time that training helps the person understand the complexity of the tasks required. But if people can skip the practice part by using AI, will they be able to become great at something?'

That's why I think email geeks will be around for a while, even if OpenAI thinks our jobs are exposed.

№3: Climate

Cars are impossible to avoid for most Americans. We’re a car dependent nation, but there is a grassroots war on cars.

Hayden Clarkin often ridicules the ways America is designed around our obsession with cars (I mean, it really is indefensible). Dense Discovery’s Kai Brach is also a frequent critic of automobiles and I want to share something his most recent newsletter:

Video wallpaper of a small girl standing in front of a giant parked american SUV in the middle of a city street.

This video makes a strong case that almost no one needs an SUV or truck, especially folks in cities. They’re bad for everyone in almost every possible way.

We’re constantly being told that doing anything about the astronomical growth and the average size of motor vehicles would infringe on the freedoms of people to do whatever they want. But your freedom to swing your arm ends where my face begins, and SUVs are a giant punch in the face to everyone who doesn’t drive one.

I’d recommend watching at least part of this, and I say that as a person who owns an SUV. “What a hypocrite!” Yes yes I know. In my defense, we barely drive since we work remotely and walk a lot.

Good: Driving an energy efficient car
Better: Not driving in the first place

№4: Fun

Tweet from Rick Branson saying that AI is cursed because when asked to write a banger tweet about AI taking people's jobs, AI wrote '2/3 of the squad just got #ChatGPT'd outta their jobs 😱🤖 RIP human hustle, AI's stealing out thunder ⚡️ #jobocalypse'

I enjoy Smashing Magazine's themed newsletter, which recently focused on sustainability for web designers and developers. The issue included lots of helpful links, like sustainability action cards in Figma. I’ve also been enjoying Sandy Dähnert’s podcast on sustainable design best practices (she’s also launching a course).

I've learned that designing an ecologically responsible site is similar to creating a fast site (which usually results in increased revenue).

Seems environmentalists and capitalists have something in common.

That’s it for now ✌️