the things that signal cool to us change as costs shift
There are universal principles of visual design that matter across time and in every cultural context. But also, there are certain processes and materials that are seen as premium. This is context-dependent; it changes over time based on technology and economics. When a design uses a premium material like an illustration or an intricate 3D rendering, it is seen as an honest “costly signal” that the company behind it has lots of resources to spare. This, more than grid alignment or proper typographic hierarchy, is the thing that sends a tingle down your spine and makes you think “I should sign up.”The weird thing is, what gives you goosebumps today might feel lame in 20 years. Just look at the “pre vibe shift” websites above—at the time I can promise you they made nerds like me drool. Today… not so much.
This piece abuses “vibe shift” and seems more than a little unfamiliar with the realities of illustration, but I like its big example: Stock photos looked Premium because of expensive licensing only until the economics changed – and now the same signaling requires illustration. (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain quite how the cash app has merch that is genuinely just, doing fashion?). Neural-network image generation may change this.
I think it’s really neat that Xe generates images for their blog posts, so someone’s pushing the boundaries here.