The Informed Life with… You!

We’re trying something different with Episode 67 of The Informed Life podcast: instead of interviewing a guest, I’m answering questions sent by listers. Specifically, I’m addressing questions sent by Vinish Garg, José Gutierrez, and Elijah Claude. All are about information architecture.

I loved hearing from listeners, and would like to do another Q&A show in the future. Whether I do so will depend on two things: 1) whether you find episode 67 valuable, and 2) whether we get more questions from listeners.

So, if you liked the show, or if you have a question you’d like me to answer, please get in touch.

The Informed Life episode 67: Listener questions

Book Notes: “The Undoing Project”

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
By Michael Lewis
W. W. Norton & Company (2016)

A promised on its cover, The Undoing Project is the story of an important friendship: that between psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Tversky and Kahneman are key figures in the study of cognitive biases — e.g., risk aversion, representativeness, anchoring, etc. The upshot: humans are bad at calculating probabilities in our guts. As such, we’re not rational actors.

The book tells the story of Kahneman and Tversky’s collaboration as a straightforward linear narrative. Their biographies track the creation of the state of Israel: Tversky was born there, while Kahneman’s family immigrated after the Holocaust. Both became formative figures in Israel’s armed forces.

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Clarifying Meanings Through Mindful Set-making

In his classic book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman poses an interesting question:

How many animals of each kind did Moses take into the ark?

Kahneman explains:

The number of people who detect what is wrong with this question is so small that it has been dubbed the “Moses illusion.” Moses took no animals into the ark; Noah did.

I don’t know about you, but the Moses illusion fooled me. So what’s going on here?

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AI-driven “Design”?

Via Kenny Chen’s newsletter, I learned about Tricycle, a set of tools “that help you design products powered by AI.” I remember seeing tweets last year from Jordan Singer (Tricycle’s creator) that highlighted some of this functionality. Now it looks like Singer is productizing a bundle of GPT-3-powered Figma automation tools.

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Book Notes: “The Alignment Problem”

The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values
By Brian Christian
W. W. Norton & Company, 2020

The Alignment Problem covers one of the central technology issues we face today: building smart systems that reflect and respect our values. More specifically, it’s “about systems that learn from data without being explicitly programmed, and about how exactly — and what exactly — we are trying to teach them.”

It’s a central issue because we are in the process of putting important parts of the world “on autopilot.” As such, we ought to ensure that our smart systems don’t inadvertently cause harm. The book evokes the sorcerer’s apprentice, with humanity cast in the role of Mickey Mouse chopping down increasingly powerful and clever brooms:

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Meeting the User

Early in my career, a support incident taught me a lesson about mental models. Here’s what happened: I was contracted to create a small promotional app for executive assistants who used Windows PCs. Many didn’t have CD drives, so the app was designed to fit on a floppy disk.

To install the app, users would slide the disk into their computer and double-click on a file called something like INSTALL.EXE. Then they’d follow the onscreen prompts. The disk included printed instructions that spelled out the process.

Shortly after we released the app, I got a message from the client. A user was having trouble installing the app. Would I mind taking a look? So I drove to the user’s office and asked her to show me what she was doing. What I saw blew me away.

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Working on the iPad

Early in 2021, I asked what you’d like to know about how I get things done. I received many interesting requests, more than fit in a single post. So, I’m covering aspects of my setup in separate entries. In this post, I’ll explain my evolving use of iPads.

I’ve long advocated for using iPads for work. iPads aren’t toys or “consumption” devices — at least any more than early GUI-based computers were. But recently, I’ve started questioning the iPad’s role in my workflows.

iPads do some things better than “real” computers. My work involves a lot of drawing, and the iPad Pro + Apple Pencil combo is the best digital drawing system I’ve used. The Pencil is also great for reviewing and marking up documents.

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The Informed Life with Jim Kalbach

Episode 66 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Jim Kalbach. Jim is the Chief Evangelist at MURAL, and author of Designing Web Navigation (O’Reilly, 2007), Mapping Experiences (O’Reilly, 2016), and his latest, The Jobs to Be Done Playbook (Rosenfeld, 2020). In this conversation, we dive into Jobs to Be Done, how it relates to design, and how jobs can create an “out-of-body experience” for organizations.

As Jim sees it, JTBD is an innovation framework above all:

The first question that I always teach people to answer in defining the jobs that they’re going to be targeting is, “where do you want to innovate?” And once you’re able to answer that question, what Jobs to Be Done brings is a lot of focus and clarity to that.

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