The Informed Life With Audrey Crane

Episode 37 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Audrey Crane. Audrey is a partner in DesignMap, a UX strategy and product design consultancy based in San Francisco. She recently published a book, appropriately titled What CEOs Need to Know About Design, and in this conversation we discuss how the book came about and why it matters now:

I think we as designers – and maybe this is true of all professions, I’m not really sure – but we have conferences and we write blog posts, but a lot of it – and acknowledging the irony of me saying this as we’re in a podcast with that designer talking to a designer – like it’s a lot of like designers speaking to designers. And we’re talking about really good, important, PhD-level stuff, which is great for furthering our profession and making us better at what we do, but it’s not great for somebody who wants to know, honestly, what’s a wireframe? And we have had, specifically at DesignMap and other places where I’ve worked as a consultant, we’ve had clients say, why is it all black and white? Or, when are we going to get the design maps? Like thinking that, like, oh, there’s… there are maps. So many kinds of maps, but design maps are not one of them. And it’s great that they’re asking the question and I fret about how they feel when we answer it.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with DesignMap on several projects over the last two years. Audrey and her team are committed to excellence and adding value through design. I recommend both her book and our conversation on the subject.

The Informed Life Episode 37: Audrey Crane on Design in Organizations

Worth Your Attention

These links appeared previously in my newsletter, which comes out every other Sunday.

Addressing Systemic Racial Injustice

Sober statements from two former U.S. presidents:

President George W. Bush:

It remains a shocking failure that many African Americans, especially young African American men, are harassed and threatened in their own country. It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future. This tragedy — in a long series of similar tragedies — raises a long overdue question: How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.

President Barack Obama:

I recognize that these past few months have been hard and dispiriting — that the fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and hardship of a pandemic have been compounded by tragic reminders that prejudice and inequality still shape so much of American life. But watching the heightened activism of young people in recent weeks, of every race and every station, makes me hopeful. If, going forward, we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action, then this moment can be a real turning point in our nation’s long journey to live up to our highest ideals.

This isn’t a left vs. right issue. Racism is deplorable, and systemic injustice, untenable. It’s encouraging to see leaders from both major U.S. political parties state unequivocal positions in support of systemic change.

As a fair-skinned immigrant, I haven’t suffered the type of pervasive brutal discrimination that leads to murders like George Floyd’s. This grants me a degree of privilege — and responsibility.

The events of the last two weeks have awakened me to the importance of helping bring about systemic change. I don’t yet know what this means for me — but I’m committed to listening and learning.

Design in the Post-pandemic World


The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world. Businesses are scrambling to serve their customers in a new reality. Many companies are looking for new ways to provide value over digital channels and having to do so in a context of great uncertainty.

We’re not returning to the pre-pandemic world. Many of the changes we’re making now will be with us for a long time. This moment is an inflection point, a unique opportunity to shift the ways we work and create value. As designers, we must ask: What is our role in bringing forth new realities? How might new solutions better serve human needs?

The Informed Life With Louis Rosenfeld

Episode 36 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with my friend and publisher, Lou Rosenfeld. This episode is Lou’s second appearance on the show; he was also my guest on the first episode.

I asked Lou to return as a guest because his company, Rosenfeld Media, recently put on their first-ever Advancing Research Conference. As with all such events these days, the conference was virtual. They had a relatively short turnaround time, but the conference was still a success, so I wanted to know how Lou and his team did it. I also wanted to hear about the effects of the move on the conference experience.

Among other things, the move to an entirely virtual event flattened hierarchies:

A lot of our attendees found that the interaction in Slack — this is where the discussion went on — was superior than the interaction they might have in person. The hierarchy was flattened in many cases, introverts were able to ask questions, even of speakers, and interact with each other… Ultimately, in many respects it was a better experience than people might ordinarily get. And the time zones are an issue, but we always make our recordings as well as our sketchnotes and our trip notes and other materials available to attendees after the event, and that was part of the exclusive deal. They got all that content. So, if they missed something, or slept in or didn’t want to stay up late, they could go back to it.

Rosenfeld Media is planning two more conferences this year. We discussed how those events would be different, given what the team learned from the virtual Advancing Research conference. I was excited to hear that there are some significant structural changes in store for the virtual events, and that these changes will also influence future in-person events.

Many of us are participating in virtual conferences these days. Some of us are tasked with organizing and managing them. In either case, this conversation with Lou offers insights that will likely inform your experience with such events. I hope you find our discussion valuable.

The Informed Life Episode 36: Louis Rosenfeld on Virtual Conferences

Worth Your Attention

These links appeared previously in my newsletter, which comes out every other Sunday.

What Google Classroom Says About Our Priorities

Khoi Vinh, writing in his blog:

You can tell a lot about how we value spaces-and the people who use them-by how well we design them. Google Classroom, which I’ve come to use with my kids on a daily basis since remote schooling began back in March, is as good an example of this as I’ve seen. It’s a virtual space, of course, but in a quarantined world it’s become a vital space, one that millions of children and parents are entering daily, usually for hours at a time. And it sends an unmistakable message about how it values the students who use it.

What follows is a thoughtful critique of Google Classroom. But more broadly, the post highlights how our investments in online spaces reflect our priorities. If we take Google Classroom as an indicator, we don’t value the experience of learning as much as we do working.

I’ve used Google Classroom for teaching at CCA’s graduate interaction design program since 2018. Not only is Mr. Vinh’s critique spot-on; the system has serious issues not covered in the post. For example, Google Classroom’s feedback mechanisms are inconsistent: sometimes students aren’t notified of my comments, depending on where I leave them. And conversely, sometimes I’m notified of student comments, but when I log into the system, I can’t find them. What’s worse, I’ve seen little improvement over the last three years.

Google Classroom could be amazing. Its integration with the rest of Google’s products has great potential. However, in practice, the system has many rough edges and some structural issues. It could use a substantial information architecture overhaul. As it stands, Google Classroom feels like a minimal effort — and as Mr. Vinh points out, that says a lot about the priority we assign to the experience of education.

Google Classroom and How Spaces Value People +

Five Lessons From the Pandemic

My family and I have been locked down for over two months now. At first, it felt like a temporary inconvenience. That feeling has passed. It’s clear now that the pandemic is a transformational event. Some changes are temporary, but many will be permanent. It can’t be otherwise, what with a major health crisis underway and unemployment at levels not seen in close to a century.

These facts have me in a reflective mood. I’ve been revisiting old books, looking for what still rings true in these very different times. I’ve been tweaking habits around essential functions like eating and sleeping. I’ve cut down on the attention I apportion to social media. I’ve also been thinking about what we can learn from this experience.

As with all crises, the pandemic can be a powerful teacher. Here are five lessons that the coronavirus has made tangible for me:

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Book Notes: “The Jobs To Be Done Playbook”

The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: Align Your Markets, Organization, and Strategy Around Customer Needs
By Jim Kalbach, with a foreword by Michael Schrage
Two Waves Books, 2020

A couple of disclaimers before I tell you about The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: first, the author is a friend. Second, the book is published by Two Waves, which is also my publisher. As a result, I got this book for free. Did these facts alter my perception of the book? Perhaps. I may be more predisposed to like books in which I can hear the author’s voice in my mind.

Still, I think The Jobs To Be Done Playbook is worth your attention. I was about to write, “is worth your attention if you’re responsible for designing digital experiences,” but that’s not necessarily true. This book is useful for anyone responsible for user experiences, whether they are designers or not. (I suspect product managers will also find it particularly valuable.)

In case you’re not familiar with the phrase jobs to be done (JTBD from now on), it refers to a concept popularized in the business world by the late Clay Christensen. The core idea is that customers don’t buy your offerings because they want your offerings per se, but because of what “jobs” those offerings perform in their lives. An example that comes up frequently: the customer doesn’t want a drill bit, s/he wants a hole in the wall. Identifying the jobs your offerings perform allows you to better serve your customer’s needs and stay ahead of the competition.

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