Don’t Eat the Menu

Once, I was almost killed while walking in downtown Oakland. I’d waited for the light to change, so I could cross the street. After the crossing light came on, I started to walk. Just then, a car sped through the intersection, missing me by inches.

I’d done everything “right”: I was paying attention (i.e., not looking at my phone), using the crosswalk, and had waited until the light said it was OK for me to go… and I still almost got hit. What happened?

I was “eating the menu,” a phrase I picked up from Antony De Mello and J. Francis Stroud’s book Awareness. It appears in the context of a rhetorical question:

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The Informed Life with Mags Hanley

Episode 68 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Mags Hanley. Over her 25-year career, Mags has had leadership roles in information architecture, product management, and user experience design. Now, she’s helping designers find their career paths and build leadership and IA skills. In this conversation, we discuss Career Architecture, the focus of her current coaching work and subject of her upcoming book.

What is career architecture?

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Why You’re Having Trouble with That Twitter Redesign

Twitter recently changed its user interface. Changes include a new custom-made font and a more contrasty color palette. Here’s a thread from Twitter Design about what’s different. Among other things, the change in contrast affects “Follow” buttons, and the result has confused some folks.

As highlighted by the tweet above, the problem is that the new button treatment is the inverse of what came before. In the previous version, the Follow button was solid blue with white text for accounts you were already following, and white with blue text for accounts you were not following.

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TAOI: Facebook Mobile Settings

The architecture of information:

Facebook, in their newsroom blog:

As part of our ongoing efforts to improve people’s experience on Facebook, we’ve redesigned the Facebook Settings page to make our tools easier to find. We’ve streamlined the layout, while keeping all the previous settings.

Whether it’s managing the ads people see, adjusting sharing settings, or curating an audience for posts, people shouldn’t have to think too hard about where to start. That’s why we’ve reduced the number of categories, and renamed them to more closely match people’s mental models. Settings are now grouped into six broad categories, each containing several related settings: Account, Preferences, Audience and Visibility, Permissions, Your Information, and Community Standards and Legal Policies.

We’ve also relocated several standalone settings so that they live alongside related settings. For example, the News Feed setting, which previously lived in a smaller category of its own, now lives under Preferences where it is grouped with similar settings. We’ve also made some improvements to the settings search function, making it easier to find the settings you need if you don’t know the exact name or location of the setting you’re looking for.

Image: Facebook
Image: Facebook

This is a great example of how revising a product’s information architecture can make it easier to use. Alas, nowhere in the post does Facebook mention the phrase “information architecture.”

These changes aren’t just (or even mostly) about “[streamlining] the layout” — they’re changes to the structure and labeling of settings options. That’s IA.

How We’re Making it Easier to Navigate Settings – About Facebook (Via The Verge)

TAOI: The “Ethnic” Aisle

The architecture of information:

Priya Krishna, writing for the New York Times:

Chitra Agrawal, the founder of Brooklyn Delhi, has spent many hours thinking about where in the grocery store her Indian condiments might sell the best.

Positioning her premade sauces alongside pasta sauce, she imagined, might encourage spaghetti lovers to make Indian food. On the other hand, she could be setting her products up for removal from the aisle, as they probably wouldn’t sell as well as pasta sauce. Then there’s her mango chutney, which is essentially a fruit condiment. Would placing it among other jams and jellies make sense, or confuse shoppers?

The spot where her products have found the most success is the so-called ethnic or international aisle, the global smorgasbord that has long been a fixture of American groceries — wide-ranging, yet somehow detached from the rest of the store.

As my friend Steve Portigal pointed out, this story about grocery store ethnic aisles — an “international hodgepodge [that] strikes many shoppers and food purveyors as antiquated” — is about information architecture.

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Everything in its Right Place


At its core, information architecture is about making meaningful distinctions. We set aside things from each other, categorize, group, sort them, etc., to find and understand them more easily. We do this all the time — and not just with digital information.

For example, you’ll find a particular pair of socks more quickly if your sock drawer is organized than if you dump them there in a loose mess. And categorizing and archiving your receipts up front can save you headaches come tax time.

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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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