- Systems thinking as a way of addressing the limitations of user-centered design.
- Anne-Laure Le Cunff on the differences between effectiveness, efficacy, and efficiency.
- “As we look back at the last few months, it’s clear that as people spend more and more time online, they want online spaces where they can find real humanity and belonging.” On the emergence of Discord as a third place.
- “His theory is as fundamental as the physical laws of nature.” An appreciation of Claude Shannon’s work.
- Marty Cagan on leading with context.
- T’is the season when many people upgrade to new devices. But thanks to modularity and regular (and free!) operating system upgrades, today’s devices remain useful — and more valuable — longer. My appreciation of such upgrades.
- Matt Arnold interviewed me for The Iowa Idea podcast. The conversation was one of my favorite of the year, with subjects that ranged from Disneyland to avoiding extreme positions.
- Mediating the tension between openness and control.
- Lou Rosenfeld’s three simple suggestions for UX authors and presenters.
- In the tradition of A a a a a Very Good Song, somebody has named an album Ok Google Play Music. (Via Benedict Evans.)
- “When you’re a parent, you don’t really ‘make’ a baby, in a certain sense. You’re kind of a conduit for the baby. We’re conduits for this technology. But we also can have a lot of say about the character of it.” An insightful and inspiring interview with Kevin Kelly on the role of technology in our lives.
- “A new word can clarify nebulous problems that lack a name, as well as identifying a solution or idea that people can assemble behind.” Towards a crowdsourced glossary of “long-terminology.”
- Lots of good stuff in Dan Saffer’s favorite design articles of 2020.
- Mastery is a lifelong commitment. I recently read a book by George Leonard that explains the mindset required for mastery and gives pointers for the journey. My notes.
- A useful construct: Peter Merholz’s “framework for thinking about the different aspects of [design] leadership, rooted in four archetypes.”
- 10 information architecture resources from the folks at Optimal Workshop.
- Jeff Eaton on the distinctions between domain models, content models, and data models.
- A roundtable discussion on pluriversal design from a group of eminent design thought leaders. (H/t Eric Knudtson)
- A collection of tools and mini-courses for clear thinking. (H/t Robert Haisfield.)
- Greatness isn’t guaranteed, but we can try to create the conditions that make it possible.
- Painting with mathematics. 🤯
- “… we shouldn’t be lured into thinking overall talent is the best predictor because it is the most important factor. It might be the best predictor because we’re not yet good at capturing the nuance of collective dynamics.” Insightful essay on what we can learn from complexity science about building winning teams.
- “The things that I would say that we focus on and think a lot about are… about community health. How do we make sure that the community is happy, productive, not full of trolls, thoughtful, kind, all of those great Wikipedia values? Which are like all communities, all groups of people.” Tyler Cowen interviews Jimmy Wales on what makes Wikipedia tick.
- “If you are a leader who can come into a situation that is ambiguous and uncertain and bring clarity, that’s leadership.” Four leadership lessons from Satya Nadella.
- “To confront an ambiguous problem, we have to invert our decision-making: Instead of focusing on the problem itself, we need to define what a successful outcome looks like — what I call your ‘vision of success.’” How developing a clear vision can help us manage ambiguous situations.
- Four ways to improve your problem-framing abilities.
- “Great public spaces are owned by everyone and therefore ought to be designed for everyone.” Writing in Wired, Eli Pariser argues that we need the digital equivalent of public parks.
- “Zillow usage has climbed since March, with online visitors to for-sale listings up more than 50 percent year-over-year in the early months of the pandemic.” On the phenomenon of perusing real estate listings for entertainment. (I wonder what, if anything, Zillow is doing to capitalize on this trend?)
- Personal reflections on the balance between conformism and independent-mindedness.
- I’m both excited and wary of the promise of “digital thinking” apps like Notion and Roam. Does using such apps — especially when provided “as a service,” as Roam and Notion are — risk creating an unhealthy dependency?
- From 2014-2017 I had the privilege to work alongside my friend Hans Krueger. Hans taught me about the Cycle of Emotions, an ancient Buddhist framework that has helped me interact more effectively with others. Jessica Fan has posted a beautiful writeup of the framework.
- “Organizational transformation is not an event; it is a process and a continuous one.” What buildings can teach us about organizational transformation.
- Alexander Rose on long-lived institutions: “The crux of anything that’s going to last for a long time is: how do you get good at reinvention and retooling?”
- “Humans have been thinking in maps since the very first symbolic communication systems.” A history of thinking in maps, from Lascaux to Tony Buzan. (H/t Austin Govella)
- It’d be great to learn from the development process of (unexpectedly) successful projects. Alas, we’re not good at documenting the early stages of creative work.
- Can ancient Chinese philosophy make us less anxious about artificial intelligence?
- Q: “What… makes a brand durable even as business models, technology, and consumer behavior radically change?” A: Adaptability.
- Lessons from Larry Tesler on how to deal with complexity.
- Yes, we can design better structural antidotes for misinformation. But structures emerge from business models. Why don’t we start there?
- The HomePod (and its ilk) are new types of products that require a different mental model. My family likes ours, despite some frustrations.
- What’s next for digital design tools?
I missed this post by John Moore Williams when it was first published (March 2020):
It’s no secret that we’ve entered what many are calling the “post-truth” era, with myriad instances of deep fakes, misinformation campaigns, and outright lies popping up, gaining viral traction, and ultimately shaping the decision-making of millions-all too often driven by prominent individuals who will here go unnamed. One of the biggest web design trends of 2020 will be designing truth.
The post proposes a few structural antidotes for misinformation, including clearer labeling — especially of sources — and more mindful relationships between an article’s main body and its related content. It includes some specific directions for the latter:
- Label content types clearly to help readers create a mental model of your content and better distinguish between organic and promotional materials
- Contextualize and promote sources so readers know where content comes from and can better evaluate its credibility
- Use related content to add context and promote nuanced understandings of topics
I found myself nodding to most of this. But to what degree are these business (rather than design) problems?
To wit: the post focuses on advertising-based media — i.e., an industry based on persuasion. Whenever I encounter a website rife with low-rent “content you may like” ads and/or ambiguously attributed content and/or confusing contexts, I don’t immediately wonder about the competency of its designers. Instead, I think about the organization’s misaligned business model.
Information should help people make better decisions. It’s unavoidable: making money by persuading people is in tension with giving them unbiased information.
- Axis Thinking: Brian Eno on how possibility spaces open up “when a stable duality dissolves into a proliferating and unstable sea of hybrids.”
- From the archive: Prescriptive and descriptive labels.
- “The islands of certainty that we’ve occupied, they’re shrinking. The problems we were putting off until to tomorrow, they’re here. The world is looking increasingly…unknown. We need maps to guide us through these uncharted times.” Stephen P. Anderson’s recent EuroIA keynote provides such a map.
- “While the core educational focus of most technical curricula is to increase the capacity for inventive technical solutions, we see a need for these solutions to also increase social interconnectedness and resilience.” Charlotte Hochman and Kristian Simsarian offer four ways to help students understand human systems.
- “After over a decade of pushing to make our product experiences simple, straightforward and human, our Facebook Product Content Strategy team has realized that it’s time to apply those important principles to our own title.” They’re moving on from content strategy towards “content design.”
- Many designers focus primarily on the tangible aspects of their work, such as screens. But only by understanding models can they ensure design directions are strategically and ethically sound.
- Interviews with healthcare workers from around the world and what their homescreens say about their lives during the pandemic.
- Video: Metadata — “You know you want it!” (h/t Kate Rutter)
- I’m tackling a complex new (for me) subject and planning to use the Feynman technique for learning.
- A critical appreciation of the work of Christopher Alexander.
Whenever you make something new, the first draft will be of doubtful quality and/or utility. In some cases, it may not be apparent to others — or even to yourself — that the project is leading anywhere. This can be scary, especially if you’re devoting considerable time and resources (whether yours or other people’s) to the endeavor.
How do you cast these fears aside so you can make progress? Graham explains:
The thing you’re trying to trick yourself into believing is in fact the truth. A lame-looking early version of an ambitious project truly is more valuable than it seems. So the ultimate solution may be to teach yourself that.
One way to do it is to study the histories of people who’ve done great work. What were they thinking early on? What was the very first thing they did? It can sometimes be hard to get an accurate answer to this question, because people are often embarrassed by their earliest work and make little effort to publish it. (They too misjudge it.) But when you can get an accurate picture of the first steps someone made on the path to some great work, they’re often pretty feeble.
Perhaps if you study enough such cases, you can teach yourself to be a better judge of early work. Then you’ll be immune both to other people’s skepticism and your own fear of making something lame. You’ll see early work for what it is.
The form these cases take varies depending on the field you’re examining. We know a lot about the early phases and evolution of some paintings. For example, Dora Maar photographed Guernica throughout its various stages.
Other fields are less documented, perhaps because people are already busy enough making the thing. Also, if you’re unsure the endeavor will be worth it, what’s the worth of documenting its evolution?
Maar photographed Guernica when Picasso was already an established artist. Documenting the process would be valuable even if the painting went nowhere. It’s harder to make the case for documenting the process of a “crazy” project by an “unknown” creator.
Still, documenting creative endeavors seems like an underserved area of literature. It would be wonderful to explore the (honest!) evolution of all sorts of things, from their first tottering steps to their current state. As suggested in the essay’s footnotes, doing so for even “trivial” projects seems more feasible now that we have pervasive means for capturing information.
- “There is abundant evidence that we human beings have far greater ability and desire to overcome our divisions than we realize.” We Are Not Divided, a project that explores “the many ways we bridge our divides.”
- “In software, good design is not intended to be gazed upon and admired and appreciated. It is most successful when it recedes in to the background.” From a short interview with Irene Au on what UX design is. (Via Kenny Chen’s UX Design Weekly newsletter.)
- “UX needs to get its shit together because there are many products out there like Twitter and Facebook that have amplified the worst parts of society. If UX can’t solve those problems, we have no business doing UX.” From an interview with Dan Brown.
- A list of UX clichés.
- As Brian Eno has said, you can focus on the work or you can focus on the frame around the work. Focusing on the frame can be quite powerful.
- Microsoft released its now Xbox gaming console. Alas, its name may be confusing some buyers, including me.
- My students often want to know if they’re doing things the “right” way. Recently I thought of a good analog to teach the role of rules in creative work.
- An interview with Marc Andreessen about how he keeps on top of things these days.
- A new paper that proposes blending foresight and design for strategic decision-making.
- A Twitter thread on lessons for software designers from Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn.
- “Designers are trained to traditionally and classically solve problems. They’re almost like engineers of sorts. Then of course, they are also taught to solve [problems] with elegance. So when an emergency happens, they jump into action.” Paola Antonelli on the defining designs of 2020.
- “When in real life are you ever looking at a grid of faces? Never. It’s not natural.” John Palmer on how spatial thinking can make for better software design. Followup: a framework for designing spatial software. (Via the Culture Clash newsletter.)
- Rahel Anne Bailie’s ”uneven history” of content strategy.
- The Design Encyclopedia, “a vast collection of meticulously documented design tokens, components, page layouts, interaction patterns, and visualizations.” (H/t Nathaniel Davis)
- A USC study on the role of context in flagging hate speech in social media.
- New machine learning models provide new insights into the role of culture in shaping language.
- On emergence and agency. (H/t Benjamin P. Taylor)
- From my blog: Reflections on the importance of keeping a beginners mind as you progress in your career.
- Bill Verplank’s Interaction Design Sketchbook. (PDF)
- Some clever folks built a web version of Winamp and a museum of (playable) Winamp skins.