Worth Your Attention

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Worth Your Attention

  • “All architecture is design, but not all design is architecture.” A great Twitter thread by Grady Booch about the architecture of software systems. (Many of his points also apply to the architecture of UX.)
  • “Understanding the key properties of complex systems can help us clarify and deal with many new and existing global challenges, from pandemics to poverty and ecological collapse.” How understanding complex systems can help us manage complexity.
  • “Seams aren’t just connection points, they are the space where the connections are made. Not every connection needs a seam, but, where seams exist, meaning, memory, and ‘what matters’ can as well.” Brian Dell explores our world’s vanishing seams.
  • “The taste for this kind of mood — slow, quiet, meditative — used to be marginal but now, I’m happy to say, there are quite a lot of people at that margin. To me that signifies the emergence of a new type of mind, a type of mind we need in this new type of world.” Brian Eno in an interview about Mixing Colours, his new(ish) album with his brother Roger. (This music has been a salve for me in this stressful year.)
  • “How to enable not users but adaptors? How can people move from using a product, to understanding how it hangs together and making their own changes? How do you design products with, metaphorically, screws not nails?” Matt Webb revisits Dan Hill’s work on Adaptive Design.
  • From my blog: One of the hardest things about critiquing a product is putting aside our “expert” understanding of how it works.
  • A16Z on the opportunities inherent in unbundling the verticals latent in platforms.
  • I’m not thrilled about some recent changes to WordPress, the CMS that hosts my websites. A recent post by Ev Williams has me considering a possible change.
  • How do you choose the right note-taking app? It depends on whether you’re an architect, a gardener, or a librarian. (h/t Benjamin Schneider)
  • Ask Nature, a repository of natural strategies for solving complex problems — “it’s time to begin asking the rest of our complex planetary family how to build a more resilient, regenerative, and beautiful world.” (Via Recomendo, a great weekly newsletter from the folks at Cool Tools.)

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

Medium is Bringing Back Custom Domains

Ev Williams, writing in Medium:

Speaking of portability, it’s always been possible to get an export of all your posts and other data in Medium. And by default, all Medium publications and profiles have RSS feeds (e.g., blog.medium.com/feed) – full text, except for metered/paywall stories.

We are now bringing back another option for portability – and brandability – namely, custom domains. Not that they ever went away entirely. Medium hosts tens of thousands of publications under their own domains. However, we paused setting up new ones a couple of years ago. Among other reasons, we needed to fix some cross-domain bugs and revamp our system for registering SSL certificates. We have now prioritized that work so that we can scalably offer custom domains again.

So soon you’ll be able to take advantage of Medium’s new publishing tools and tap into the Medium network – assuring deliver of your content to your followers – while showing up under your own brand/domain and confident in the knowledge that if you ever want to move off Medium, that’s fully in your control.

The web removes many of the barriers that keep us from becoming publishers. If you have something to share with the world, it’s easier than ever to publish your writing. It’s also easier than ever to own your own platform. If you take publishing seriously (as you should,) you should aim to have some degree of control over where your content shows up. This doesn’t mean that you need to hand-craft web pages from scratch or manage your own web server. But at a minimum, you should aim to publish in a domain name you control.

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Worth Your Attention

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

The Expertise Trap in UX Critiques

From an article in TNW about the UX of posting and commenting on LinkedIn:

As haphazard as lots of the design is, there does appear to be a goal: driving up in engagement. That makes sense, but where the real joy comes from is the batshit way this is approached.

The article highlights two features ostensibly designed to drive engagement: LinkedIn’s canned responses, which, according to the author, have produced “a terrifying world filled with reams of identikit comments that come across as inhuman and deeply insincere,” and its “add hashtag” feature. Most of the article focuses on the latter.

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Worth Your Attention

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

Startups and the Big Picture

The Daily podcast interviewed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and The New York Times published an article with highlights from the conversation. This caught my eye:

Twitter was founded without a plan, Mr. Dorsey said. “It wasn’t something we really invented, it was something we discovered. And we kept pulling the thread on it.”

The unraveling was “electric,” he said, as the small, localized platform he built for friends to share updates on their lives morphed into a global social network. In the process, though, Mr. Dorsey said he now believes that he made a critical mistake: not hiring experts to help him understand the potentially far-reaching importance of apparently small design choices.

“The disciplines that we were lacking in the company in the early days, that I wish we would have understood and hired for,” he said, were “a game theorist to just really understand the ramifications of tiny decisions that we make, such as what happens with retweet versus retweet with comment and what happens when you put a count next to a like button?”

Without this expertise, he said he thought that the company had built incentives into the app that encouraged users and media outlets to write tweets and headlines that appealed to sensationalism instead of accuracy. At the time, he noted, he struggled to envision the app’s potential social implications – and what those design decisions might mean for “how people interrelate with one another, how people converse with one another.”

This is an excellent example of what I mean by “not seeing the big picture.” But it’s unrealistic to expect small startups to think about second- and third-order effects; most are trying to survive. They’re focused on the immediate next step, and then the one after that. The “unraveling” is a stochastic process.

And yet, early decisions are hard to undo later. Structure changes more slowly than look-and-feel. So, teams must consider the structural implications of their work. It’s unrealistic to expect nascent Twitter to have hired a game theorist, but perhaps they could’ve consulted with an information architect? (But then, if they’d caught these problems early on, would they have ever become Twitter?)

On another note, I was encouraged by the mention of how Twitter’s incentive structures foster sensationalism. Alas, there’s no acknowledgment (at least in the highlights article; I haven’t heard the full interview) of the role Twitter’s business model — selling the attention of its users — plays in all this. That seems like the more challenging problem to solve.

Jack Dorsey on Twitter’s Mistakes – The New York Times

Worth Your Attention

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

Caring as a Core Design Principle

Bruce Mau, in an interview for The Creative Factor:

Being a designer, what you really signed up for is caring. I did a lecture for the Cooper Hewitt about their collection. When I looked at the collection, I thought, What do all these disparate objects have in common? I realized the common denominator is caring. What makes a design product different from other things is that people care more about the user as an individual, not as a consumer, but as a citizen.

Once you care about a person, you can’t not care about their context, right? You can’t have a healthy, vibrant person in a toxic community. And by extension, you have to care about their environment. You can’t have a thriving community in a toxic ecology.

We shift the idea of what design is about from the object and the immediate outcome to life itself—life-centered design, which is an understanding that we are not the center of the universe.

That’s really is it, isn’t it? The quality of the work will be completely different if designers truly care about the people they’re designing for.

Note this isn’t about being “user-centered.” It’s about understanding that our “users” exist in societies and ecosystems. If the thing we design serves user and business needs, but compromises their contexts, then it’s no good. Alas, we focus too much on the design of the parts and not enough on the whole. We value craft over philosophy – even though we, too, live in the same societies and ecosystems.

This interview is in support of Mr. Mau’s new book, MC24. I’m finding much inspiration in its pages; it’s a good salve for these dark times.

Bruce Mau: We Change By Slowly Changing Everything