Worth Your Attention

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Worth Your Attention

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

Worth Your Attention

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

Worth Your Attention

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

Structural Antidotes for Misinformation

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.

The most important web design trend of 2020

Worth Your Attention

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Documenting the Early Stages of Creative Work

Paul Graham posted a compelling essay about the perceived quality of first efforts. (In case you haven’t seen them, Graham’s essays are consistently insightful.)

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.[8]

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.

Photos of Guernica's late stages. Source: Journal of Art in Society
Photos of Guernica’s late stages. Source: Journal of Art in Society

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.

Early Work

Worth Your Attention

  • “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.

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

Worth Your Attention

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