- “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.
- “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.)
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.Continue reading
- Hugh Dubberly on how systems thinking is key for practicing design going forward.
- The information horizon, a useful concept for game designers — and perhaps designers of other information environments as well? (h/t Luke Stevens)
- “Once you are given a tool that operates effortlessly — but only in a certain way — every choice that deviates from the standard represents a major cost.” Amy Hoy on how blogging broke the web.
- A handy one-page guide to using RSS feeds by Matt Web. I love the independence afforded by RSS, but it’s hard for a technology that needs an elaborate explainer to be widely adopted.
- A brief history of the 2×2 matrix, one of the most useful conceptual structures around. (h/t Tom Critchlow)
- Sam Altman on what the best researchers and founders have in common.
- An interview with Abby Covert on her career path and why she went from solo IA practitioner to an individual contributor at Etsy. (Bonus: my conversation with Abby about remote work.)
- “User interface design has reached a point where looking at the past can provide inspiration and insights for our design activities.” A useful compendium of milestones of UI design. (h/t Moritz Stefaner)
- A case study of generative logo design.
- Ted Gioia on why Gregory Bateson matters.
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.Continue reading
- In an interview for The New York Times, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey offered a good illustration of how it’s hard for startups to see the big picture.
- How Dropbox develops “North Star product experiences” — i.e., future visions for their products. (H/t Kenny Chen)
- Design Nonfiction, a series of video interviews that “explores and documents transformations in design between the Dotcom Crash and the rise of machine intelligence.” (h/t Peter Stoyko)
- An intriguing look at the structure of Google’s (software) design docs. (h/t Cyd Harrell)
- Ren Pope on the difference between data, information, and knowledge problems.
- Tim Sheiner on best practices for presenting numbers that change over time. (As in dashboards, etc.)
- Stephen Anderson released his first The Mighty Minds Club report, which is about exploring alternate futures. The best educational bang-for-the-buck I’ve gotten in a long time — highly recommended.
- The flexibility of software is enabling manufacturers to add or subtract features from products after they’ve been sold. This opens possibilities for new business models.
- A fantastic visual introduction to machine learning. (h/t Helen Armstrong)
- “Armed with 52 different bricks, let’s see what they can teach us about the design, layout and organisation of complex interfaces.” What you can learn about UI design from LEGO bricks.
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.
- A reminder that structure changes more slowly than look-and-feel.
- Google is redesigning Gmail so it works more like Slack. The result is a different conceptual model of the application.
- I’ve found remote brainstorming sessions to be less effective than in-person sessions, and I’m looking for ways to change that.
- “This is not going to be sustainable.” The shine is starting to come off remote work. (WSJ subscription required)
- A conversation about architecture and design in tech, via John Maeda.
- Alexis Lloyd on lessons from Jane Jacobs for creating more effective digital spaces.
- Six ways to think long-term by Roman Krznaric, whose book on the subject came out (in the U.K.) last week. (I’m looking forward to reading it in October, when it comes out in the U.S.)
- What I’m reading now: Bruce Mau’s latest, MC24. (I was turned on to the book by this interview.)
- A succinct explanation of the GPT-3 machine learning model.
- A fantastic interactive introduction to human network dynamics by Nicky Case. (h/t Patrick Newberry.)
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.