Episode 20 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with my friend Chris Chandler. Chris is a partner at strategic software design and development studio Philosophie, and a self-described agilista. Our conversation centered on how designers — especially those working in agile environments — can embrace an ethical approach to their work:
Sometimes I say that theory without practice is useless, but sometimes I’ll say that practice without theory is expensive.
So, if we don’t know why we’re doing something then it’s awfully hard to make improvements and understand why something didn’t go the way that it wanted to go. And you know, that’s from a practical point. But I think when we talk about “expensive,” the expense of breaking things is more — and this is why it’s become such a such a watchword, right? The Facebook motto — it’s not just breaking software, right? Like we’re talking now about maybe breaking democracy. So that can have really big consequences.
Chris makes the point that it’s difficult to have conversations about ethics when we don’t share the same underlying ethical frameworks. How do we deal with this? Chris has found an answer in the philosophy of existentialism, especially the work of Simone de Beauvoir:
what she says is that as an existentialist in the existentialism philosophy, your highest value should be to work towards your own personal freedom — what you might say, to self-actualization, to own the fact that you are making these choices and to own the consequences of those choices and to be deliberate about those choices — and to work towards freedom.
This conversation is worth your while — especially if you design software.
The Informed Life Episode 20: Chris Chandler on Design Ethics
The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with designer and engineer Eduardo Ortiz. Eduardo is a Marine Corps veteran and Director of the U.S. Digital Service. He’s also co-founder of &Partners, a social impact studio that works with organizations to help improve their communities. In this episode, we discuss how they manage their information to drive change.
Eduardo spoke of their first project, which was set up to address the difficulties faced by immigrants in the Southwest U.S. border:
My partners and I, we started doing research to try to figure out what exactly what’s going on, which really meant making a lot of calls and starting to read the news to truly understand what was happening at the Southwest border. And when we kind of came up to an idea of what we could do or what the challenges were, I started talking to my wife who was a public defender, and she helped me kind of create this understanding, this framework for how children and families could be helped from a position of a legal expert, if you will. And once I had that I made a call out to pretty much anyone and everyone who had cycles to spare to join me. And about 40 people ended up volunteering to to join us and we ended up creating pretty much a relationship management system that we then partnered with New America and the Vera Justice Network, to provide a system that the legal providers at the Southwest border could use to reunify families.
We live in amazing times in which small groups of committed people can spin up systems to help solve complex social needs. Eduardo and his team could go from seeing something playing out in the news which they didn’t like, to asking themselves the question “what can I do about it?,” to actually doing something about it, relatively quickly.
One reason why we can spin up such solutions so quickly and inexpensively is that many digital systems are designed for collaboration and integration with other systems. During the interview, Eduardo also discussed how &Partners created a relationship management system using such a mash-up of tools.
Check out our conversation. And if you’re enjoying the show, please rate or review it in Apple’s podcast directory — this helps other folks find it.
My guest in the latest episode of The Informed Life podcast is Thomas Dose. Thomas is the Head of Music Services for DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. In this role, he works with a large collection of music:
The department I’m working in has been systematically collecting music since 1949, and the physical archives that they consist of roughly about 900,000 physical units, that is records, which are shellacs, vinyl, CDs, and so on. But obviously for the last decade or so, we haven’t really added much to the physical archive. Only on those instances where a release is purely on physical, we will acquire that such. What else it’s all digital now. But we’re still very happy with the physical archive. It’s not collecting dust because the editorial units in DR are basically ordering digitization of older materials every day, and we handle those. And we digitize those from from vinyl and from shellac. And you would be surprised of the volume of music that is still not available on the mainstream streaming services. You think that it’s interesting that every piece of music recorded ever is on Spotify. It’s not nearly the case. So we’re still recording from from our physical archives.
Such massive amounts of music require mindful organization, and in this conversation we delved into how such a thing can be structured to make particular pieces of music easier to find.
In our case, our data model basically supports two types of composition. And one is, you could say, the normal type of composition where you have a title for the composition and then you would have composers and lyricists related to that. And the other type of composition would support sub-compositions, which is basically in one of the obvious example is you have a symphony which would have four movements and then and so those are the sub-compositions. And we are then able to relate each of these sub-compositions or movements to all the different recordings of this movement and this work.
We also discussed a problem I’ve had with my own music collection: how to organize pieces that originated before the era of recording technologies, and which don’t fit neatly into album-length containers. The show is worth your time — especially if you manage a lot of music.
The Informed Life Episode 18: Thomas Dose on Music Collections
The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Rachel Price, a Senior Information Architect at Microsoft. In addition to being a professional IA and teaching IA, Rachel is also a jazz saxophonist. In this episode, we discuss how opening space for improvisation can make us more effective at managing our information.
What does Rachel mean by improvisation?
[it’s] really making a series of choices about what note to play at a given time, but it’s in reaction to a bunch of other input… Improvisation is… Some sort of sensory input goes into the central nervous system at that point if the player uses all these connections in their head, schemas that they know really well, patterns that they know really well, kind of tools or tricks that they know really well, they make connections. They make a snap decision about what to play. Then they actually play it and then the whole loop starts over again. So now they’ve created sensory input for someone else or for themselves, and it’s just this recruitment repeating cycle of iteration.
This can be a helpful analogy for designers doing user research. And when managing our own personal information environments, it’s useful to have an underlying framework while being mindful of not over-structuring things.
[the] idea that chord changes are enough is so cool. Right? It’s this idea that this pretty spare framework is just enough context to allow people to communicate with each other meaningfully with some shared intention, but with enough freedom for these incredible unpredictable moments to happen as well.
I had a great time talking with Rachel about this subject. Hope you enjoy it too!
The Informed Life Episode 17: Rachel Price on Improvisation
The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with my friend, graphic recorder and facilitator MJ Broadbent. MJ uses visual thinking to help folks understand themselves and each other more effectively:
Graphic recording — the large scale version — can be very valuable for meetings and conferences because people see that it’s happening and they can watch in meetings, they can see that they’re being heard and that, that they’re being paid attention to. And it can change the dynamic of the conversation. They become more focused often, and they feel cared for in a way. There’s somebody taking this, this step, this action and that there will be an artifact afterward. So a lot of just times we’re in rooms where people are doing a lot of talking and maybe someone’s taking notes. Mostly people are looking at what do we need to do coming out of this meeting? And then maybe capturing action items, but the capturing the content or the key aspects of what’s being discussed, is something that I think we can do more of.
I asked MJ a question I’ve asked of previous guests in the show: How has this way of working influenced how you manage your own information? MJ pointed to casual drawing in everyday situations to make things clearer and more fun:
Recently I got some new black jeans and you have to watch out when you wash them. You don’t put light-colored things in there because you know, the dye will leach. And so I made a note to make sure to use cold water and I made the big blue cold with the waves underneath, like kind of just as a reminder. So I’m… That’s kind of fun. And then also a really cool way is on a little simple calendar or paper calendars on the refrigerator. And sometimes I’ll put a little drawing of something that happened that day. The way people make journals. Yeah. Maybe it was the weather or something you ate. Just drawing simple little icons, or you know, I keep colored pens around the house. We have cups of pens everywhere and so that’s keeping it fun.
And it’s always nice when somebody else is involved. They enjoy it. It’s like how we used to be about getting paper mail, getting a letter in the mail. And then, I think the other part is, in terms of how I manage my life, I can’t have a conversation with people in, in person, often cannot have a conversation without drawing something.
MJ also shared about her upcoming seminar on this subject at Stanford, which sounds like a great opportunity to learn how to make drawing a greater part of your life. As always, you can see a transcript and links for the episode at TheInformed.Life. Hope you enjoy the show!
The Informed Life Episode 16: MJ Broadbent on Graphic Recording
The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with IT consultant and author Jeff Sussna. The focus of our conversation was cybernetics, an important subject that was popular in the 1940s-60s and is on the cusp of a renaissance after a long hiatus.
In the course of our conversation, Jeff gives one of the clearest and most accessible introductions I’ve heard to the subject of cybernetics. He spells out why it’s relevant to the work of implementing digital technologies, and also calls out its relevance to design:
there’s an idea that as designers, you have a responsibility to design systems that don’t cause harm. The problem is that what you’re trying to design are very, very complex systems and on some level, while it’s important to think in terms of doing good and not doing harm, I think you also need to confront the inevitability that you will do harm on some level that there will be unintended consequences.
And what’s more interesting and to me where the cybernetic approach comes in is you could say that doing harm is is a very compelling version of there being a gap between actual and desired, right? We wanted to build a system that would help people collaborate better and instead we built a system that’s starting to help people dislike each other more.
Let’s assume that’s going to happen and let’s look for it and let’s design for it in a much more continuous way.
Our conversation took several interesting turns; at one point we explored the connection between cybernetic thinking and Eastern philosophy. (Especially Buddhism.) I loved talking with Jeff about these subjects — I hope you enjoy the results.
The Informed Life Episode 15: Jeff Sussna on Cybernetics
Episode 14 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with information architecture/digital strategy/customer experience consultant Lis Hubert. Over the past year, Lis has been living around the world as what some folks refer to as a “digital nomad.” She’s using this time to “architect [her] best life:”
I want to be the best person I can be and I want to take the and I’m one of the best life I can have and I’m going to take all of the knowledge that I acquire along the way and create a life that gives me the most purpose.
In this show, we discuss what this means for Lis. It’s an inspiring conversation for anyone who’s ever thought about structuring their lives more intentionally.
An ask: if you’re enjoying these conversations, please rate or review the show in Apple’s podcast directory. This helps other folks find it. Thanks!
The Informed Life Episode 14: Lis Hubert on Living Intentionally
Earlier this year I had the pleasure to speak with Tony Daussat for his podcast, Experience Design. We discussed the arc of my career, Living in Information, and designing for the infinite game.
Listen to the episode
Episode 12 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with design executive Kim Lenox. For the past twenty years, Kim has served in leadership positions in top global organizations like LinkedIn and HP. Now she’s leading product design at Zendesk where she manages and interacts with teams dispersed throughout the world. In our conversation we get into the keys to making this work:
I think really critical is just finding alignment, making sure that we are all in alignment. The company Zendesk was founded by three Danish founders, and the Danish culture is very consensus-driven, and so we spent a lot of time in building relationships and having conversations around our shared vision, so it’s not a top-down mandate. It’s really about it coming from all directions and great ideas. It comes from every direction, it’s really about us making sure that we’re aligned, and that comes through conversation.
Kim also shared her latest tool to help her keep track of conversations:
I have a lot of memory recall when I am writing conversations down, and it’s really a visceral, very important part of my work style, and what I was finding was on paper, I wasn’t… every three months I would change notebooks, and so I would walk around with two notebooks because most of the things that I’m doing don’t get done in three months, and even if it’s the end of the month and you start a new month you still have to reference back, so I got this iPad to be able to help my work style, and so that’s my latest tool.
As a fellow iPad note-taker, I was keen to hear about how she’s doing this. I hope you enjoy this conversation. (By the way, if you’re enjoying the show in general, please review it in Apple’s podcast directory; this helps other folks find it.)
The Informed Life Episode 12: Kim Lenox on Leadership