The Informed Life With Michael J. Metts

The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Michael J. Metts. Alongside co-author Andy Welfle, Michael has written a new book, called Writing is Designing: Words and the User Experience, and in this show we discussed their thesis:

if you think about any sort of experience that you interact with, like a mobile app, that’s the one we use as an example right in the beginning of the book. Your mobile app, if you open it up and you start tapping through it, you start looking at it, you start to see words everywhere. You’re interacting with language just as much as you’re interacting with visual elements like menu items and buttons and all those other things.

So, our thesis really is just that you should treat those words as part of the design and that you should apply design techniques and practices to those words and how you get there, and not treat them as something that’s inconsequential or after the fact. So, we’ve done that in our own careers, and we’ve seen how vital it is to building a good experience, and we just want to share that with others.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know why I wanted to have Michael on the show. We discussed the relationship between writing and design, how to manage language, and what everybody — designer or not — can do to be a better writer. Hope you enjoy our conversation.

The Informed Life Episode 24: Michael J. Metts on Writing as Design

The Informed Life With Carol Smith

The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Carol Smith. Carol is a user experience researcher at the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Her focus is artificial intelligence, and prior to joining Carnegie Mellon, she worked for Uber’s Advanced Technology Group and IBM Watson.

Our conversation focused on the benefits and limitations of AI technologies:

I do take many precautions with making sure that my information as protected as possible, but at the same time, I love using a lot of the tools out there. So I love using chatbot that I have in my home. I really love being able to just ask it to play NPR, or asking it to turn on some lights, or whatever it is. I really enjoy these types of tools, and I really like the idea that my email can add something to my calendar. That’s really helpful. It doesn’t always add it the way I want it to, and I’d like more control in that sense. But I find these tools to be so helpful in my day to day life. I’ve got kids, and I teach a class, and I work and got soccer games and a million things going on on any given day. I can’t imagine having this busy of a life without these tools helping me day-to-day.

That being said, I’m very cognizant of all of the danger that is potential with these systems and how much of my personal information is out there. I’m very protective of my kids’ information and trying to keep them off of these systems for as long as possible. So it’s a balance. It’s a constant balance where I’m constantly trying to determine, is this still the system I want to be using? Should I be perhaps moving to a different system? Should I be not using the system that I believe to be more harmful? Trying to determine how to manage all that is a constant decision-making and evaluation process, and for people who are less familiar with these tools, I’m sure it’s much more frightening and difficult.

Our discussion is a good primer on the current state of AI and its implications for our day-to-day information management. I also share one of my AI “tales of woe.”

Unfortunately there were some audio glitches on my side of the line, which I couldn’t fix in post. They go away halfway through the show, but may be a bit annoying early on. Apologies for that. I’m still trying to figure out podcasting; there are so many things to track!

In any case, I enjoyed my conversation with Carol. I hope you find it valuable.

The Informed Life Episode 23: Carol Smith on Artificial Intelligence

The Informed Life With Andrea Mignolo

The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with design leader and coach Andrea Mignolo. Andrea is VP of Product and Design at Movable Ink, a marketing technology company based in New York. She’s also been posting insightful articles on Medium about the value of design. I referenced these two in particular in the show:

These articles are what prompted me to schedule a conversation with her. The thesis is that design is useful for more than just making product and services; it’s also a particular way of being for organizations, one which emphasizes learning through making:

I think a lot of people talk about wanting design-driven companies, but I think that that’s maybe a little too much hubris. I think it’s really design helping facilitate and spread these activities ways of thinking ways of exploring into other departments as well or just creating a culture where this is part of the approach.

The first part of our conversation centered on this idea of “designerly ways of being.” I was especially keen to learn about the Experiential Learning Cycle; a model Andrea has been using to implement these ideas.

The second half of the interview took a fascinating turn: Andrea discussed her experience as a practitioner of integral coaching, which helps individuals and organizations find new ways of being in the world. I’m intrigued by these practices and left wanting to know more.

I hope you get as much value from this conversation as I did.

The Informed Life Episode 22: Andrea Mignolo on Designerly Ways of Being

The Informed Life With Vanessa Foss

The latest episode of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Vanessa Foss. Vanessa has been planning and managing conferences for twenty-five years. She’s the founder and president of Kunverj, an event planning and managing company. Vanessa and her team run one of my favorite events of the year, the Information Architecture Conference. In our conversation, we discussed what it takes to organize and manage such an event.

The bottom line? Event planning is a relationship business, one that requires tuning in to the needs and capabilities of the people you’re working with — especially the conference chairs, who are ultimately responsible for the success of the event. Vanessa used a powerful analogy to describe her role in the process:

It’s like having a dinner party, but it’s just bigger. These people, they’re coming to your home, and you want to make sure that they have… You know, that everything is just right for them.

And so with all of the conferences — and it’s not just the IA Conference — all the conferences, that’s the type of participation that I like to have, where I feel like this is my home, and I’m trying to prepare the best meal and the best experience for everyone coming into my home. And you know, with the IA Conference, the Euro IA Conference, and the RDAP conference that I do, these are all people that I’ve been working with for a long time. And so there’s a sense of family there. There’s a sense of… I’m not an IA, but I have learned so much from this community, the IA community, especially from the IA Conference. I see people that are so great, and they show so much empathy towards each other, and you know, the want to mentor and to help is always there. It’s hard work, but it’s very rewarding when you get to see the better side of human beings.

The IA Conference is my “home” conference — the one I go to every year, drawn both by professional interests and long friendships. Vanessa and her team are a core part of the Conference. Every time I see them, they’re working hard to make sure things are going well for everyone involved. It was a pleasure to have her on the show and to be able to highlight her work.

The Informed Life Episode 21: Vanessa Foss on Event Planning

The Informed Life With Chris Chandler

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 Informed Life With Eduardo Ortiz

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.

The Informed Life With Thomas Dose

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 Informed Life With Rachel Price

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 Informed Life With MJ Broadbent

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