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Jorge Arango's

No. 36

Do you see clearly?

I'm not talking about the sense of sight per se — I mean, do you understand the context you're acting within? How do you know?

As designers, we're increasingly called on to intervene in complex systems. Often, we go into the challenge with an imperfect understanding of just a small part of the system, at best. That's expectable and mostly alright… As long as we recognize the extent of our ignorance and take steps to remedy the situation.

Sometimes our ideological commitments can be an obstacle in the way of these explorations. In these highly polarized times, we're drawn to see things only from one perspective. That makes us less effective agents of change since it keeps us from seeing the whole picture. The question I often ask myself is: How do I honor my values — act with integrity — while also opening my mind to other positions?

Two practices help. The first is trying to understand others' goals, rather than focusing on their methods. Perhaps we differ less on our objectives than on the means to get there. The second is cultivating equanimity. We live in the age of the "hot take" — the opposite of what we want when making a systemic intervention.   

Ultimately, we want things to get better in a sustainable way. More than ever, designers must strive to see clearly. In polarizing times, this requires the ability to distinguish being "right" from being effective.

A few other things worth your attention...

  • A couple of weeks ago, my family and I visited Disneyland. The Disneyland app transformed our experience of the place.
  • Speaking of Disneyland, my eight-year-old self would’ve loved this: Imagineering in a Box, a free course developed by Walt Disney Imagineering and Khan Academy on how to design themed environments.
  • “From the smallest of personal connections to the largest of transportation networks, everything we interact with is part of an evolving series of complex systems.” Systems 101 for designers.
  • The work of British-Venezuelan Scholar Carlota Pérez may hint at where design is heading over the next 30 years.
  • Benedict Evans argues that Netflix is not a tech company.
  • Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen call for the creation of a new science: “Progress Studies.”
  • “When a company fails to live up to the basic expectation of trustworthiness — when they lack competence, integrity, or benevolence, for example — stakeholders feel betrayed.” HBR on manic innovation.
  • Jeff Sussna on healing the design-agile rift: “Fail-safe doesn’t work in complex systems. What’s needed instead is ‘safe-to-fail’.”
  • Designing things right vs designing the right things.
  • Chuck Jones’s cartoons are hilarious. What’s the secret to their effectiveness? Discipline.

The Informed Life With Jeff Sussna

Speaking of Mr. Sussna, I had the privilege of having him as the guest in the latest episode of my podcast, The Informed Life. We talked about why designers and developers should know about cybernetics, and (most intriguingly) what cybernetics and Buddhism have in common. It was an insightful conversation for me; I hope you enjoy it.

The Informed Life Episode 15: Jeff Sussna on Cybernetics

Thanks for reading!

-- Jorge

P.S.: If you like this newsletter, please forward it to a friend. (If you're not subscribed yet, you can sign up here.)

P.P.S.: If you haven't done so already, please check out my book, Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places. You can buy it from my publisher, Amazon, and other fine purveyors of the printed word.

Disclosure: this newsletter includes Amazon affiliate links.

Copyright © 2019 Jorge Arango, All rights reserved.

Jorge Arango
P.O. Box 29002
Oakland, CA 94604

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