Focusing on the work at hand. Plus Kat Vellos on friendship and other things worth your attention.
INFORMA(C)TION — May 2, 2021
Focusing on the work at hand. Plus Kat Vellos on friendship and other things worth your attention.
Hello! I'm Jorge Arango and this is INFORMA(C)TION: a biweekly dose of big ideas for people who make digital things. If you like this email, please forward it to a friend. And if you're not subscribed, sign up here. Thanks for reading!
Tail of Elvis's jet, showing the TCB logo
Lisa Marie Airplane N880EP Convair 22 by Rafael Marquez (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Taking Care of Business

In 2009, I visited Graceland. I’d heard Elvis’s music before and appreciated his influence on Western culture, but I wasn’t a fan. Still, I thought it’d be interesting to see his famous home.

Among Graceland’s many attractions is the Lisa Marie, Elvis’s private jet. One detail stands out: the TCB logo emblazoned on the plane’s tail. TCB stands for “Taking Care of Business,” his latter-day motto.

It’s tacky, but I like it. For me, TCB is an appeal to focus on the work to be done — perhaps in the midst of a chaotic environment. Attend to the business at hand, create value to the best of your ability, then fly back home to the family.

I don’t think that describes Elvis’s way of being in the world (especially during his waning years), but there’s a sense of pragmatic bravado about the phrase that I find appealing. You have a job to do. Make sure you’re clear on what it is, and then do it well.

It’s easy for our attention to scatter given the many important things happening in the world. Ecological decline. Social injustice. Wealth inequality. Political polarization. The pandemic. All of it feels pressing and urgent.

As a designer — especially one that creates meaningful distinctions — you may feel called to take them on. And yet, these are all wicked problems: they’re complex, have no easy solutions, and involve many stakeholders. Design can help, but it’s not the sole answer.

Conversely, designers must focus on more than the pressing issues of the day. There’s also work to be done. Thinking about broad social problems can (and should) be an important part of our jobs, but for most of us, tackling them isn’t the work.

Of course, if your job doesn’t align with your values, you should do something about that. You could try to change things by calling out ethical failings or organizing with your colleagues. You could also look for a different job or even shift to another line of work.

But if you like your job, it behooves you to recognize that someone is paying you to create value for them. They must get their money’s worth. You should do the job mindfully, so it adds value to society and the world. And you must also take care of business.

Ultimately, you’re playing an infinite game. If you’re not seen as adding value, you won’t be playing long — and that doesn’t help anyone.

Worth Your Attention

  • The Systemic Design Framework, which extends the double diamond “to help designers working on major complex challenges that involve people across different disciplines and sectors. It places our people and our planet at the heart of design.” (H/t Alex Baumgardt)

  • Superpowers of transformation. “Transformation is different than incrementally improving how the world works today. It requires new approaches to change and it most certainly requires new superpowers.” (H/t Michael Dila)

  • The Scout Mindset. My notes on Julia Galef's new book about “see[ing] things as they are, not as you wish they were.” (It’s on my list of favorite reads this year.)

  • IA in web design. “Is Information Architecture always needed? The answer is: yes. It is always necessary to think information architecture and navigation through.” (H/t Peter Morville)

  • The role of IA in data teams. “Selecting better data encodings, color palettes, and even improving other visual details, will only get you so far in improving the data experience for your users. You’ll be able to make much more impactful changes by focusing on the information architecture first.”

  • Redesigned ‘Your Library.’ How Spotify is improving the findability of its users’ audio collections.

  • (Re)drawing system boundaries. From my blog: “One of the hardest things about making systems maps is knowing where to stop.”

  • Algorithms and ethics. HBR offers “recommendations for companies that want to engage in algorithmic management and nudging, but want to avoid ethical and regulatory snares.”

  • Not just for lost keys. Apple's new AirTags product enables new ways of interacting with our physical environments.

  • Kevin Kelly’s advice, pt. 2 Last year, Kevin Kelly shared wise advice for his birthday. He’s back this year with another great list. (My favorite: “Sustained outrage makes you stupid.”)

The Informed Life with Kat Vellos

Episode 60 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Kat Vellos. Kat uses her background in experience design to empower people to learn, grow, and thrive. She’s written two books about adult friendship, We Should Get Together and Connected from Afar.

In our conversation, we discussed the importance and challenges of making friends. Kat's work invites us to be more intentional and genuine in our connections with others. It’s good advice at any time, but especially now that many of us have been isolated for over a year.

The Informed Life episode 60: Kat Vellos

Parting Thought

Any designer only thinking of the customer or user experience is doing at most a third of the job. The interaction not only needs to provide value to the customer, it must return value back to the organization or it doesn’t matter how delightful it is. And it’s much easier to create a sustainable exchange of value if you consider it from the beginning.

— Erika Hall, Thinking in Triplicate

Thanks for reading! 🙏
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