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Jorge Arango's

No. 27
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What is it that we're working on?

As a consultant, I want to get to the root of my clients’ challenges. I may have been brought in to fix a digital product’s navigation system or to help envision how a new system may function. In these situations, I’m expected to answer “how?” questions: How do users move around the product? How will the system work?

While answering these questions will move things forward, their impact is limited. Most of the time, the more powerful question to ask is “what?” What is it that we’re working on? What impact(s) could it have on our company/market/customers? What do we need to do to make it happen?

“How” is tactical; “what” is strategic — and a shift in strategy is more powerful than a shift in tactics. (Strategy is lower on the pace layer diagram.)

Often, I’m hired because an organization’s strategy is shifting, and this requires changes to its digital products. Sometimes this shift has been articulated clearly, so it’s understandable to everyone in the organization; folks making tactical choices understand the new vision and know how it impacts their work. But sometimes the future vision hasn’t been clearly articulated. People at one level in the organization understand it differently from the people “in the trenches.” Clarifying the vision is essential; you want to make sure everyone is working towards the same ends.

Information architecture can help. The process of defining an IA brings together people from different parts of the organization and provides them with the means to make complex, abstract concepts more tangible. While the resulting IA will be useful in itself — informing key system elements such as navigation structures — its value transcends its stated purpose. IA can be a helpful MacGuffin for alignment discussions that must happen if the organization is to move forward coherently.

I’ve done this work several times as part of broader design projects, and recognize that its value extends well beyond making digital systems easier to navigate and understand. As a result, I’ve structured a new workshop focused on using IA tools to clarify design visions and align teams. Does this sound like something your organization could use? Please get in touch.

Information architecture lenses

I’m late to this party, but this week I finally got a set of Dan Brown’s wonderful information architecture lenses. Dan positions the lenses as “cards for designing navigation in digital products.” But of course, IA is good for more than navigation — and so are the lenses. I look forward to using them in my projects.

Towards a successful career in UX

Last week I participated in a YouTube panel alongside Laura Klein and Dan Szuc, and moderated by the good folks at UX Mastery. The subject? "The Rhythms and Habits of Successful UX Practitioners." You can see the video here.

Dan, Laura, and I explored the mindsets that have gotten us to our current points in our careers. The whole conversation is worthwhile, but I’ll point out my favorite parts:

  • We touched on the importance of aligning your values with your work. This requires clarifying what your values are; it’s something you must make time for. (I recommended Michael Ray’s book The Highest Goal.)
  • Perhaps because of this, we discussed the value of philosophy in professional practice.
  • Laura brought up an important distinction: that between job security and career security. The latter is the only one you can do something about.

The Informed Life with Beck Tench

Episode 6 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Beck Tench, a Ph.D student at the University of Washington. This role requires that she deal with a lot of information, and in this show we discuss how she makes sense of it all. This includes an overview of one of my favorite information management tools, Tinderbox.

Our conversation kicked off with the subject of Beck’s Ph.D. itself, which is both fascinating and highly relevant to leading an informed life. This is how she describes the focus of her studies:

I'm interested in how we can design spaces and technologies that facilitate contemplative practices or just contemplative experiences. And by contemplative, I mean essentially being present to life in that moment. Spaces that will help us be present, slow down and notice the world. But there's also this flavor of being lovingly present as part of it. It's not just hyper-focus and attention-driven. It is also considering compassion, basically.

I was thrilled to hear about Beck’s area of focus. We need more of this in the world.

The Informed Life Episode 6: Beck Tench

Have you been enjoying the show?

Have you been enjoying The Informed Life? Please take a couple of minutes to rate and/or review the show in Apple's podcast directory. This helps other folks find it. Thanks!

Other things I’ve been thinking about…


About Living in Information

Living in Information book coverThe book's description and table of contents are on its web page. If you want a succinct overview, my presentation at UX Week 2018 is a good introduction. You can buy the book from... 

... and other fine purveyors of the printed word.

“A paradox is not a conflict within reality. It is a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ‘ought to be.’”

— Richard Feynman

Thanks for reading!

-- Jorge

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Copyright © 2019 Jorge Arango, All rights reserved.

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

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