View this email in your browser


Screen Fixation

Why are examples of high-level design artifacts so hard to find? Plus Jesse James Garrett on leadership and IA and other things worth your attention.
Jorge ArangoJorge Arango
April 4, 2021

Welcome to INFORMA(C)TION, a biweekly newsletter about systems thinking, information architecture, strategic design, and other topics relevant to humans who create digital things.

If you enjoy this email, please consider sharing it with others. And if you're not subscribed yet, you can sign up here. Thanks for reading!

Iowa 2015: Red with iPad Mini (fragment) by PF Anderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

My Systems Studio course’s final project calls for researching a problem domain and modeling a systemic intervention. Students practice conceptual mapping, systems modeling, feedback loops, etc., and explore the ethical implications of data-driven systems.

It’s high-level stuff, and students don’t have much time to present. And yet, a high percentage always skews towards screen-level artifacts. They dispense with ecosystem maps, journey maps, and system models in a few slides and devote the rest of their time to comps or wireframes.

This doesn’t do the subject justice. And yet, I don’t blame the students. They’re building portfolios; comps and wireframes are what recruiters want to see.

It's not just recruiters. In ‘real’ projects, stakeholders and other project actors always want to quickly get to the screens. And when I tell people I design software, I expect most think I draw user interfaces for a living.

Why are screen-level artifacts so popular?

It’s because people love stuff they can relate to. Ecosystem maps, conceptual models, and service design matrices are abstractions. They explore wholes, which are harder to evaluate than parts. We don’t have much experience with such things or the context to determine their worth.

Screens, on the other hand, are tangible. We’ve all interacted with systems at that level; many of us can tell whether a comp ‘works’ or not. It’s also easy to find examples of screen-level artifacts — portfolio sites such as Dribbble feature mostly UI-level work.

Conversely, it’s hard to find good examples of high-level artifacts. Fewer people are making (and therefore, sharing) concept maps, service design matrices, ecosystem diagrams, etc.

But also — and this is key — organizations don’t have incentives to publish high-level work. The likelihood of design artifacts being shared publicly is inversely proportional to their strategic value.

This is a problem for designers. We can add a lot of value beyond ‘production,’ but it requires that we work at a higher, more abstract level. It’s hard to do so when examples of what ‘good’ looks like are rare.

Besides Dubberly Design’s wonderful concept maps and models, have you seen good public examples of high-level design artifacts? Please let me know; it would help my students and other designers aspiring to work more strategically.

Also worth your attention

  • Ecosystem mapping. A great presentation deck by Andrea Resmini on how to map experiences, from individual objects to ecosystems.
  • How complex systems fail. “Safety is an emergent property of systems; it does not reside in a person, device or department of an organization or system.” (H/t Florent Crivello)
  • A better framing for ‘tech debt.’ A thought-provoking Twitter thread that offers a new way to think about technical debt.
  • Thoughts on Slack's DM feature launch. My sense is that the company's teams think of themselves as adding ‘features’ to a ‘product,’ instead of as stewards of a place where people work.
  • In-house design thought leadership? A mildly controversial post; my position has become more nuanced after many thoughtful replies. Expecting to write more on this.
  • Architectural Decision Records (ADR), a tool for tracking key decisions in technology stacks. (Does something similar exist for the architecture of complex conceptual domains?)
  • On being robust and resilient. “Design leaders can use these qualities to create an emotional armor to lean on in tough situations.” (H/t Jessica Ivins)
  • Podcast: the behavioral economics of Disney. “They have an incredible talent for balancing expectations with surprise and delight in this beautiful dance that works with the brain’s bias for the status quo.”
  • Alan Kay on computers and education. “… understanding — like civilization, happiness, music, science and a host of other great endeavors — is not a state of being, but a manner of traveling…” 1995. Beautiful, timeless. (H/t Dorian Taylor)
  • 100 design aphorisms. Great list by Dan Saffer. “The designers working in the mid-20th century (Eames, Lowey, Nelson, Dreyfuss, et al) knew pretty much everything we know about design — except for data. Data is the design material of the 21st century.” 🎯
The Informed Life episode 58: Jesse James Garrett

Episode 58 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Jesse James Garett. Jesse is author of The Elements of User Experience and co-founder of Adaptive Path. Now, he coaches design leaders, and in this podcast we explore the relationship between IA and leadership. I was excited to hear Jesse touch on this subject on episode 25 of the Finding Our Way podcast, and was thrilled to have him say more about it on my show. 

The Informed Life episode 58: Jesse James Garrett on Leadership and Information Architecture

Parting thought

The extent to which abstraction is fundamental to software systems can be hard to explain to someone who hasn’t built them; while to someone who has, it can be so ubiquitous as to have become invisible. But the very essence of software system design is the manipulation, combination, and creation of abstractions.

— Paul Dourish, Where the Action Is

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.)

Share Share
Tweet Tweet
Forward Forward
Copyright © 2021 Boot Studio LLC, All rights reserved.

Jorge Arango
Boot Studio LLC
P.O. Box 29002
Oakland, CA 94604

Disclosure: This newsletter may include Amazon affiliate links.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp