Details about my upcoming website redesign, plus Sunni Brown on Deep Self Design & other things worth your attention.
INFORMA(C)TION — October 3, 2021
Details about my upcoming website redesign, plus Sunni Brown on Deep Self Design & other things worth your attention.
Hello! I'm Jorge Arango and this is INFORMA(C)TION: a weekly 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!
The Salk Institute
The Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA.

Moving to a Static Site Generator

In the last issue of the newsletter, I mentioned that I’m working on two new projects: a self-guided version of my IA Essentials workshop and a redesign of my website. The latter is imminent, so I wanted to share more details about what I’m doing.

I’ll start by saying I try not to fiddle around too much with my site. I’d rather be producing content than changing the site’s look and feel. (Or, ironically, its structure — cobbler’s children, etc.) That said, the site is long overdue for an overhaul.

In particular, it’s time to move to a new content management system. WordPress, which has powered the site for many years, has evolved from a blogging platform to a powerful general-purpose website editor. Its new Gutenberg editing system provides impressive capabilities if you’re trying to build a website for a business. But it's overkill for a blog, adding lots of complexity and cruft.

So, I’m moving to a self-hosted static site generator. (Jekyll, in case you’re wondering.) SSGs are content management systems that render websites as “old school” static HTML files. (In contrast to dynamic CMSs like WordPress, which generate web pages on-the-fly based on content stored in a database.) A static site is much faster than a dynamically rendered site. It's also more secure, since there isn’t running code to hack.

SSGs also offer a simpler and better writing experience. With the new system, content lives in a folder of plain text files on my computer. I edit these files using Markdown with my existing tools, which allows for much closer integration with my other workflows.

Another benefit of using an SSG is greater control over the site’s templates. I’m taking advantage of this to implement several new features:

  • Fewer HTTP requests per page, reducing load times
  • Greater respect for the user's privacy (e.g., eschewing third-party cookies)
  • A more modern layout, including dark mode
  • Improved site navigation

The new system will also be easier to maintain (e.g., no database to back up, no plugins to update, etc.) and less costly since I’m using an existing shared hosting account.

It’s not all upside, though. For one thing, SSGs are harder to implement. (I’m learning a lot about the current state of HTML/CSS as a result of this project.) Compared to turnkey systems like WordPress, implementing an SSG is a decidedly geeky undertaking.

For another, moving to a static site means losing some advantages of dynamic systems. The one that hurts most is site search. An SSG-generated site has no built-in search engine since the site is just a set of static HTML files.

I’m compensating by using DuckDuckGo’s site search feature, which works fine. But, alas, DuckDuckGo shows search results in their site, which I find jarring. There are options for implementing local search with SSGs; I’ll evaluate upgrading in the future.

But this brings me to another feature I love about the new platform: it gives me more leeway to experiment. Despite what I wrote above, my site shouldn’t just be where I write about information architecture, design, personal knowledge management, etc. It can also be a venue for experimenting with both. This move will give me more flexibility for trying new things.

I’m planning to launch within the next two weeks. Hopefully, in the next issue of the newsletter, I’ll have lessons to share with you. Meanwhile, I’d love to know if you have questions or comments or if there’s anything you’d expect to see on the new site.

As always, thanks for your attention.

-- Jorge

P.S.: In the last issue of the newsletter, I said I was considering shifting to a weekly publishing schedule. Not too many folks reached out about this, but those who did unanimously preferred the current schedule. So, I’ll continue publishing every other Sunday for now. Thanks for your feedback!

From my blog

Book notes: “The Extended Mind”
I loved Annie Murphy Paul's new book on embodied cognition. TL; DR: “Changing where we think — and how our bodies inhabit those spaces — changes how we think. Becoming more aware of how our minds work in the world can help us craft a world that is more conducive to better thinking. A virtuous cycle ensues.”

Video: Using transclusion in Obsidian
My first-ever YouTube tutorial explains how I use Obsidian to take notes about what I'm reading. In particular, I focus on Obsidian's transclusion feature, which allows me to create more granular notes that I can reference independently of each other.

Wikimedia's new leader on misinformation
Notes from a NYT interview with Maryana Iskander, Wikimedia's new leader. Wikimedia is Wikipedia's parent organization, and in this conversation Iskander focused on how they're working to prevent misinformation and deal with controversial topics.

The waning file/folder mental model
There’s a generation that grew up using smartphones and cloud-based apps as their primary computing experiences, and who have no firsthand experience with “traditional” computer filesystems. Now that these folks are entering computer science courses, instructors face the challenge of bridging their differing mental models of how computers work.

The project engagement dilemma
I want projects to end on a high note. Alas, I feel a strong drive in final project stages to move on to new pastures, which can reduce my effectiveness towards the end. In this post, I explain how to deal with this dilemma.

Diagram of the project engagement dilemma

Also worth your attention

Chief Information Architect
An excerpt from Christian Crumlish's upcoming book about product management. “… somebody in the company needs to be the chief information architect and do the hard work of mapping the problem/opportunity space and the meaning and purpose of the product in that larger system.”

IA and digital strategy
Peter Morville: “strategic designers and information architects must step up and sell strategy. This does not mean we tell our clients what to do. It means we engage in humble inquiry, sketching, modeling, and facilitation, in order to enable our clients to articulate and shape their strategy, digital and otherwise.”

Amazon turns to advertising
CNBC on Amazon’s increasingly lucrative advertising business, which affects the quality of search results on the site. Business models matter — and selling people's attention (i.e., advertising) qualitatively changes the nature of digital experiences. (H/t Grady Booch)

New Kindle UI
I read a lot on Kindle and have written about the inconsistencies in its UI. An upcoming version of the Kindle OS introduces significant changes to the Home and Library screens. I'm hoping they'll improve the experience.

Systems thinking for design systems
Visualizing systems can help us see how things influence each other — a skill that can help when managing design systems. (H/t Kenny Chen)

Content models and design systems
Content models are key to effective omnichannel digital strategies. Design systems play a different role. However, the two are sometimes confused with each other — which is understandable, because both call for systemic thinking. “A good content model connects content that should remain together so that multiple delivery channels can use it without needing to first put those pieces back together.” (H/t Madonnalisa Chan)

Alan Kay interview
Wide-ranging conversation on Notion's Tools & Craft podcast. High insight-per-minute ratio — Kay's brilliance and passion are evident in almost every sentence.

The Informed Life with Sunni Brown

Sunni Brown is a social entrepreneur who uses visual literacy, design thinking, and visual facilitation to solve complex problems. She's the author of The Doodle Revolution and co-author of Gamestorming, which is a book beloved by many — including me.

In this conversation, we discuss Sunni's current area of focus, which uses Zen Buddhism and design thinking to help individuals craft a more fulfilling and engaged life.

The Informed Life episode 71: Sunni Brown on Deep Self Design

The Informed Life episode 71: Sunni Brown

Parting thought

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

— John Muir

Thanks for reading! 🙏
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