In observance of the winter holidays, this episode doesn’t feature a guest interview. Instead, I reflect on five themes that emerged in the diverse conversations we hosted on the podcast during 2021. I wish you and yours happy holidays!
- The Informed Life episode 53: Jason Ulaszek on Healing Social Rifts
- The Informed Life episode 54: Kourosh Dini on DEVONthink
- The Informed Life episode 55: Hà Phan on Product Leadership
- The Informed Life episode 56: Margot Bloomstein on Trust
- The Informed Life episode 57: Ben Mosior on Wardley Maps
- The Informed Life episode 58: Jesse James Garrett on Leadership and IA
- The Informed Life episode 59: Matt LeMay on One Page / One Hour
- The Informed Life episode 60: Kat Vellos on Friendship
- The Informed Life episode 61: Jeff Sussna on Customer Value Charting
- The Informed Life episode 63: Sophia Prater on Object Oriented UX
- The Informed Life episode 64: Sarah Barrett on Architectural Scale
- The Informed Life episode 66: Jim Kalbach on Jobs to Be Done
- The Informed Life episode 68: Mags Hanley on Career Architecture
- The Informed Life episode 69: Karl Fast on Interactionism, part 1
- The Informed Life episode 70: Karl Fast on Interactionism, part 2
- The Informed Life episode 71: Sunni Brown on Deep Self Design
- The Informed Life episode 73: Patrick Tanguay on Newsletter Curation
- The Informed Life episode 74: Annie Murphy Paul on The Extended Mind
- The Informed Life episode 75: Hans Krueger on the Cycle of Emotions
- The Informed Life episode 76: Dan Brown on IA Lenses
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Jorge: Today, I don’t have a guest on the show. Instead, I’m going to try something a little different. Rather than a conversation with a single guest, I’m going to do a review of some of the things that I heard during the course of the year. So, you’ll be hearing from several of the folks who graciously agreed to be on the show.
And the reason why I’m doing this is because I listen to a lot of interview-based podcasts. And while I find myself getting totally engrossed in each individual conversation, I often lose track of what I’ve heard before in prior conversations, and I have a hard time making sense of patterns that may be emerging. So, I thought that during this quiet time of year I might take some time out to do just that, to see if there are any themes or patterns that have stood out during the interviews i’ve done in the past 12 months.
Of course, the guests on the show, didn’t speak with each other. I don’t want to imply that they’re somehow in conversation or responding to each other’s points. In fact, the only point that any of these conversations have in common was that I was a part of all of them. I’m also aware that when you take snippets of interviews out of context, It may change their meaning, especially when put next to other snippets from other conversations. And that’s definitely not my intent.
I’m not going to present these in the order in which they were recorded. In fact, I’m going to talk about these in no particular order. So, in this episode, I’m just going to edit these together and see if I can highlight some of these themes that seemed to have come up in more than one conversation. If you want to check out the full conversations, which I encourage you to do, I will include links to each episode in the show notes. Hopefully, this will prove useful to you if you choose to revisit the conversations we’ve had over the last year.
So, now onto the themes. We recorded 25 conversations during 2021. And in revisiting them now, I’ve grouped them into five high-level themes. There are other ideas that have come up and there are different arrangements you could make, but these are five themes that stood out to me.
The first theme, I’m calling, aligning our values with our actions. The second is about using intentional structures for self-development. The third is about practicing information architecture at scale. The fourth is highlighting tools and methods for visualizing systemic intent. And the fifth is about thinking beyond the brain.
I’ll unpack what these are about one by one and hopefully draw connections between them to try to bring some coherence to the conversations that we’ve been having throughout the year. Because I do think that there are things that connect them.
Aligning our values with our actions
Jorge: So now, let’s dive into the first of these themes, which has to do with aligning our values with our actions. And this is one that came in this year, particularly strongly and with intent on my part because I was appalled by the January 6th insurrection in Washington, DC. This horrible event brought to life the degree to which there are deep social rifts in the U.S. And I I’ve been thinking about what designers can do so what can I do through my work to help make these things better. So I wanted to talk with folks who have been explicitly thinking about this stuff.
And this led me to reach out to Jason Ulaszek, who has used design to help heal Rwandan society in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, which I think is obviously a much more extreme situation than the one that we’re facing here in the U.S. Now, Jason is not originally from Rwanda, he’s from the U.S., so I asked him if there’s anything that we could learn from his experience that might help us in our society to start healing the rifts that divide us. And I was very intrigued by his answer; he talked about re-engaging with cultural values. And this is what he had to say:
Jason Ulaszek: What was part of the Rwandans cultural value system well before the genocide against the Tutsi, and is now swung fully back – and they’re working hard to ensure that that’s the case – is a really strong sense of cultural values. What they’ve really tapped into – and I think this is where it gets into design a bit – is that they’ve tapped into ways to embody these cultural values inside of the experiences people have within education.
Jorge: So there’s an explicit attempt there to create structures — in that case, within the educational system — that help highlight the common social values that bind a people together. And in part the way that I understood it, at least the part of the idea there is to try to rebuild a sense of trust among parties.
And we had another episode this year where we talked explicitly about building trust. And this was in episode 56, where I had a conversation with Margot Bloomstein about her book on the subject, which came out this year, called Trustworthy. And, as Margot put it in our conversation, a big part of building trust has to do with authenticity: with having our actions be grounded in a clear set of values and having them be aligned with those values. This is how Margot put it:
Margot Bloomstein: You used the term “authenticity.” And I think that that’s a term that we throw around a lot; that’s a term marketers love to throw around. Who wouldn’t want to be authentic? And I always wonder, authentic to what? Do you know who you are? Know thy self first, and then you can determine, well, how do we align our actions with our values? Because that’s how we measure authenticity: it’s the distance between our actions and our words, all of that external stuff and our values. And I think for many organizations, they can jump into kind of the national conversation, into the international conversation, around many of those social issues and say, “Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why we support this. Here’s what we’re doing internally. And here’s what we’re doing externally to make this better for everyone.” To put a stake in the ground. And they can do it building on that long-term, authentic investment in their values.
Jorge: I love this idea of being more intentional about aligning our values and our actions as we seek to be more authentic. And of course Margot was talking here about doing that at the level of organizations, but it’s also possible to do it at an individual level. And in my conversation with author Kat Vellos, we dug into that specifically in the context of her work. In nurturing friendships. And I asked Kat about how we might be more authentic in looking to create the structures that allow us to nurture friendships as we get older. And she highlighted the importance of being present. This is what she had to say about it.
Kat Vellos: The more you immerse yourself in what is actually happening in that time that you’re connecting with the other person, the more likely you are to feel the benefit. You know, when you’re spending time sharing stories with a friend say, focus on their story, focus on them. Get curious. Ask followup questions and have that be the focus of your attention, rather than halfway listening and halfway being in your own head. Like, “do I feel less lonely right now? Do I feel less awkward right now?” Get out of that mental evaluation mode and get real immersed and real curious and interested in the other person. And that’s actually when somebody feels heard. That’s actually when somebody feels more connected is when you’re really present and holding space with each other.
Intentional structures for self-development
Jorge: This idea of being more present was also an important part of our second theme, which has to do with creating intentional structures for self-development. I like to think of this almost as kind of an information architecture of the self. So, while it might seem on the surface like some of these conversations run a bit further a field from the subject of the show, I see them as being quite aligned in that we are creating conceptual structures that help us affect some kind of change. And in this second theme, the change has to do with internal transformation.
We delved into this in a few conversations during the year. The first I will highlight is episode 71, where I interviewed Sunni Brown about her work in Deep Self Design, which is a practice rooted in Zen Buddhism and design thinking. And during this conversation, Sunni chastised me for allowing myself to let my devices keep me from being more present during a camping trip with my family. And I loved how Sunni talked about being more present. This is what she had to say:
Sunni Brown: Camping, when it’s like safe and beautiful… the point of it is to actually get you into a different state. To get your regulatory system in a different state so that you can enjoy your life and be present with your family and look at the sky and realize that you’re part of… you are the sky, there’s no difference between you and the sky, you just project that there is. And like, you know what I mean?
So, you have to understand that that space is essential for your humanity and and make it a priority. And you can tell people, I mean, there’s ways to approach it that are gentle on other people. So you can let people know, “I’m going to go dark for 72 hours. You should know that,” Or, “I’m going to go dark, and then I’m going to have one hour where I look at stuff,” you know? You have to design it for your life and what’s actually available for you.
Sometimes people have sick parents at home or sick kids or whatever, but you have to start to understand the benefit of it. Because I think most people think it’s just like something they would lose. Like, they wouldn’t get… something taken away from them. And I’m like, “no! It’s something you’re giving yourself that is priceless.” And you get amazing ideas. Like your productivity goes up. So, I call it going slow to go fast.
Actually I read this interesting Nietzsche quote, which I don’t read Nietzsche a lot or anything, but like he said like great ideas are found when you’re walking. And Steve Jobs was… Also, I’mnot obsessed with Steve Jobs, but he did a lot of walking meetings. So, If you are a productivity junkie, going slow helps you go fast. And it actually frees up a lot of stuck tension in the body and stuck ideas that you can’t get through and it gives you solutions and ahas and insights. So there’s huge rewards in it anyway, if you need it to be aligned with productivity. But it’s like, dude, we’re gonna die one day, Jorge. Like all of us! And the last thing I want to do is be like, “I spent my whole life on my iPhone!” That is like the worst thing that could happen.
Jorge: So, we need to be more aware about what is going on with our systems, with our bodies — and we need to be present. And this was not the only conversation that I had that delved on similar subjects. In episode 75, I talked with my friend, Hans Krueger, who has also been influenced by Buddhism, on what he calls the cycle of emotions, which is a conceptual structure — a way of thinking about emotions and how emotions affect our behavior. Here’s Hans:
Hans Krueger: What surprisingly few people realize is that there is like a real system behind this thing, this whole emotional complex. How they work, how they interact with each other, what leads to what, what you can do to actually cultivate your own emotional state. A state that allows you to perceive as clearly as possible what is real, versus what you imagine is real.
Jorge: There’s an emerging theme here in the power of visualizing, might be one way to think about it, but at the very least naming these conceptual distinctions, becoming more aware of what is happening internally. And again, this might come across to some folks as not being relevant to information architecture at all. But I do think of these as conceptual structures where there are distinctions that we label and we establish relationships between those distinctions. And the structure helps us understand what we’re doing so that we can act more skillfully, more mindfully.
And at least one guest during the year talked about using such conceptual models, not just to help us personally, but to help us in our careers. In episode 68, Mags Hanley shared with us her work on career architecture, which is also the subject of her book, which was published after we talked. And Mags made the connection between the methods, processes and tools that we use as information architects and how we develop our careers.
Mags Hanley: Career architecture is about how we can use the methods that we think about and we use as information architects or as UX professionals and apply that in a very systematic way into how we think about our careers.
Practicing information architecture at scale
Jorge: I like this idea of using information, architecture and user experience methods, practices, and tools for our own personal development. But we can also use them to develop our teams and to work at a different level of impact. I think of this as information architecture at scale, which is the next theme that emerged in the conversations that we had on the podcast over the year.
Two that immediately come to mind, but I’m not going to highlight as much here, are the conversation with Jim Kalbach on jobs to be done, which, in addition to Jim’s book, helped me clarify my own understanding of what jobs to be done are. And this is an important subject, one that designers and product managers need to be aware of. So, if you have heard the phrase, but are not entirely clear on what it means, I encourage you to check out my conversation with Jim.
Another one is the conversation that I had recently with Dan Brown on information architecture lenses. And as that explained in that episode, the lenses are a set of cards, and now podcasts and YouTube videos, that aim to serve as a tool to help designers deal with architectural conundrums. So again, if you are into information architecture, and you haven’t done so already. I encourage you to check out the conversation with Dan Brown.
That said, there are a few episodes that I do want to call out here and bring to your attention. One is the conversation I had on episode 63 with Sophia Prater about her object oriented user experience framework. I see this as a way of formalizing conceptual models so they can be shared and discussed with other team members. This is how sophia described it during our conversation:
Sophia Prater: OOUX is all about saying, “okay. If we know that our users think in objects and just human beings think in objects - not not just our developers - human beings think in objects, and to be able to gain understanding, you need to understand what the objects are in that system. And to understand what the objects are we need a certain level of consistency and recognizability to our objects.”
So as the designers of these environments, if we don’t get really super clear on what our objects are, there’s no way. There’s just absolutely no way in hell that we’re going to be able to translate that to our end users. We’re just not! If we can’t get it straight on our team and we can’t get it straight among ourselves, then 1) that’s going to create a lot of communication problems internally which is a problem that I hear all the time. We’ve got everybody on the team coming together. And some people, depending on what department you’re in or what your role is, you’ve got the same object, the same thing being called two or three different things and different objects being called the same thing. And you’re trying to design complex software. So just getting on the same page internally is going to be absolutely intrinsic to making sure that it’s clear to your end users.
Jorge: Another conversation that had to do with considering design at a different level of abstraction was in episode 64, where Sarah Barrett shared with us considerations about the architectural scale of the systems we design. I was particularly drawn to the way Sarah described how we should approach the intended effects of our work:
Sarah Barrett: Occasionally, I get comments or people worrying that our information architecture isn’t innovative enough that we’re not doing anything surprising or introducing anything brand new. And I feel very strongly that your architecture is not the place to surprise people. Like, there are actual architects out there building very innovative homes that no one wants to live in. And I have no interest in doing that. I really want us to use the oldest, most standard, most expected way of doing things. I think the example of the grocery store is another great way here. There’s a lot of benefit to not innovating in the layout of a grocery store. There probably is some benefit in innovating a little bit around the edges or in some details, but you gain a lot from making it legible and making it expected for people. And so, that one is really about… okay, given these things that we expect to have: we expect to have global navigation, we expect to have metadata on content, we expect to have titles and breadcrumbs… how do we unpack what each of those things is doing for us and make sure that between the suite of those elements we are using? Because you never use just one, you use lots of them together. Between all of those elements, we are presenting a coherent, complete view of the wayfinding people need.
Jorge: It’s one thing to create a coherent and complete system that allows people to find and understand things, and it’s another to create the conditions that allow that system to evolve over time gracefully as conditions change but to retain that cohesiveness. And doing this requires that we understand that the things that we are designing are in fact systems and they are systems that will require stewardship over time. This implies that we need leadership. And that was the subject of episode 58, where I had a conversation with Jesse James Garrett about leadership and information architecture. This is part of what jesse said during that show.
Jesse James Garrett: The way that I talk to folks about design leadership, who have come from a design background -that is to say they’ve been doing design work - is that leadership is just another design problem. And you’re working with different materials and you’re working toward different outcomes and you’re having to follow different principles, but the task is the same task. It is a creative problem-solving task. It is a systems-thinking task, as a leader. So looking at the ways that you’re already doing that systems-thinking, the ways in which you already doing that architecture for yourself in the work that you’re already doing, and those will be your strengths. And those will be the pillars that you can lean on that are going to support your work as a leader going forward. They will evolve and they will not look like what they looked like when you were doing content inventories or task flows or whatever other artifacts you might’ve been working on as a designer. But the skill set that you’re building is the same skill set.
Jorge: The relationship between design and leadership, and how designers can use our tools, methods, practices, et cetera, to take on leadership roles, was also the subject of episode 55, which featured a conversation with hop-on about her own trajectory from design to product leadership.
Hà Phan: I think the difficulty was between the role I have now, or the delta between the role I have now versus being a UX designer is that, you know, it’s really a leadership role to basically provide the path to clarity. So when you have a vision, even as a seasoned UX designer, you’re going to present forth this vision. And usually there’s a thousand questions and a thousand steps before you get there, right? And usually you don’t get there entirely. You know, you don’t get to the vision entirely the way you had envisioned it. You’re going to take turns, right? And I think in this role, what I get to do is that I get to enable the team to find that path to clarity, and to provide the milestones or the mission for each of the goals along the way.
Jorge: This idea that leaders provide clarity and vision is very important. And it’s one of the reasons why designers can make good leaders, because part of what designers do is clarify and help visualize abstract ideas. I keep saying that design is about making possibilities tangible: we take these vague notions, requirements, constraints, ill defined contexts, and we make things. And these things that we make can be validated somehow. We can put them in context and have them be used by the people that we intend to serve, to see whether things are working or not. And we create feedback loops where we make them incrementally better, better suited to meeting the needs of the people they serve.
Visualizing systemic intent
Jorge: And this idea of leadership as a role that clarifies and articulates a vision, brings us to the fourth theme that I noticed in going back over this year’s episodes, which has to do with highlighting tools and methods for visualizing systemic intent. And by that, I mean different ways of mapping systems and making systems more tangible. Again, this idea of making the abstract more relatable.
And we had several conversations along those lines. The first I’m going to highlight here is episode 59, in which Matt LeMay may shared with us One Page / One Hour, an approach he’s developed to help teams articulate what they’re making by working fast and iterating. So, rather than creating some kind of polished deck, the idea here is to articulate a vision really quickly so that you can spend less time upfront creating polished artifacts and spend more time iterating with stakeholders and other team members. Here’s Matt describing how he came up with One Page / One Hour.
Matt LeMay: I wrote up this pledge to my business partners saying I’m willing to forego the sense of individual accomplishment that comes from presenting finished and polished deliverables to my colleagues. I promise that I will spend no more than one page and one hour working on any deliverable - any document - before I bring it to the team. In other words, if I show up with five beautifully formatted pages or a one-page that took me 10 hours to create, I want you to hold me accountable to that. I want you to say, “man, why did you do this? We made a deal. We made a commitment to each other! We all know that if we actually want to deliver value, if we want to do valuable work, we need to collaborate earlier on. You can’t go off onto your own and create this big thing, and then just want us to tell you how great it is!”
Jorge: One Page / One Hour is about trying to articulate very quickly what we have in mind and sharing it so that we can start iterating on it. A few of the other conversations that we had during the year around visualizing systems and visualizing intent were about artifacts that are a little more elaborate.
An example of this is Customer Value Charting, which Jeff Sussna shared with us in episode 61. Customer Value Charting, as Jeff explained, it is a tool to balance strategy and agility. And the purpose of creating that balance is to drive customer benefits, which are related to but not the same as business benefits. Jeff illustrated this by means of an example using a common service.
Jeff Sussna: The benefit of the dry cleaner is that I can get my tuxedo cleaned in time to go to the formal event. It’s not fundamentally about a cash register or a counter or even cleaning chemicals. And I mention that because a lot of the conversation I see around outcomes over outputs tends to actually talk about business outcomes. You know, revenue growth and customer retention, and time on site and business outcomes are great. I don’t have any problem with them, but people tend to skip this step. We have a hypothesis that this feature will cause this change in customer behavior, which will lead to this business outcome or business impact. But it leaves open the question of, well, why is the customer changing their behavior? What is the benefit to them?
Jorge: These are complex questions to take on for designers or for anyone, frankly. And it’s helpful to hear about how folks are going about it. Customer Value Charting is one way of doing it. Another way of visualizing systems and visualizing things like customer needs in a systemic way was shared with us by Ben Mosiure in our conversation, which focused on Wardley maps.
Ben Mosior: Wardley mapping is a visual way of representing systems: its users, its needs, its capabilities, its relationships between all those three things. And then it’s also positioning those things in a way that helps their qualities become more apparent. So there’s this thing that Simon Research called “Evolution.” It’s basically how do things evolve and get better or die under the pressures of supply demand competition, and what you get is like things start out new, uncertain, high risk, high failure, but with a high potential for future value. But then as they evolve, they get better. You know, someone’s always like looking at these weird ideas and trying to make them better because capitalism basically suggest there’s money to be made. So someone out there is going to try to make it better. And over time, if the idea is worth investing in, it will continue to get better, more known, more boring, more predictable, and the value of it will be more concrete. And eventually, if it evolves to a certain extent, it becomes an invisible part of our everyday lives.
And so, Simon says, look, you want to represent the systems that we’re a part of both in terms of their parts and relationships, but also in terms of how evolved each of those parts are. Because what that does is it sets you up to understand the implications of those qualities. New stuff is going to be high failure, old stuff that everybody understands, that’s just part of everyday reality like power in the wall. It is going to be less surprising, it’s going to be less failure. And so that means that depending on the context, depending on the part of the system we’re looking at, we need to have a different way of approaching it. And I think that’s the entire point. By making visual artifacts – by talking about our systems visually – we can come together, look at a specific part of it, appreciate its qualities, and then together determine what our collective intent is about that part of the system.
Jorge: That’s a great description of this idea that we can take these complex abstract ideas and make them tangible, make them manifest in the world, and as a result, make it possible for us to have conversations about them, to somehow change the state of things, to make things better.
Thinking beyond the brain
Jorge: And that brings us to the fifth and final theme that emerged over the year and that I want to emphasize here, which has to do with using tools and our environment to extend our cognitive system. So, in some way, when we are putting up stickies or diagrams or anything up on the wall, we are making it possible for us to share a cognitive space of sorts. And this is true, whether we’re doing it with a note-taking app or stickies on a whiteboard. In taking stuff out of our heads and putting them out into the world, we can somehow extend our minds. And that’s why I’m calling this fifth theme “thinking beyond the brain.”
Conversations about this theme came in two different flavors. On the one hand, we had folks who shared with us their thinking processes and tools. And on the other hand, we had a few conversations that were about thinking in this way itself and I’ll say a little bit more about both of those. So, first with the thinking processes and tools.
In episode 75, Patrick Tanguay shared with us, how he uses a combination of tools to write one of my favorite newsletters, Sentiers. And it’s a setup that mirrors somewhat closely my own setup. Another great conversation about a particular tool was in episode 54, where Kourosh Dini told us about how he’s using DEVONthink for building a personal knowledge management system. I was very excited to talk with Kourosh because he wrote a book that helped me use DEVONthink better. If you’re unfamiliar with this tool and you are someone who needs to manage a lot of information, let’s say if you’re teaching or writing, it behooves you to give episode 54 a listen.
As I mentioned, I also hosted a few discussions which were not about tools in particular, but a little more meta about how the mind itself works beyond the brain. I’ll be frank with you, these were some of my favorite conversations during the year.
One was with Annie Murphy Paul about her book, The Extended Mind. Annie’s book is the clearest explanation I’ve read on the science behind the field of embodied cognition. It was one of my favorite reads of the year because it does a really good job at dispelling erroneous notions about how the brain works. And I think that this is a very important subject for designers to understand. Here’s Annie.
Annie Murphy Paul: I always like to say we’re more like animals than we are like machines. You know, the brain is a biological organ. I mean, I know this is obvious, but we really can get very entranced in a way by this metaphor of “brain as computer.” The brain is a biological organ that evolved to carry out tasks that are often very different from the tasks that we expect it to execute today. And so, our misunderstanding of what the brain is leads us, as you were saying, Jorge, to create these structures in society. In education and in the workplace, in our everyday lives, that really don’t suit the reality of what the brain is.
I mean, I’m thinking about how, for example, we expect ourselves to be productive. Whether that’s in the workplace, or what we expect our students to do in school. You know, we often expect ourselves to sit still, don’t move around, don’t change the space where you’re in. Don’t talk to other people. Just sit there and kind of work until it’s done. And that’s how we expect ourselves to get serious thinking done. And that makes sense, if the brain is a computer, you know? You feed it information and it processes the information, then it spits out the answer in this very linear fashion.
But that’s not at all how the brain works. Because the brain is so exquisitely sensitive to context, and that context can be the way our bodies are feeling and how they’re moving, that context can be literally where we are situated and what we see and what we experience around us, and that context can be the social context: whether we’re with other people, whether we’re talking to them, how those conversations are unfolding – all those things have an incredibly powerful impact on how we think.
And so, when we expect the brain to function like a computer, whether that’s in the office or in the classroom, we’re really underselling its actual powers – its actual genius – and we’re cutting ourselves off from the wellsprings of our own intelligence, which is the fact that we are embodied creatures embedded in an environment and set in this network of relationships. So, it really… we’re really kind of leaving a lot of potential intelligence on the table when we limit our idea of what the brain is in that way.
Jorge: While this may seem like we are venturing a little far from the ostensible subject of the show, which is about how people organize information to get things done, there’s two reasons why I think it’s important for us to delve into this subject. One reason is that, if we are to properly organize information so that we can find things, understand things and so on, we have to understand how our minds work, because ultimately what we’re doing is we are designing for minds. And the second reason is that in so doing — in organizing information, in creating these information environments — we are creating contexts of the sort that Annie was talking about there. Even if they are not physical contexts, they are contexts that influence how we understand things.
The second conversation I had this year on this subject and which I want to highlight here is the conversation I had with my friend, Karl Fast over episodes 69 and 70. And as you might know, if you’ve been listening to the show for a while, that’s the first time I’ve ever done a double header. In other words, that I’ve split a conversation between two episodes. And it’s just because we had so much to talk about. And I don’t think I can do that conversation justice by extracting just any one clip. But again, I do believe that this is an important subject for you to know about, so I encourage you to check out the whole thing.
Jorge: So there you have it, that’s a very high level overview of some of the conversations that have stood out to me in the podcast over the last year. Now, obviously there were many more — I told you that we recorded 25 episodes — I don’t want to in any way suggest that the other ones weren’t as interesting. I just wanted to highlight the ones that I thought manifested some of these themes.
And to recap them, the five themes are: aligning our values with our actions, using intentional structures for self-development, practicing information architecture at scale, tools and methods for visualizing systemic intent and then finally, thinking beyond the brain. These are subjects that I care about. And it’s no accident that we end up having conversations about these things on the show.
One of the interesting things about revisiting them now at the end of the year, is that I can start seeing threads that run through several of the themes. For example, the idea that we need to visualize abstract and complex systems, and that doing so allows us to have better conversations about them. That seems to be a thread that’s running through various of these themes. It’s true, whether we are talking about our own internal values or our career development, or whether we’re talking about a service that we are looking to develop for our clients. And like I’ve said before, I think that designers — and particularly structurally- and systemically-minded designers, such as information architects — are particularly well-suited to visualize systems in this way.
The other thread that I see running through all of this is the importance of considering the context that we are working with and working on, and not just the content of what we’re designing. The things that we make are going to be experienced in some kind of environment, whether it’s a physical environment or some kind of information environment. And the environment makes a big difference. We understand things in context. And part of what we do as information architects is establish those contexts.
That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been emphasizing these conversations about embodied cognition and the extended mind. Because science is making it increasingly clear that thinking happens, not just in our nervous systems, but in our bodies. And more to the point here, it happens out in the world. It happens in our environments and it happens in the tools that we interact with.
And again, it’s a system that is comprised by ourselves as actors, agents, but also the environments in which we’re operating. And we can configure those environments in various ways to help us think better. And I think that this is an important frontier, so to speak, an important area of development for people who design structures of information, who create contexts through language and signs.
I’ve loved the conversations that we’ve had on the show this year. And that is mostly due to the fact that the guests have been great. I am very grateful to everyone who has agreed to be on the show to have me interview them, to share their ideas, their work, their research, their experience with us.
I also want to thank Sarah Clarkson, who I have not acknowledged in the show before. And I’m long overdue in doing that, but Sarah helps me edit the podcast. And her help has been invaluable in getting these shows out to you on time. And of course, I’m very grateful for you; for the fact that you are listening to this, that you have decided to make the show a part of your podcast listening.
I would love to know whether there’s anything that we can do to make things better. So, please drop by the informed.life, and leave us a note. But for now, I’ll just tell you that I am planning to keep the show going. I have guests already lined up for next year. I’m excited about these conversations: having them and also being able to share them with you. So again, thank you. I wish you and yours happy holidays and I look forward to sharing more with you next year.