We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them!
- Get the beat.
- Listen to the wisdom of the system.
- Expose your mental models to the open air.
- Stay humble. Stay a learner.
- Honor and protect information.
- Locate responsibility in the system.
- Make feedback policies for feedback systems.
- Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.
- Go for the good of the whole.
- Expand time horizons.
- Expand thought horizons.
- Expand the boundary of caring.
- Celebrate complexity.
- Hold fast to the goal of goodness.
I don’t agree with all of the mythbusting in this litany of life lessons, but this one is spot on:
The best thing that can be done to a problem is to solve it. False. The best thing that can be done to a problem is to dissolve it, to redesign the entity that has it or its environment so as to eliminate the problem.
Remember that next time you’re tempted to solve a problem by throwing more code at it.
Imagine the tech utopia of mainstream science fiction. The bustle of self-driving cars, helpful robot assistants, and holograms throughout the sparkling city square immediately marks this world apart from ours, but something else is different, something that can only be described in terms of ambiance. Everything is frictionless here: The streets are filled with commuters, as is the sky, but the vehicles attune their choreography to one another so precisely that there is never any traffic, only an endless smooth procession through space. The people radiate a sense of purpose; they are all on their way somewhere, or else, they have already arrived. There’s an overwhelming amount of activity on display at every corner, but it does not feel chaotic, because there is no visible strife or deprivation. We might appreciate its otherworldly beauty, but we need not question the underlying mechanics of this utopia — everything works because it was designed to work, and in this world, design governs the space we inhabit as surely and exactly as the laws of physics.
This explains rubber ducking.
Speaking out loud is not only a medium of communication, but a technology of thinking: it encourages the formation and processing of thoughts.
Reading, especially fiction, is often referred to as an escape, but I’ve never believed that. It’s true that a great story transports you somewhere else, that returning to your life afterwards can feel like an abrupt reentry. But I think that’s less because you escaped the real world, however briefly, and more that you got a clearer look at it. A great book rearranges time: it brings both history and speculative futures into the present, into a now you can occupy and taste and feel.
Before the hagiographical praise for working with an iPad Pro, Robin nails the fundamental shape of the design process:
I had forgotten that there are two modes of design, just as there is in writing.
The first mode is understanding the problem, getting a ten-thousand foot view of the land. It’s getting people to acknowledge that this really is the problem we need to agree upon. This work needs to happen in a sketchbook in the form of messy, back-of-the-napkin drawings or in writing. All this helps you to form a proper argument and focus your thoughts.
The second mode of design is taking that ten-thousand foot view and zooming all the way in to the hairs on the back of the rabbit; figuring out the precise UI and components, the copywriting, the animations, the everything else. This should be done in a design tool like Figma or Sketch. And this is when we should be talking about color palettes, icons, design systems, and consistency.
The problem with almost all design work is that first phase never really happens. People don’t take that ten thousand foot view of the problem and are focusing instead on the pixels; they’re trapped by the system they know too well.
Yes, yes, yes! Spot on:
I think people get stuck in that second mode because productivity in design is often tied to “how many pages or frames did I design today?” when productivity should instead be thought of as “how did my understanding of the problem change?
The removal of all friction should’t be a goal. Making things easy and making things hard should be a design tool, employed to aid the end user towards their loftiest goals.
This looks like an interesting hypertexty tool.
- Is this really a problem?
- Does the problem need to be solved?
- Does the problem need to be solved now?
- Does the problem need to be solved by me?
- Is there a simpler problem I can solve instead?
There seems to be a tendency to repurpose existing solutions to other people’s problems. I propose that this is the main cause of the design sameness that we encounter on the web (and in apps) today. In our (un)conscious attempts to reduce the effort needed to do our work, we’ve become experts in choosing rather than in thinking.
A very thoughtful piece from Stephen.
When we use existing solutions or patterns, we use a different kind of thinking. Our focus is on finding which pattern will work for us. Too quickly, we turn our attention away from closely examining the problem.
Our insular discourse, the way we’ve jealously protected the language and tools of design, the way we’ve focused so much on the “genius designer”… these behaviors have all worked against our own interests.
Khoi on design thinking and the democratisation of design.
Any embrace of design by non-designers is a good thing, and design thinking qualifies here. The reason for this is that when that happens, it means our language, the vocabulary of design, is broadening to the rest of the world.
Such a great piece of advice from Mark:
Whenever someone asks me to do something that I think seems ill-conceived in some way, I ask them to write it down. That’s it. Because writing is high effort. Making sentences is the easy bit, it’s the thinking I want them to do. By considering their request it slows them down. Maybe 30% of the time or something, they come back and say ‘oh, that thing I asked you to do, I’ve had a think and it’s fine, we don’t need to do it’.
Like Mark, I think I enjoy being on the receiving end of this too:
These days, I welcome being asked to ‘write it down’. It gives me permission to take a breath. To pause and reflect on what I’m asking. I’m convinced my heart rate drops a little. You see, in some environments this would be called ‘process’, or ‘red tape’. ‘Being asked to write something down is a blocker to my flow’. Those kinds of responses miss the mark. When being asked to ‘write something down’ it’s really shorthand for ‘take some time and think about what you’re asking’.
Writing is thinking.
A proposed syllabus for critical thinking: Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.
Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.
Jon introduces a new tool with a very interesting observation: up until now, all our graphic design tools have been imperative rather than declarative…
With our current tools we’re telling the computer how to design the vision we have in our head (by tapping on our input devices for every element on the screen); in our future tools we will tell our computers what we want to see, and let them figure out how to move elements around to get there.
The web – by its very nature – foregrounds the connections between different clusters of knowledge. Links link. One article leads to another. As you make the journey from destination to destination, all inevitably connected by that trail of links, you begin to tease out understanding.
It’s this drawing together, this weaving together of knowledge, that is the important part. Your journey is unique. The chances of another pursuing the same path, link by link (or book by book), is – statistically – impossible. Your journey leads you to discovery and, through reflection, comprehension. You see the connections others haven’t, because your journey is your own.
Yet another brilliant far-ranging talk from Bret Victor.
I’ve tried to get him to come and speak at dConstruct for the past few years, but alas, with no success.
This is a wonderful piece of writing and thinking from Frank. A wonderful piece of design, then.
A personal view on generalists and trans-media design
The latest project from Jonathan Harris is a not-for-profit educational organization dedicated to the study of contemporary culture: "We fulfill this mission by documenting, archiving, and disseminating ideas that are shaping modern thought by interviewing leading thinkers in the arts, sciences and technology from around the world."
An even more speculative version of The Long Bet. Given a supposition (e.g. "What will the world be like when custom satellites are as easy to design and launch as your own website is today?"), you can add to a list of positive and negative outcomes.
A list of articles discussing the impact of a reliance on PowerPoint® and bullet-point based communication.