Making sense of a mess
This week I finished reading “How To Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody” by Abby Covert. As usual, you can find my summary below.
Identify the mess
- A mess is any situation where something is confusing or full of difficulty.
- Causes for confusing information: too much information, not enough information, not the right information, or some combination of these.
- Information is not a thing, it’s subjective.
- It’s important to identify the edges and depths of a mess, so you can lessen your anxiety and make progress.
State your intent
- We change our options by choosing our words
- Good is in the eye of the beholder
- Beauty and quality are not always related
- Meaning can get lost in translation
- Having a strong why will get you further
- Why, what and how are deeply interrelated (this connects to Simon Sinek’s idea of a golden circle and the definition of systems from Thinking in systems (what=parts, how=interconnections, why=purpose))
- Language is the material of intent
- Face reality
- When you discuss a specific subject, you subconsciously reference part of a large internal map of what you know. Other people can’t see this map. It only exists in your head.
- We create objects like maps, diagrams, prototypes, and lists to share what we understand and perceive. Objects allow us to compare our mental models with each other.
- Start with scope and scale.
- Architecture before design
- If people judge books by their covers, they judge diagrams by their tidiness.
- Everything is easier with a map.
Choose a direction
- People often get in their own way by becoming overwhelmed with choices, choosing not to choose instead. (this connects to Essentialism).
- When we reference things, they exist within other things. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
- One tiny decision leads to another, and another.
- The way we arrange a place changes how people interpret and use it.
- Without language, we can’t collaborate.
- Create a list of words you say. Documenting language standards can reduce linguistic insecurity.
- Create a list of words you don’t say.
- Think about nouns and verbs.
- Think about relationships between nouns and verbs.
- Admit where you are.
- Keep evaluating where you are in relation to where you want to go.
Measure the distance
- Progress is as important to measure as success.
- A baseline is the measurement of something before changing it. Without baselines, assumptions will likely lead us in the wrong direction.
- Measurements have rhythm. Beware of its time frame.
- Fuzzy is normal.
Play with structure
- There are many ways to structure things.
- Sorting is easy when clear rules are in place.
- The most challenging part of classification is working with other people to agree on a set of rules.
- Ambiguous classification require more thought to decide where something goes.
- Ambiguity costs clarity.
- Exactitude costs flexibility.
- Ambiguity hides in simplicity.
- Facets are the lenses we use to classify
- The way you organize things says a lot about you.
- The key to strong rhetoric is using language, rules and structures that your audience can easily understand and use.
- Heterarchical: when individual pieces exist on one level without further categorization
- Hypertexts don’t change where things are located, just how they’re found.
- Signpost directing you to a store around the corner is also hypertext.
- Most things need a mix of taxonomic approaches.
- Learn these patterns: Broad and shallow, Narrow and deep, heterarchy, Sequence, Hypertext. (See illustrations from the book)
Prepare to adjust
- Adjustments are part of reality
- Making maps and diagrams alone at your desk is not practicing information architecture.
- Discuss it until it’s clear. (this connects to Essentialism).
- When structure and intent don’t line up, things fall apart.
- People don’t compliment or even critique information architecture unless it’s broken.
Summary of the summary:
- Shed light on the messes people see but don’t talk about
- Make sure everyone agrees on the intent behind the work you’re doing together
- Help people choose a direction and define goals to track your progress
- Evaluate and refine the language and structures you use to pursue those goals
- With those skills, you’ll always have people who want to work with you
- It’s hard to face reality, but it’s more rewarding than hard.