Transcript: Ask the UXperts: Living in Information — with Jorge Arango

Transcript: Ask the UXperts: Living in Information — with Jorge Arango

Jorge Arango
Summary:

Jorge Arango joined our community on Slack to take a deep dive into his book “Living in Information”. If you missed the session fear not – read more for the full transcript.

It’s been a long time between drinks, but today our Slack channel lit up with an interesting Ask the UXperts session led by Jorge Arango, author of Living in Information.

Jorge explained that over the past couple of decades we’ve been moving many of our key social interactions from the places where we have experienced them in the past — physical environments — to a new type of environment: one we enter through these “small glass rectangles we carry about in our pockets”.

In Jorge’s words, those of us who design these new “user experiences” have greater responsibility — and greater agency — than designers who’ve come before. As such designers, Jorge urged us to think about _How might we design information environments that better support our needs as a society in the long term?_

If you didn’t make the session because you didn’t know about it, make sure you join our community to get updates of upcoming sessions.

If you’re interested in seeing what we discussed, or you want to revisit your own questions, here is a full transcript of the chat.

Transcript

hawk
2018-10-18 22:03
First up, thanks so much for your time today @jarango – we’re lucky to have you

jarango
2018-10-18 22:03
Thanks @hawk! I’m excited to be here.

hawk
2018-10-18 22:03
The formal intro: Jorge Arango is an information architect and strategic designer. He partners with product, design, and innovation leaders to create digital places that make people smarter. In addition to his consulting practice, Jorge also teaches, writes, and speaks at global design conferences.

hawk
2018-10-18 22:03
Jorge is the author of Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places. You can find it on Rosenfeld Media or Amazon.

hawk
2018-10-18 22:04

hawk
2018-10-18 22:04
And that’s the basis of our talk for today.

hawk
2018-10-18 22:04
@jarango over to you. Give us some context around the book and the topic.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:04
Thanks

jarango
2018-10-18 22:05
And thanks to everyone who’s sharing this space with us.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:06
Let me start by introducing myself. My background is in architecture (as in the design of buildings.) But I’ve been in (what we now call) UX for almost 25 years.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:08
Back in the mid-1990s a book came into my life that changed the course of my career. It was Richard Saul Wurman’s _Information Architects_. https://www.amazon.com/Information-Architects-Richard-Saul-Wurman/dp/1888001380/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1539900476&sr=8-2&keywords=information+architects

jarango
2018-10-18 22:08
The cover of that book has a definition of what an information architect is that resonated with me.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:09
However, the content of the book wasn’t exactly what I was into at the time.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:10
The book highlighted people from various fields who were “making the complex clear.”

jarango
2018-10-18 22:10
I was designing websites at the time. The connection between designing websites and making the complex clear was obvious, and there were some folks featured in the book who were doing that.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:11
However, a couple of years later another book came out with a similar title which was much closer to what I was doing.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:12
1998. Twenty years ago!

jarango
2018-10-18 22:13
In any case, I identified much more closely with the focus of this book: it had some of the stuff Wurman was talking about, but applying it to the work I was doing.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:13
Information architecture became the focus of my career.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:14
(Sidebar: A few years ago I had the privilege of collaborating with Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville on producing the fourth edition of the polar bear book.)

jarango
2018-10-18 22:15
In any case, I’ve done most of my work in Panama (where I’m originally from). A few years ago, my family and I decided to move to northern California. Before the move, a friend from the IA community said, “You know, IA isn’t talked about much here.”

jarango
2018-10-18 22:15
I was flabbergasted.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:16
How could this be? This is where the digital systems that are turning the world upside down are being built!

jarango
2018-10-18 22:16
Fast forward a few years…

jarango
2018-10-18 22:17
In the fall of 2016 I gave two keynote presentations in a three week period. The first was in Santiago, Chile, and the second was in Rome. The week between these two trips was when the U.S. Presidential election was decided.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:18
It was a very interesting time.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:19
That summer, the U.K. had voted to leave the European Union. A momentous decision!

jarango
2018-10-18 22:21
Regardless of where you stand politically, it’s pretty clear that something disconcerting has happened to our ability to hold civic discourse.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:21
Are you with me so far?

jarango
2018-10-18 22:22
Here’s the thing.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:22
I thought I left architecture 25 years ago. But over time it’s become clear to me that I never did.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:24
Over the past couple of decades we’ve been moving many of our key social interactions from the places where our species has experienced them thus far — physical environments — to a new type of environment: one we enter through these small glass rectangles we carry about in our pockets.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:25
We are having this conversation in such an environment.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:25
It’s an interesting thing.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:26
In any case, I’m not here to teach you marketable skills. :slightly_smiling_face: My aim is to get you to understand what you do a bit differently. To reframe the work.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:27
Because software is eating the world, as Marc Andreessen has said. And those of us who design “user experiences” have greater responsibility — and greater agency — than designers who’ve come before.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:28
So I want to share with you the question that drives my work (and my new book): _How might we design information environments that better support our needs as a society in the long term?_

jarango
2018-10-18 22:29
It’s pretty clear that “move fast and break things” isn’t doing it.

rvaelle
2018-10-18 22:29
:+1:

treyroady
2018-10-18 22:30
It becomes “break people” after a bit, doesn’t it?

jarango
2018-10-18 22:30
It this was a presentation, I’d need a drink of water about now.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:30
:slightly_smiling_face:

jarango
2018-10-18 22:30
In any case, you won’t be surprised to learn that I think that information architecture holds good answers to this question.

hawk
2018-10-18 22:31
Would you like us to throw some questions at you?

jarango
2018-10-18 22:31
Happy to entertain questions at any time.

lukcha
2018-10-18 22:31
True dat

hawk
2018-10-18 22:32
Great. you heard the man!

treyroady
2018-10-18 22:32
What are the 3 biggest things that information architecture has leverage on improving for society?

treyroady
2018-10-18 22:32
:sunglasses:

jarango
2018-10-18 22:32
@treyroady that’s an excellent question

jarango
2018-10-18 22:33
There are two areas of focus that information architects (and architects before them) are particularly adept at: structures and systems.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:34
Thinking structurally and systemically is essential if you are to minimize the risk of having to face unintended consequences.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:35
There’s a third area of focus which IAs haven’t paid as much attention to in the past — something I’m hoping to change. And that’s sustainability.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:35
Structures and systems change over time. We want them to evolve in ways that help them serve our needs. That requires that we start thinking sustainably.

rvaelle
2018-10-18 22:36
Can you give an example?

crystal
2018-10-18 22:37
This is especially true twitch AI coming into the picture

crystal
2018-10-18 22:37
I’ve heard it described as a move from taxonomies to ontologies regarding ia

jarango
2018-10-18 22:37
Let me dive a bit deeper before giving examples.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:37
Are you familiar with Stewart Brand’s concept of pace layers?

jarango
2018-10-18 22:38
This is a fascinating — and important — idea: some things in the world are composed of things that change at different rates, some faster than others.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:38
It’s true of buildings (as Brand pointed out in his book _How Buildings Learn_.)

cboyer
2018-10-18 22:39
IA has always felt divergent -> convergent and top down. Are there any tools for architects in recognizing patterns and guiding systems in machine learning?

jarango
2018-10-18 22:39
It’s also true of civilizations (what the diagram above is about.)

cboyer
2018-10-18 22:39
I recognize this is probably too big a question :slightly_smiling_face:

jarango
2018-10-18 22:39
@cboyer that’s an important observation. We’ll get to it.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:41
For the person who expressed confusion at the diagram above, perhaps this one is easier to grok:

treyroady
2018-10-18 22:41
Well, *I’m* certainly interested.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:41
That’s from Brand’s _How Buildings Learn_.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:41
The idea is that buildings are composed of layers that change at different rates.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:42
The site (the ground) the building is built on changes more slowly than services (like plumbing, for example.)

jarango
2018-10-18 22:42
“Stuff” is things like furniture. Super easy and cheap to move around.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:42
In any case, there are things in the world that change like this.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:43
Understanding this is important, especially if we’re aiming to make things that support our needs in the long term.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:43
In the first pace layer model I posted, the slowest changing layer is labeled “Nature.” Think our biological composition. It changes very slowly!

jarango
2018-10-18 22:44
Whereas something like fashion or art change very quickly.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:44
In the middle you have things like governance structures, infrastructure, and commerce.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:44
All changing at different rates.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:45
Brand offers a great insight here that can help us design things that support our needs better in the long term…

jarango
2018-10-18 22:46
The civilizations that last are the ones that strike a good balance between the fast-changing layers at the top and the slow changing layers at the bottom. This is because _the fast changing layers are where civilizations learn new things, and the slow changing layers are where they remember the things that are worth while_. The ones that stand the test of time. (Literally.)

jarango
2018-10-18 22:46
With me so far?

treyroady
2018-10-18 22:47
But what about the interaction between governance, infrastructure, and commerce? Could you say that our governance shift is due to a large shift in infrastructure and commerce as well?

jarango
2018-10-18 22:47
They all interrelate with each other.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:48
We’re living in a period when many of these layers are changing faster than before and going through tremendous disruptions.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:48
I’d love to dive deeper into that, but I have another model to share with you.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:49
This is a pace layer model for what we call “UX design.”

jarango
2018-10-18 22:50
As with Brand’s model, the fastest changing layer is the one on top.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:50
That’s what we usually work on. You can think of it as UI.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:50
Buttons, screens, voice interactions, etc.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:51
You will notice I’ve separated structure from form.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:51
There’s a reason for that.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:51
As with buildings, structure in our work tends to change more slowly that the surface design of UIs.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:52
When I worked on the fourth polar bear book, I had to go through the entire book updating the examples. Some of those screenshots were a decade old. The UIs had changed a lot. But when you looked at the navigation bars, you could recognize that they were the same structure.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:53
In any case, the real power resides in the lower — slower — layers.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:53
As designers, we must be cognizant of the model, and understand what the role of our work is vis-a-vis the real power that drives it.

hawk
2018-10-18 22:54
@jarango Before we run out of time can we jump back and revisit @cboyer’s question:
IA has always felt divergent -> convergent and top down. Are there any tools for architects in recognizing patterns and guiding systems in machine learning?

jarango
2018-10-18 22:54
Yes.

cboyer
2018-10-18 22:54
For those of us who have have seen the cycles, this is very true.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:54
Thanks for bringing it back

jarango
2018-10-18 22:55
The reason I wanted to share the model was because we need to start thinking of things like machine learning in terms of structure and form, and what those structures and forms are in service to.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:56
Architects (the building type) are not form designers primarily. They help clients _frame the problem_. The client may know they want to build a shopping mall, but often lack the tools for defining what the _program_ for a shopping mall should be. That’s part of what we need to take on.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:57
Architecture has a long tradition of adapting forms and structure to contextual conditions and new technologies.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:58
The top-down impression comes from the “starchitects” that are most famous. But much of our lives happens in buildings that are much more responsive to contextual conditions than that sort of work.

cboyer
2018-10-18 22:58
I agree. I’ve been fortunate to lead both product design and data product / machine learning initiatives. Design is rarely if ever at the table for machine learning initiatives, and we have much to offer in framing what we want to know and more importantly, what is discovered

jarango
2018-10-18 22:59
Not sure I answered the question specifically — as Clyde said, it is somewhat broad.

jarango
2018-10-18 22:59
In any case, I want us all to think more architecturally. But that doesn’t necessarily mean top-down.

cboyer
2018-10-18 22:59
I’ll post my comment in the main thread. And thanks for diving in on this. agree. I’ve been fortunate to lead both product design and data product / machine learning initiatives. Design is rarely if ever at the table for machine learning initiatives, and we have much to offer in framing what we want to know and more importantly, what is discovered

jarango
2018-10-18 23:00
Design is making the possible tangible.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:00
And the possible can now lead down unimaginable paths.

treyroady
2018-10-18 23:00
@cboyer: that experience might be worth a good read, if you write it up :slightly_smiling_face:

jarango
2018-10-18 23:00
Our role is to help people envision what that could be.

cboyer
2018-10-18 23:00
We need to be at the table with the data scientists

jarango
2018-10-18 23:00
And the consequences.

hawk
2018-10-18 23:01
As much as I hate to do this, we’ve hit the top of the hour.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:01
:disappointed:

hawk
2018-10-18 23:01
If you want to keep talking @jarango there is no reason at all that you can’t…

jarango
2018-10-18 23:01
I can hang out for a few more minutes.

cboyer
2018-10-18 23:01
I’m notoriously lazy about writing. I tend to do stuff and then jump to the next thing. But this is a topic that has been weighing on me quite a bit.

hawk
2018-10-18 23:01
But you’re free to go if you need to!

hawk
2018-10-18 23:01
Excellent.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:01
It’d be great to hear from other folks.

hawk
2018-10-18 23:02
Agreed. does anyone have something to throw into the ring?
RELATED:  Transcript: Ask the UXperts—Usability Testing with Gerry Gaffney

cboyer
2018-10-18 23:02
Thanks so much. You’re book is fantastic by the way and I can’t recommend it enough.

treyroady
2018-10-18 23:02
Well, I can say that I’m working at a very AI / ML heavy company right now, and I could potentially benefit a lot from any major mistakes you made

nwhysel
2018-10-18 23:03
Sounds like we are moving into issues of ethics. Especially in ML.

holliedoar
2018-10-18 23:03
I’d be really interested to hear any examples of IA being used to shift those slower layers as I definitely agree that its where the power is

maadonna
2018-10-18 23:03
Random thought – designers/uxers (whatever we call ourselves now) could do with a better understanding of things like domain and content modelling. That structure layer is a better place to focus than on the form layer. Unfortunately I see lots of focus on the form and little on the deeper layers

jarango
2018-10-18 23:04
@maadonna Bingo

jarango
2018-10-18 23:04
Part of it is due to the fact that structure is abstract.

maadonna
2018-10-18 23:04
And sometimes hard :slightly_smiling_face: And not pretty

jarango
2018-10-18 23:04
People don’t like abstraction. It makes them nervous.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:04
(Especially stakeholders.)

jarango
2018-10-18 23:04
They want to know what things are going to _look like_.

maadonna
2018-10-18 23:05
The other kind of related thing here – AI/ML is all about making models of the world. They are also in that structure layer

jarango
2018-10-18 23:05
@holliedoar as you may imagine, it’s easier to point to change happening in the opposite direction.

maadonna
2018-10-18 23:05
And if AI/ML folks make the wrong model (because they used history as training data) they screw up everything, but it’s already embedded

jarango
2018-10-18 23:06
I remember years ago seeing a presentation about a redesign for a publication’s website. I think it was a magazine.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:07
The navigation structure had been completely changed to conform to what the ad sales team could sell, as opposed to what made the magazine special.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:07
But remember: the fast layers are also where we can _experiment_ with things.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:08
It’s easier to try out new forms (and structures) than new strategies.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:08
Or the sales org. :slightly_smiling_face:

cboyer
2018-10-18 23:08
Choosing the wrong model is a problem. Developers find they like their one hammer and use it on everything. A lot of success seems to come from experience and intuition, similar traits as the most effective designers.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:08
As designers, understanding this can mean that we can provide more value. Not just to our organizations, but to society more broadly.

jarango
2018-10-18 23:10
Any more thoughts/observations? (I must jump off in a few minutes, alas.)

maadonna
2018-10-18 23:10
I must find my copy of How Buildings Work :slightly_smiling_face:

jarango
2018-10-18 23:10
A great book!

jarango
2018-10-18 23:11
Also check out Brand’s _The Clock of the Long Now_

nwhysel
2018-10-18 23:11
Thanks, Jorge!

crystal
2018-10-18 23:11
Governance is becoming critical for benefits to society with information environments and creating safe information environments

hawk
2018-10-18 23:11
I want to say another huge thank you for your time and wisdom Jorge.

Sarah Hawk
Written by
Sarah Hawk
Join the discussion