This is my last post on Medium.

With (very few) exceptions, everything I’ve published here is a repost of something that appeared first in my blog. I see no value in continuing to post in two places, so I will be focusing on my own site from now on.

Hope to see you there!

What do you know? Less than you think you do.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
— Socrates

You know less than you think you do. We all do. Consider an object you interact with every day: a flushing toilet. You know how to operate this device. Depending on where you live, you activate it by either pushing a button or pulling on a small lever, which causes water to flush away wastes. Fine, but how does it do this? Knowing how to operate a thing doesn’t mean understanding how it does it. …

Some systems require management. This calls for clarity of purpose.

Some systems are best left alone. For example, a rainforest can function perfectly well without human intervention. That’s a natural system that evolved into its current configuration over a long time, and it’s likely to continue adapting to changing conditions. (Barring some major environmental disruption.)

Most human-made systems haven’t had as much time to adapt; they’re aggregates of design decisions that may or may not effectively serve their intended purposes. Some of these interventions may truly be in service to the systems’ goals, but others may be driven by political motivations. …

Approaching complex problems at a more abstract level.

Information architecture is a systemic design discipline. The bulk of the work consists of establishing distinctions. These distinctions are in service to creating particular contexts that allow individuals to “find their own paths to knowledge.” As a result, the nature of the IA challenge is holistic; we’re fixing a whole so the brain gets in.

A system, you’ll recall, is a set of elements that interact with each other in particular ways that allow the whole to achieve a purpose. …

Two different approaches to tackling complex problems.

Different design disciplines are characterized by particular gestures that distinguish them from other design disciplines. For example, the core of graphic design is a visual gesture. This could be something rudimentary such as marks made on a wall with a piece of charcoal, or a more complex expression such as a computer-rendered artifact mechanically reproduced at scale. Whatever the case, absent a (relatively) permanent visual expression you don’t get graphic design at all; you’re dealing with a different discipline.

Different design disciplines also aspire to particular outcomes. A graphic designer wants her posters to be engaging and memorable; an architect…

Feeling overwhelmed by your digital devices? These practices can help.

We’re coming up on the end of the year, and you may be contemplating resolutions for the New Year. I haven’t had success with lists of resolutions drawn up before January 1. Invariably I’ve faltered on one of them by the second week of the year, and then all falls apart. Instead of writing resolutions, I use the quiet time afforded by the holidays to consider what I could’ve done better in the past year. Then I think about small habits I can implement or experiments I can try to help me fix those things.

Talking to people this year…

Non-essential details can create depth and help users suspend their disbelief

The first Star Wars movie — now known as EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE — came out in 1977. It was a blockbuster, with crowds lining up for blocks to see it. Part of its success was due to its mythologically sound story. But its aesthetic was also an essential element in its popularity. Two elements in particular stand out: its excellent (for the time) special effects and the richness of its environments. I’m particularly interested in the second of these.

Before A NEW HOPE, most “space” movies looked “new”; their props and ships and clothes all looked clean and…

Sometimes all it takes to get unstuck is a little skeleton to flesh out.

Often, one of the biggest obstacles to getting started with something is your canvas’s initial blank state. It may be a white sheet of paper or a blinking cursor in the word processor. You stare at it, not knowing where to begin. When facing these conditions, I often find that adding a bit of structure does the trick. Having a framework frees you from having to pick a place to start. With a skeleton in place, your next step becomes clearer: all you must do is flesh it out.

Here’s an example. Many times in my life I tried to…

Do you really need that new iPad, iPhone, or Apple Watch?

Image: Apple

It’s that time of year again: Tech companies are announcing new products in preparation for the holiday season. Over the past month, a slate of new phones, tablets, computers, and accessories have been announced. You may be considering buying one or more of these new devices. It’s worth thinking about whether or not you really need them.

As an Apple customer (and something of a gadget junkie), I’ve been intrigued by the new Apple Watch and the new iPad Pro. I already own earlier editions of both devices and was perfectly happy with them just a few months ago. But…

Documents are not just the object of work; sometimes they’re also where the work happens

Sometimes we collaborate to produce documents to share with others. It could be a PDF with a description for an upcoming workshop, a set of wireframes that describe a website, or a presentation deck meant to persuade somebody to buy something from you. With collaborative software such as the Google Apps suite, a team can work together towards creating these artifacts. This can speed up their production tremendously. However, there’s another reason to work collaboratively on documents such as these; one that has little to do with communicating intent to others. …

Jorge Arango

Information architect. Fighting entropy with empathy.

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