An interview-based show that explores how people organize and design information to get things done.
Karl Fast on Interactionism, part 2
Karl Fast is an independent scholar, information architect, and futurist. He's the co-author of Figure It Out: Getting From Information to Understanding.
This is the second half of a two-part conversation about interaction and embodiment. If you haven't done so already, please listen to part 1 before listening to this episode.
Show notes @karlfast on Twitter Karl Fast on LinkedIn Figure It Out: Getting From Information to Understanding by Stephen P. Anderson and Karl Fast Bruce Alexander The Rat Park experiments Bill Verplank's diagram of interaction Epigenetics About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design, 4th Ed by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, avid Cronin, and Christopher Noessel Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought by Barbara Tversky The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values by Brian Christian (Bonus: Jorge's book notes) The paperclip maximizer problem Punctuated equilibrium Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.
Read the transcript Jorge: Karl, welcome back to the show.
Karl: Thanks for having me again!
Jorge: Well, I could not help but want to talk with you again, since you mentioned wanting to discuss rats and heroin, and that just sounded too intriguing to me at the tail end of our last conversation. So, why don't we pick right back up there? What do you mean by rats on heroin?
Rats and heroin Karl: So in the 1970s, there was a lot of concern about drug addiction in various parts of the society, especially in the US, and especially with the Vietnam War. And a lot of veterans — a lot of soldiers who were in Vietnam and who were exposed to heroin were… I think there was some estimate, something like 80 or 90% of all the soldiers who went over to Vietnam had used heroin at some point and had a serious… what we would now classify maybe as an addiction. I'm not sure if that number is correct. But there was this general widespread concern about this and what was going to happen when these people came back. I don't think that this particular study was motivated directly by that, but certainly this was in the air.
And so, there was a Canadian psychologist named Bruce Alexander, and he was concerned about a lot of the studies that had been done around addiction and said, "well, these rats are stuck in like a small, cold cage, often socially isolated from all other rats. If I was in that kind of situation, maybe I'd like to take some heroin too!" So, he designed a study where he had a couple of different groups of rats. One group of rats, they were basically in the sort of normal lab cages that you would have. The other ones were in what are called "Rat Park."
And you can actually look this up on Wikipedia. It's called, "The Rat Park Experiments." And they… they were like 200 times larger. There were about a dozen, 15 rats or so in there, both male and female. So, they had a completely different environment in which they were able to run around. They could play, there were all kinds of lovely things. There were things to keep them mentally stimulated. It was kind of like a rat heaven. And in both of these different groups, each of them, the rats were divided up into two different groups.
There were rats that were given water to drink, and the other rats had a choice between water and water that was sweetened, but also laced with morphine. What they found basically was that when they were in rat park — in rat heaven — very few of them would consistently go and choose the morphine. But the ones that were in the cages almost always did the morphine.
And there were several conclusions about this, but one interpretation was that social isolation was the major factor and that lack of socialization drove a lot of addiction. My understanding is that this is not… this has been criticized in a number of cas
Karl Fast on Interactionism, part 1
Karl Fast is an independent scholar, information architect, and futurist. He's the co-author of Figure It Out: Getting From Information to Understanding alongside Stephen Anderson, who was featured in episode 39 of the show.
In this conversation, Karl tells us about what interaction designers can learn from cognitive science. We had a lot to discuss, so this episode is the first of two on the subject.
Show notes @karlfast on Twitter Karl Fast on LinkedIn Figure It Out: Getting From Information to Understanding by Stephen P. Anderson and Karl Fast Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman Stroop effect The Extended Mind by Andy Clark and David Chalmers Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension by Andy Clark HCI Remixed: Essays on Works That Have Influenced the HCI Community, edited by Thomas Erickson and David W. McDonald On Distinguishing Epistemic From Pragmatic Action by David Kirsch and Paul Maglio (pdf) The Intelligent Use of Space by David Kirsch Hearing Gesture: How Our Hands Help Us Think by Susan Goldin-Meadow Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes In The Age Of The Machine by Don Norman The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition by Don Norman Hans Moravec Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.
Read the transcript Jorge: Karl, welcome to the show.
Karl: Thanks for having me.
Jorge: Well, I'm very excited to have you here. For folks who might not know you, would you mind, please, introducing yourself?
About Karl Karl: Sure. So, my name is Karl Fast. I am a Canadian by birth and education and sentiment, and I have been working in information architecture and user experience design for about 25 years or so. I like to say now, I create systems for thinking in a world that is just jam-packed with information. And a lot of the questions I have, and the work that I do, are about how do we live well and how do we think well in a world where information is cheap and abundant and pervasive. But the same is also true for computation and the networks and all the different things that we use to bring these together. And we can see trend lines where we've got more technology, we're more dependent on it, it's everywhere. And the ways that we use that technology — the possibilities of it — are simply becoming richer and richer.
And you can think back to the early days when we simply had a keyboard and a screen that was one color. And then we added a mouse. And then we had multiple colors. And then we get mobile and all of these types of things. I have worked as a practicing information architect. I have worked in startups, I have worked as a consultant. I have a Ph.D. in information science, and my work was on how to take digital libraries and how to design them so that they are more of a knowledge creation tool rather than just simply a document repository where you have to search and browse. How do we actually create knowledge from digital libraries, and how do we expand that potential?
And then, I spent about seven years working as a professor of user experience design at Kent State University. And now I think of myself more as an independent scholar, and I do consulting work and writing. I also think of myself as practicing what I call "information futurism," of a sort — thinking about where information will go in terms of how we can use it as this resource.
The last thing I would mention is that about a year ago, I co-published a book with Stephen Anderson. It's called Figure It Out: Getting From Information To Understanding. And some of the stuff I think we're going to talk about today is definitely part of that book.
Jorge: Stephen was a guest on the show as well. Your book was one of my favorite reads from last year. It touches on many subjects that I believe more desi
Mags Hanley on Career Architecture
In this conversation, we discuss Career Architecture, the focus of her current coaching work and subject of her upcoming book.
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Show notes MagsHanley.com Mags Hanley on LinkedIn Seth Godin BBC Career Architecture by Mags Hanley (preorder) Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.
Read the transcript Jorge: Mags, welcome to the show.
Mags: Thanks, Jorge. Lovely to see you again. It's been so long.
Jorge: It has been. It's fantastic to have you here in the show. As you're hinting at with that warm greeting, we've known each other for a long time.
Mags: It's probably over 20 years now.
Jorge: Folks who are listening in likely don't know you. So for their benefit, would you mind please introducing yourself?
About Mags Mags: Sure. I'm Mags Hanley. I am a long-time information architect, and I've been a product manager and a user experience manager. I've done the gamut. So, a long-time digital person. And over the last couple of years, actually — it's been the last couple of years — I've actually moved into more of where I feel I can make the most impact, and that is into career architecture. So, using what I use as an information architect for people's careers. And it's really come from where have I been previously as a manager, and going, "actually, I want to use all of that to support and grow people within design."
Career architecture Jorge: Well, I'm super intrigued by this phrase, "career architecture," and I'll just tell you what it speaks to, to me, before you describe it: it speaks to somehow applying some of the tools and techniques and frames that folks like ourselves bring to design projects, to the design of our careers. Is that a fair take?
Mags: That's a fair take. It came from a time… so, I am a member of a business school to help me develop my practice. And I sat down with the leader of the business school, Lisa O'Neill, and she asked me to describe what I do and what I am. And I said, "well, I'm an information architect. I'm going to just tell you a little bit about that," which took a little longer than I expected.
Once I made the library connection, that just… you know, the cataloging elements sort of hit her, but it can be quite abstract. And then I said, "but my passion is growing people. And my passion is coaching and growing people in design and in digital, and making sure that they find what they need to do. The right path for them right now." And she turned to me and went, "you're an architect. You architect people's careers, and you architect information!" And I went, "Sweet!"
So, when I was talking to all of this — and I was talking more about what is now my passion project, which is about elders in design and grown, people who are grown up in design — she turned to me and said, "I think you need a foundational course." And a foundational course, which is the career architecture, and then you can build on top of it.
So, as we were saying, 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. And it's come a lot from two places. One is, it came out of something that I applied for myself.
So, I finished up a project — a piece of work working for a major retailer, an e-commerce retailer in Australia — and realized as I was doing this, this wasn't the place for me. And I talked to some friends who turned to me and said, "this is not the place for you. This is not the right place for you. It's the right place for others, not for you." And I sat down and tried to work out what it is that I wanted to move forward with. I used this process on myself. And over the last two years, I've been doing exactly the same
No guest in this episode. Instead, I answer listener questions. If you have a question you'd like me to address on the show, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @informed_life.
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Show notes The Informed Life episode 17: Rachel Price on Improvisation The Informed Life episode 65: Sarah Barrett on Architectural Scale A brief history of information architecture (pdf) by Peter Morville Information Architects by Richard Saul Wurman David Macaulay Alexander Tsiaras Why Software is Eating the World by Marc Andreessen (WSJ paywall) Dave Gray The Information Architecture Institute How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond by Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, and Jorge Arango The Information Architecture Conference World IA Day Information Architects Facebook group UX Design Information Architecture LinkedIn group Mags Hanley's Information Architecture Masterclasses Jorge Arango's Information Architecture Essentials workshop Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.
Read the transcript A question from Vinish Garg The first question comes from Vinish Garg. And I apologize if I have mispronounced that. Vinish is based in Chandigarh, and he writes, "the design agencies with around a hundred plus headcount have big and experienced teams in user research, interaction, design, and UX design. But many of them don't have an information architect. How do they see the need of a specialist IA and make space for this role?" And he adds a postscript, he says "those who have an IA, I spoke to many of them, but they are doing wireframes or card sorting without really understanding anything of taxonomy or findability. This is misplaced IA."
All right. So, let me take the question first. Information architecture in general has withered as a job title. In the last 20 years, we've seen fewer and fewer people signing up to become information architects in organizations, not just in internal design teams, but also in agencies. In fact, I don't know many organizations that still have internal information architects.
One notable exception — and I'm just calling it out because we've had two of their folks in the show — is Microsoft. Rachel Price and Sarah Barrett, both former guests of The Informed Life, are information architects within Microsoft. So, that's an example of an organization that still has the role internally.
But I think that the more common scenario is that there is someone with another job title. It might be a UX designer or interaction designer or something like that, is tasked with structuring the system somehow.
Sadly. I think that the even more common scenario is that no one does this explicitly at all, and they're just basically painting screens. I suspect that is the more common scenario. And it's a shame, because information architecture is very important, especially if you're dealing with a large complex system that presents a lot of information to end users.
I want to comment a bit on the postscript. I think that it may be the case that there are people who, as Vinish points out, are practicing what they call information architecture, but they're doing it very superficially. And I encounter this most often in the confusion that people have between site maps and information architecture. I've seen folks draw up an outline in the form of a site map and basically call it a day.
A site map is a useful artifact for communicating structural intent, but there's much more to information architecture than making a site map. And for many interactive systems, a site map might not even be the most appropriate artifact to communicate intent. Site maps tend to be very hierarchical, which is something that is more appropriate for some systems than oth
Jim Kalbach on Jobs to Be Done
Jim Kalbach is the chief evangelist at MURAL, a leading provider of online visual collaboration software. He's the author of Designing Web Navigation (O'Reilly, 2007), Mapping Experiences (O'Reilly, 2016), and his latest, The Jobs to Be Done Playbook (Rosenfeld, 2020). In this conversation, we dive into Jobs to Be Done, how it relates to design, and how jobs can create an “out of body experience” for organizations.
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Show notes @JimKalbach on Twitter Jim Kalbach on LinkedIn MURAL The Jobs to Be Done Playbook by Jim Kalbach Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams by Jim Kalbach Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience by Jim Kalbach JTBD Toolkit Book Notes: “The Jobs To Be Done Playbook” by Jorge Arango Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done” by Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David S. Duncan How We Align Product Development with Jobs To Be Done at MURAL by Agustin Soler The JTBD toolkit Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David S. Duncan Some show notes may include Amazon affiliate links. I get a small commission for purchases made through these links.
Read the transcript Jorge: Jim, welcome to the show.
Jim: Hey, great to be here. Thanks for having me, Jorge.
Jorge: Well, I'm very excited to have you. Not only have you and I been friends for a long time, but you also wrote a book last year that I liked a lot, and I actually wrote about it in my blog. I'm excited to talk with you about the book and about what you're up to. So, for folks who might not know you, can you please introduce yourself?
About Jim Jim: Yeah, sure! Hey everybody, Jim Kalbach here. Calling in from Jersey City, New Jersey, where I'm originally from, on the east coast. I moved to Germany for a long time. I lived in Germany for about 14 years and then came back to the U. S. But I have a background in information science and worked as an information architect for a long time, getting into topics around usability and UX. I have a very strong classic kind of design — product design — background. But I was always interested in research and strategic aspects of design and innovation. And then I got exposed to Jobs to Be Done around 2003, and always tried to incorporate aspects of that in my work here and there. Just kind of testing the waters. So, I've been looking at Jobs to Be Done for a while now, actually, in my design roles, but then also beyond that as well too.
Jorge: You're currently at MURAL, right?
Jim: Correct. Yeah, I'm the Chief Evangelist at MURAL. I've been with that company for six and a half years now. I was employee number 12 and through the pandemic, our business has expanded greatly. It's just… things have just exploded in a good way. Of course, we believe we have a tool — a virtual whiteboard — we have a tool that can help people. You know, through the pandemic, it was great to see our mission that we had been building up for five years before the pandemic then suddenly become hyper-relevant, and people reaching out and grabbing us by the collar and saying, "thank you for saving my project!" So that was just really fulfilling to see our mission, become hyper relevant.
But again, at the same time, it was absolutely fantastic for our business. And now we're like 600 people in the company. It's crazy how much we've grown. I started and I built up the customer success team and the support team here at MURAL. So, it was a little bit of shift from my background in product design when I got to MURAL. But then as we scaled, I wasn't the right person to scale a global customer success team. So, I moved over into what we're calling "Chief Evangelist" and it's basically a lot of outreach, writing,
Udhaya Kumar Padmanabhan on India
Udhaya Kumar Padmanabhan is a Global Strategic Design Director at Designit, an international strategic design consultancy. He is based in Bangalore, and in this conversation we talk about challenges and opportunities inherent in designing information systems for the Indian market.
A backstage pass to leaders in design
I’m so happy to find a podcast hosted by Jorge Arango. I have followed his work for years and he’s curating some of the best thought leadership in the design space here.
One of the few podcasts I listen to. The conversations are meaningful and informative. I think about information and design and Jorge Arango’s conversations help me stay informed of interesting things in the field related to what I care about and work on. The transcripts and organization of the conversations are clear and immensely helpful. If you interested in user experience (UX), service design, information architecture (IA), metadata, and how we use information with technology, I recommend listening.