Book Summary & Highlights: How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody By Abby Covert

Book Summary & Highlights: How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody By Abby Covert



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Everything is getting more complex. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information we encounter each day. Whether at work, at school, or in our personal endeavors, there’s a deepening (and inescapable) need for people to work with and understand information. Information architecture is the way that we arrange the parts of something to make it understandable as a whole. When we make things for others to use, the architecture of information that we choose greatly affects our ability to deliver our intended message to our users. We all face messes made of information and people. I define the word “mess” the same way that most dictionaries do: “A situation where the interactions between people and information are confusing or full of difficulties.” — Who doesn’t bump up against messes made of information and people every day? This book provides a seven step process for making sense of any mess. Each chapter contains a set of lessons as well as workbook exercises architected to help you to work through your own mess.

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Information Is Subjective

The most important thing I can teach you about information is that it isn't a thing. It's subjective, not objective. It's whatever a user interprets from the arrangement or sequence of things they encounter.
While we can arrange things with the intent to communicate certain information, we can't actually make information. Our users do that for us.
The jars, the jam, the price tags, and the shelf are the content. The detailed observations each person makes about these things are data. What each person encountering that shelf believes to be true about the empty spot is the information.
Even within a single language, one term can mean something in situation A and something different in situation B. We call this a homograph. For example, the word pool can mean a swimming pool, shooting pool, or a betting pool.
Something that's beautiful to one person may be an eyesore to another. For example, many designers would describe the busy, colorful patterns in the carpets of Las Vegas as gaudy. People who frequent casinos often describe them as beautiful.

Guide Perception

What we intend to do determines how we define words like good and bad.
When we don't define what good means for our stakeholders and users, we aren't using language to our advantage. Without a clear understanding of what is good, bad can come out of nowhere.
When you're making decisions, balance what your stakeholders and users expect of you, along with what they believe to be good.
Understanding the why behind what you're making allows you to uncover your intent and potential.
To start with why, ask yourself: Why does this work need to be done? Why is change needed? Why do those changes matter? Why should other people care? Why hasn't this been tackled correctly? Why will this time be different?
When deciding what you're doing, ask yourself: What are you trying to change? What is your vision for the future? What is within your abilities? What do you know about the quality of what exists today? What further research will help you understand it? What has been done before? What can you learn from those experiences? What is the market and competition like? Has anyone succeeded or failed at this in the past?

To Do Is To Know

Knowing is not enough. Knowing too much can encourage us to procrastinate. There's a certain point when continuing to know at the expense of doing allows the mess to grow further.

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