Websites and apps are places where critical parts of our lives happen. We shop, bank, learn, gossip, and select our leaders there. But many of these places weren’t intended to support these activities. Instead, they're designed to capture your attention and sell it to the highest bidder. Living in Information draws upon architecture as a way to design information environments that serve our humanity.
Jorge Arango is an information architect and strategic designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's the author of "Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places" (Two Waves Books, 2018) and co-author of "Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond" (O'Reilly Media, 2015).
There is a strong parallel between the characteristics and the influences of physical places on our lives and what worlds of information living in immaterial digital existences are having on them as well.
Living in Information by Jorge Arango is about designing digital places: information spaces where we act, move, search and request to satisfy our needs in similar and sometimes more complex and powerful ways than the physical ones.
As designers of interactions, learning, services, products we need to be constantly aware of the importance of the architecture of a space and its characteristics in order to create meaningful experiences for the people living in it.
Jorge Arango, Information Architect, Strategic Designer, writes about the factors involved in designing digital places in this well-structured and flowing text which should be a reference point for any modern designer.
The neat organization in chapters provide a systematic structure to sustain a holistic and multi-perspective view of information environments, their influence on humans and the key properties to consider when we are to design them. A logical sequence of concepts, treated in a fluid and convincing style is telling a story where the two apparently distant actors are converging into a unifying theory: the physical and the digital space. The concepts: Environments, Context, Incentives, Engagement, Technology, Architecture, Structure, Systems, Sustainability to conclude with Gardening. A systemic and systematic view of digital design which empowers a multi-angle and structured vision of designing Information Environments. The narration unfolds to focus on the key question of this book: “How can we design these information environments so they serve our social needs in the long term?” Each chapter contributes to stimulate an answer, chapter 6, in particular, gives a strong point about it:”Architecture: We can intentionally design our environments to better serve our needs. Architecture is the design discipline that is focused on structuring our physical environments, and information architecture is the design discipline that does the same for information environments.” I particularly appreciate the expanded and expanding view of Arango when he extends the scope to systems, systems of systems and ecosystems, increasing the conceptual power and the strength of the framework as he does in Chapter 8. Systems: “Environments are not just structural constructs; many other systems must work in concert to make it possible for them to serve our needs. Architects must consider how these systems work together. “ This takes the discussion beyond the border of the single, closed, independent scope of the artifact, the product or the service, extending the consideration to a Systems View which entail a long sequence of dynamics and phenomena as well explained in the various Systems Thinking schools: systems change, often unpredictably, usually cannot be controlled and need continuous stewardship as well explained in Chapter 10, Gardening. I loved “Living In Information” because helped me in having a wider, broader and more encompassing view on design, design thinking, information architecture, systems design, systems thinking, sustainability development, usability, human-centered design, strategic design. “Living in Information” is a precious book to be lovingly kept in any designer’s bookshelf.
Jorge Arango distills the approach which is needed to deal with information responsibility especially when desiging information for consumption in the 21st century. His writing is clear and concise. I keep the book on my desk to reference it whenever I need it.
I had to read this book for my Information Architecture course for grad school and found it remarkably helpful. So far this semester, this and Abby Covert's How to Make Sense of Any Mess have been the most beneficial for me.
I went into the semester having never head of information architecture and having no idea what it was, but this book definitely helped me get a better feel for it in terms of information environments.
The writing overall was simple and easy to understand. I enjoyed the conversational style of writing that made it feel like an opportunity to learn rather than a dry textbook. The examples used were easy to relate to. Some of the books we have read for this class use overly-technical examples that don't resonate with me. Instead, this one focuses on well-known digital places such as Facebook and Amazon. Even when the example is not readily known, it is explained well enough to make the point.
The chapters broke down the complexity of information environments in a fantastic way and the overall structure of the book was informational without being overwhelming. It's a relatively small book in comparison to some of the other books I've (attempt to) read for this class. Interspersed with photos, diagrams, models, and quotations, this is a manageable read for those interested in learning more about creating better digital places.
I also enjoyed the ending section on switching to a more generative rather than prescriptive approach in order to allow for the evolution of the place. A fascinating perspective that was well-presented with the helpful example of Wikipedia.
Rosenfeld books are nice introductions to UX concepts and I wish I was aware of them when I was first starting out in grad school. But as intro texts, they always leave me wanting more. I don’t think I am the audience for this.
Overall, I really liked the core concept of this book, which is that we should be approaching the design of what he calls “information environments” more like architects who build buildings. He introduces a lot of useful concepts from the world of architecture to apply to digital products. It was for those that I was glad I read book.
On the other hand, the book is more a proposal of the idea, but it doesn’t go I to a whole lot of depth. His examples are fairly poor, and so to apply this thinking I feel like lost people will have to take the next step on their own.
It certainly helped me shift perspective on how to think about building products, and so for that I felt it was still worth the effort, given that it’s a pretty quick read.
Jorge Arango has written an important book at an important time. He challenges us to think environmentally about design and about the new ethical terrain we enter as information environments become both pervasive and inescapable. If I have a single criticism it is simply that I wish Arango had gone deeper. That said, his prose is lucid and accessible and the work he’s doing here is foundational. He’s done this work superbly, carefully and thoughtfully. This a major contribution.
Jorge Arango's call to change the framing we use to design, from "products" or "services" to "information environments" is very compelling, and has helped broaden my view of my own work and responsibility.
A good introduction book in Information Architecture, that reinforces the architecture of this design discipline. Using buildings as his main examples, Jorge Arango explains how our digital spaces don't differ so much from physical spaces, and have the same influence on us.
He calls our responsibility in designing and building those information environments that are time-proof, sustainable and that empowers their users.
It was a great quick read that packed in A LOT. I liked how the author’s humor and personality were sprinkled in parts of the book. Lots of great analogies to quickly clarify your key points.
There were lots of passages that really resonated with me. Some of them left me wanting another book diving deeper into certain topics. In particular, the passage on “…engaging with each other in a context in which over a quarter of the world’s population is present is bound to have some effect on our ability to act collectively”, was like a precursor to “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix that was released this year. The film supports this point on interactions on social media designed by algorithms to keep users in their own “bubble” or “echo” to keep them engaged, rather than giving a consensus of what neighbors and the local community think. And it has proven to cause high levels of civil unrest in recent years.
I really liked some of the terms such as “shared information environment”. It’s better than the term “social media” which sounds more product focused whereas “shared information environment” brings in the connotation of collaboration, communication and “it’s about the people” in the digital space.
I also really liked the quote from Upton Sinclair “It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends on not understanding it.”. It reminds me of my first thoughts on how team structures I’ve experienced are not conducive to actual human centered design when UX is under marketing or product instead of it’s own team. The section on team structures and their level of collaboration corresponding holacracy went into detail on this pain point of companies in varying levels of UX maturity even today. This personally made a great sanity check for me. I wish I read this book earlier in my career.