Abby Covert is an information architect, writer and community organizer with two decades of experience helping people make sense of messes. In addition to being an active mentor to those new to sensemaking, she has also served the design community as President of the Information Architecture Institute, co-chair of Information Architecture Summit, and Executive Producer of the I.D.E.A Conference

Abby is a founding faculty member of School of Visual Arts’ Products of Design graduate program. She also managed the team that helped Rosenfeld Media to start both the Design Operations Summit and Advancing Research Conference. Her most proud achievement is having come up with the idea for World Information Architecture Day, bringing accessibly priced education to thousands in their local communities annually. 

In addition to running events, you may have seen her presenting her work on stage at: Blend, Business to Buttons, Confab, Creative Mornings, Designing for Digital, EdUI, EMACTL, EuroIA, Generate, GIANT, IA Summit, IA Conference, Italian IA Conference, Interactions, Midwest UX, Mind the Product, Momentum, Plain Language Summit, SearchLOVE, STC Summit, TalkUX, UI21, UI22, UX Cambridge, UX Ottawa, UX Lisbon, UX Tokyo, UX Week, Webstock, Wharton Web Conference, World IA Day 

Abby has written two books for her students. In 2014 she published How to Make Sense of Any Mess, a book to teach IA to everybody. In 2022, she released her much anticipated follow-up, Stuck? Diagrams Help. She currently spends her time making things that help you to make the unclear, clear, many of which she makes available for free on her website or at accessible price points in her popular Etsy shop AbbytheIA.

Abby lives and writes from Melbourne, Florida where her most important job title is ‘Mom’.

Episode Notes

Products & Guides for Sensemakers
How to Make Sense of Any Mess
STUCK? Diagrams Help
My Monthly Email List

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Welcome back to the PolicyViz podcast. I am your host, Jon Schwabish. I hope you’re well, hope you’re enjoying some fall weather if that’s where you’re living, and listening to the show. I’m excited to bring you a conversation with Abby Covert today. Abby has a new book called Stuck? Diagrams Help. I thought this would be an interesting conversation to have on a podcast that is primarily focused on making data visualizations and making presentations where we’re often in the computer. And you probably know that many folks in the field really focus on the analog piece of sketching and diagramming before we actually start making things, and so, I thought Abby would be perfect to talk about that. And so we talk about her new book, we talk about the art and the science of creating diagrams, and we talk a lot about how she helps facilitate making diagrams, especially among people who say they can’t draw, which I have said about myself many times, I’ve had lots of people in classes and workshops say that. And as you’ll hear, it’s really not about trying to be a graphic designer, when you are making your diagrams, it’s really about trying to make sense of content, make sense of information. So it’s really interesting conversation, kind of, gets us away a little bit from the computer, which I think we’re all sort of too much these days, especially when we’re making our visualizations. So I hope you’ll enjoy this week’s episode of the podcast, here is my conversation with Abby. 

Jon Schwabish: Good morning, Abby. Thanks for coming on the show. 

Abby Covert: Hey Jon, thanks for having me. 

JS: Very excited to see you. I am crossing my fingers for you on this hurricane, as I can select in the window behind you, like the craziness starting to happen. 

AC: Yeah, it’s getting pretty wild. But we’re going to hope that we get through this without a power outage or an internet loss.

JS: Right. If we could do that, then we’re good to go. 

AC: Yeah. 

JS: So I’m excited to chat with you. You’ve got a new book out. While for probably many people who listen to the show, they’re more coding or working in tools, and they’re using computers to work with data, there’s still a huge movement in the field to, kind of, pause and step back and, at least, start with some sketching and diagrams. So I’m really excited to talk to you about the diagramming piece. But I thought maybe we would just talk – you just start with a little quick background of how you ended up where you are today with – this is what, your second book now that’s out?

AC: Yeah, second book. 

JS: Yeah, it’s great. 

AC: Yeah, so I’m an Information Architect, which, I don’t know if that’s a new job title for some of your listeners, but essentially, I help teams make decisions about structure and language of usually large technical projects, but not always. I’ve applied my skills in print design, web design, service design, interaction design, all the designs, and about eight years ago, I wrote a book called How to Make Sense of Any Mess, which was really out of being a teacher of information architecture, and seeing how applicable this skill set and this specialty really could be to other people’s jobs. So I wrote a book that basically claims to teach information architecture to anybody, and let them apply it to whatever their mess is. During the writing of that book, it became very clear that diagrams were going to play a huge part in it, because if you think about information architecture as being structure and language, like, the most crystallized form of that is the diagram, which is literally just you’ve stripped everything away, except for structure and language. 

So when I was writing the first book, I came up with the 10 most common diagrams that I had found as an information architect, were helpful to teach my students to kind of get them to grok the idea of IA. And when the book came out, people loved those diagrams, they were just like, these are awesome, they’re all about pizza, and people love pizza, so that kind of helped. But it was just like simple versions of the things that we’ve all seen, but maybe we don’t know the term for, like, a Gantt chart, and a journey map and a swim lane and things of that nature. But the thing that I found over the years of teaching with that first book is that there’s a huge difference between people seeing a picture of a diagram, even when it’s a template of a diagram, and being actually able to make a diagram themselves that uses that template and actually expresses it for the right intention. And too often what I actually see is people like filling in templates, in really unhelpful ways, where they’re sort of trying to force themselves into a diagram, and often what I think ends up happening is you don’t get the sort of powerful impact that you get in diagrams otherwise. So I became really interested in that, and when I decided to write a second book, diagrams was like the obvious topic for me. So my latest book is called Stuck? Diagrams Help, and it is a field guide for the trek between being a diagram novice and becoming a diagram nerd, which I definitely consider myself to be. 

JS: Yeah, so I want to get to a lot of this, but I kind of want to skip ahead because we’ve already sort of touched on it. So what do you say to the folks who say, I can’t draw? I mean, there’s a lot of people out there who say, like, I can’t draw, and every designer I’ve ever talked to is like everybody can draw, and then the response is, yeah, but really, I can’t, I can’t draw. So what is your reaction to that? 

AC: I get that all the time, number one. I have kind of a controversial take on it, I think. So I come from a graphic design background, so I came to diagramming with aesthetics first. And I would say that over the two decades since my formal education in design, I have had to really pare back how much I rely on aesthetics to make good diagrams. So I think what I’ve come to in the last few years of teaching diagrams is that the people that are coming to it with that, “I can’t draw”, they actually have the best chance of really focusing in on what diagrams are good at. So first question that I usually put back to people who say I can’t draw in this particular context of diagrams is define for me what you mean by draw, because often what people actually mean is like, I can’t render icons that look like little Weeble people. I can’t come up on the fly with a metaphor visually for this thing I’m trying to think mentally; and you don’t really need any of that to get good at diagramming. So in my book, what I’ve really tried to do is lay out a grammar for diagramming, and I’ve really been dogged about it just being about boxes and arrows, like, it’s just shapes and lines, it’s just things that we all do know how to do. I have an almost four-year-old son, and he is currently learning how to draw shapes and lines, and, like, if you want to see somebody who cannot draw, he cannot draw, and he’s very close to being able to make shapes and lines. You know what I mean? And he’s not even four. So this idea that, like, you would keep an entire toolset from yourself, because of this fear of artistic expression, I think is really doing a disservice to kind of the field of diagramming. And I’m really hopeful that that’s something that we can start to kind of demystify for people, because there’s a lot of jobs where diagrams are really useful, and they’re even there, kind of, in the background, and they could be so much better, if we had more of a focus on that kind of like shared vernacular of how do we make them, how do we think about them, and how do we make them useful. I think that that’s really at the heart. 

JS: So when you’re working with teams, and you have someone or multiple people in the room who are like, I can’t draw, I’m not going to do this, like, how do you get the team to – I don’t know – I mean, I guess that’s the kind of like a culture thing, but how do you sort of lower those barriers and make people feel comfortable that like, it’s okay that you can’t draw a fancy icon, we’re drawing boxes here, and that’s okay, they don’t have to look like they’re going to be published in a museum, we’re here to work together, like, how do you facilitate that? 

AC: Yeah, there’s a couple of different ways. The first thing I would say is like that vocabulary lesson, like the visual vocabulary lesson, sort of like, giving everybody the same toolset, even if there are people in that room that have a design skill set to make it known that, like, what you’re looking for is the boxes and the lines, you can also make the boxes and the lines with things that are already boxes and line like. I love using Post-its with text and yarn to connect things, like, that’s a great way to sort of replicate the drawing. You would also use whiteboards, which are super easy to wipe away, and they’re supposed to – they feel like they’re supposed to stay messy, so that can be really effective. And then, the number one facilitation technique for evening out the field is the people that are really visual and are really comfortable with drawing will be the first people that start to draw in a group. So that really already cuts out a whole lot of people. 

So I find, and this is true of any kind of facilitation, but specifically, if you’re trying to combat this, you have to give everybody a time boxed, like, five minutes, 10 minutes, maybe even 15 minutes, depending on what it is, where the expectation is that they are making something by themselves. They are making a messy drawing by themselves. They are making a pile of Post-its. They’re going to sort with people by themselves, something to get them out of the mode of the group think being the first, because once people have made something, even if it’s messy, they’ve invested in it. Now, it’s important for them to actually get their point across, and even if it’s messier than the other diagrams that are at the table they end up at, it all feels more like, okay, this is what we’re all going for, because we’re all coming to this table with messy things, and now we’re going to go forward. That’s also the time of this kind of a facilitation where you can start to identify the people that are really comfortable with the visual part and take the pressure off of the rest of the group. If you’re working in small groups and you’ve already gotten everybody’s ideas out, you don’t have to make everybody draw all the way through, you can be like, okay, you know what, your boxes in line, they look real good, and we know those people. Right? Another little trick, if you want your boxes in lines to look real good, you need a thicker marker, it’s really that simple. These ballpoint pen people stop it, just stop it, that’s what the designers are – what they have on you is they have chisel tip thick markers that make really crispy looking boxes. So just get yourself some better markers. I’m not even kidding you. 

JS: Okay, that’s [inaudible 00:10:21].

AC: Yeah, no, the bigger the marker, the more bold the expression of it, and it really does – it makes a huge difference, yeah. 

JS: Yeah, Sharpies for everybody. 

AC: Oh my gosh, I love Sharpie, the thick ones, yeah – for everybody. And that’s also great for labels on diagrams, because you can’t write prose with a Sharpie. 

JS: Right? 

AC: You have to limit yourself, so, like, you got a Post-it note and a Sharpie, you’re immediately thinking in the right diagrammatic mindset, because you’re already thinking in short labels, because you’re just – we’re lazy, and our eyes are only able to focus so small. 

JS: Yeah. So it sounds like the way you’ve described it, and I’ve done similar things in classes with DataViz, with the whiteboarding and the markers and the Post-it notes, it sounds like your facilitation classes or efforts are – it really sounds like you are encouraging people to go fast, at least, at the beginning, to go fast, and to move things around. 

AC: Oh my gosh, yes. 

JS: Yeah, and so, how do they react to that kind of towards the end, like, do you try to build the bridge from that piece to the whatever final product they’ll be building days or weeks down the road?

AC: Yeah, it’s so funny, I think that the audio-only listener will not benefit from the diagram that Jon just drew with his hands. But I’m essentially going to voice over the diagram that you just drew, because actually it’s one of the focuses of my new book is really talking about that we are running two processes simultaneously when we are diagramming – we are running a mechanical process, and we are running a very emotional process. And the one that you just described is kind of touching on both, so I’ll cover both. But at a very high level, there is this sort of like beginning of the diagrammatic process, where we really are just exploring, and if we get tied down too quickly, we could actually be going down the wrong road. So in a lot of cases, this is like the, your boss’s boss told you that they need a journey map, and therefore you’re making a journey map, that’s like, woof, you’ve gone way – you just sped way through exploring, and you’re already delivering on the thing. After we get through the exploring phase, we get into what I’m calling modeling, and I think that the modeling piece in the middle is actually where we’re trying on all of those different forms to try to get the right one. Now, what the key to what is the right form really comes down to the decision at the beginning about who is your audience, and what is your intention for this diagram, which leads you to your scope. 

So I feel like there’s like this messy, yucky part in the beginning, where we’re trying to figure out, like, who are we trying to serve, what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, how much do we have to cover, and all of that feels very chaotic, emotionally – even though if you wrote it down mechanically, it’s like, check, check, check, I know who it’s for, I know what it’s supposed to do, I know when it’s going to be good. It’s like, no, those are really, really difficult. So when we get into the middle, we’re really starting to like, think about what is the structure of this thing, like, where are these shapes and lines going to go. And like, with the scale that I actually have to work with this audience, what can I even bring to bear in terms of the toolset that I have. And that middle piece, I feel like, people have to be reminded that, like, that’s not easy either, like, the trying on of all of those different shapes, we fall in love with the wrong forms, we get lazy and decide the first one that we pick is the one, we run out of time and make that decision. 

So there’s all these things that we really have to like remind ourselves in the process of making good diagrams, and it’s really not until that very end part where you get anything that even resembles a diagram necessarily. Like, a lot of this is messy, and it’s happening on the whiteboard, it’s happening in your head, or in your notes, or in little snippets here and there, and it’s not until that final delivery stage where we’re like, okay, this is the shape of it, it’s kind of like this other template I’ve seen, but not quite, this is what I’m going to put into it, and then, this is how I’m going to know that it’s actually right for this audience. And I mean, that’s a really long journey. So I think there’s a lot to kind of like clue people into, because it feels like because it’s just shapes and lines, it should be super easy, like, if they don’t fall out of my hands the first time, is it worth doing. And the answer is, yes, if it doesn’t fall out of your hands the first time, you’re probably on the right path. If it falls out the first time, and you think it’s right, it might only be right for you. And that’s another kind of lesson to the whole game. 

JS: Right. So you’ve already talked about when you’re working with folks, there’s sort of like the design folks, so they have the design eye, they have sort of the aesthetic, and then, there’s sort of this other group, and I’m curious – maybe I’m more curious about this other group, particularly like the more data analyst, researchy scientist group in there. I find that some people get hung up in the sense that, like, they don’t – without being able to code their data and build something visually, they are apprehensive to start drawing, even though they may still have a good sense of their data, but they’re not really quite ready to draw. So I’m curious about how you kind of build these bridges between, I guess, it’s really just a level of comfort really, but I’m just curious how you work to build those bridges between the different groups.

AC: Yeah, I think it really – it comes down to that question of our intention and our audience again. I find that when I’m working with data folks, the audience question becomes really important, because often, the audience that we are researching is not the audience that we are presenting the data to, that we found out about that audience. So we kind of have multiple audiences that we’re keeping in mind, which really comes down to the scoping and scaling of the content that we choose to put in a diagram, like, in that space, we have to be asking ourselves, does this audience actually have the background to understand the way that this has been shown to them, and does this actually make like a helpful version of this. What I see people do a lot of times, and I’ve been a victim of this myself, and I’ve also done this to others is we put a diagram that we’ve made or a visualization of some data that we’ve made. We sort of like put it up on a slide and wave at it to be like, look at all the work that we did, look at all the things we understand. 

So my first lesson here is like, that’s not a diagram, and it’s okay. It’s also okay that the thing that you took the picture of is a diagram, because it makes sense to just you, and it makes you able to be prepared for that moment of presenting it, whether or not you are inflicting diagrammatic insecurity on that audience by showing them that thing. That’s up to your ego to decide, but it’s something really important for us to be aware of is, like, are we making this diagram only to make sense to us, because if we are, we can let go of a lot of the stuff that kind of holds us back, like with data folks, the integrity of data is incredibly important to folks that work in that field, as it should be. Right? It’s a huge responsibility. Well, I can understand why they don’t want to start to render things that look visual too soon in that process, because they don’t want to make promises that their data can’t keep. Right? That makes a ton of sense. But I think that they have to come back to that, like, what do you mean by drawing – like, when we’re sitting at our desk by ourselves, and we’re staring at a cursor versus a blank piece of paper in front of us, we’re a little bit more free to do things that haven’t been done before, and that we haven’t totally thought through when we have that paper and marker moment. And so, yeah, I would challenge data folks to like, if you have to tell yourself you’re going to burn the drawing when you’re done, because it’s made a promise that you don’t know you can keep, like, do it, that’s fine, have a little diagram bonfire at the end of your drawing process. That’s fine if it got you into the next mode. 

The other thing that I would say, and I use this with my own students is that you can simply give yourself the challenge of always coming up with two ways – almost always the trick out of the, like, no, I got this default mode, I’ve done this a million times. It’s like, okay, great, spend whatever time it is to do it that way, and then, do it one other way, and it will be harder, and often that is the more useful way for you or for the audience that you’re trying to reach depending. 

JS: Yeah, that’s a really good idea, yeah, always have these two alternatives. I really think you need to start selling T-Shirts that say diagrammatic insecurity on it, just like… 

AC: Oh my god, I know. 

JS: White on black, just like big bold letters, just like… 

AC: Jon, do you see the T-Shirt that I’m wearing right now? 

JS: Yeah, I do. 

AC: Have you looked at it – words are hard. So yeah, I think diagrammatic insecurity, I agree.

JS: Diagrammatic insecurity, yeah.

AC: Okay, merch moment right here. 

JS: Merch moment right there, yeah, #shafi whatever. So you just mentioned paper versus screen. In our emailing before we started chatting, you had sent me this funny little picture of someone had sort of taken like a map of Florida and put yarn all over it to sort of mirror the spaghetti hurricane map, which I thought was terrific. And I’m curious about either when you’re working with people or just on your own, like, what are the different tools that you use aside from – we’ve already talked about Sharpies and paper and Post-it notes, but do you play around with other forms, other digital tools that you use that people might be interested in – what’s the array of Abby’s toolbox that I’m sure is pretty big? 

AC: Yeah, I try to not go too specific into any tool and get precious with it. I used to be a person that would get super-duper, like, I only make things in OmniGraffle, and I will have this until my death, and I really backed off of that. What I really have found most recently is like the first question that you got to ask yourself is really about who you’re going to be working with, and who you expect to have this diagram at the end of it, because there’s certain tools that are going to lend themselves way better to that. If you are going to be collaborating on a diagram with somebody and you’re not using one of these collaborative whiteboarding softwares, of which I will not name one, because then I’d have to name them all, and none of them are sponsoring this podcast, I don’t think, so yeah, one of those. But there’s also another one every single minute, so I think, if you’re working within an organization, often the first question is actually identifying which one people already have their login to. If you already have a login, there is very little differentiation on these platforms for you to be like, oh well, I use this one because of this, or I use this one because of that. Most of them have templates, most of the templates, to be honest, aren’t very good, and they all have a slightly different take on the feature set. 

So the second piece of advice, I would say, is like, go to the tool that you are the most comfortable in. And often what I find for business people is that that’s PowerPoint or Keynote, and that’s totally fine. You can make beautiful, wonderful, actionable helpful diagrams using PowerPoint. And a lot of it’s like drag and drop and, like, what you see is what you get, which is exactly what that audience needs. So I think it’s really important when you’re going digital to not slow yourself down, because then we start making diagrammatic decisions based on the tool instead of based on our intention, like, oh this tool makes it really hard for me to make an arrow that goes from that to that to that, so I’ll just make it a diagonal. It’s like, oh God, please don’t do things like that, like, there’s little things that like if you’d be more comfortable making it in PowerPoint, make it in PowerPoint. If you’d be more comfortable in, I don’t know – do you still have CorelDRAW, like, bust it out. That’s fine. 

JS: Wow, that is going back.

AC: Yeah, it’s a throwback, I’m dating myself now. 

JS: Yeah, there’s only a few people on this list that really got that joke, yeah.

AC: Hello, you’re my people. 

JS: I mean, I totally agree. I mean, I am drawn to graphics when they’re annotated, where the arrow is just a little, like, has a little curve in it. I’m just drawn to those things, right – because yeah, the diagonal arrow, the straight line is like, okay, yeah, I could draw… 

AC: But you’re actually adding cognitive load every time you do something like that, and I think that, like, I talk about that in the craft section of the book about, like, there’s little decisions that we make that are lazy diagramming, that we think, oh, what’s the big deal, but those things actually add up to a cognitive load that we’re then placing on our user. I mean, imagine if you’re like – imagine if the arrow in your diagram is a garden path, and you’ve decided that rather than work that garden path around the building, so it wasn’t obstructed, you wanted to run it through three other paths, and you’re going to make them jump over a little nub every time you do it. Like, why? Just go around. So I feel like there’s things that we do, because it’s easier for us, but then we pay later on, because we actually lose understanding along the way with the people that we were intending to reach. So that’s like a decision that like, sure, go diagonal across all the lines when it’s you making a diagram for you, and you’re moving really fast, but when you decide to, like, clean that up to be helpful for other people, that’s one of those decisions you’re going to want to revisit. Because if you take it as the default, like, this is the most clear way, you might be missing an opportunity to do a little bit more work for your user that gets you a lot more close to the intention that you have for what you want to share with them. 

JS: And so, how do you think about this evolution – I was going to say trade off, but it’s not – it’s an evolution between what I draw, I draw a box with an arrow to another box to another box. But then when I am satisfied that I’ve built two of them, but I’m satisfied with one of them, and I get to the thing, but I’m going to build the arrows not going to be just a diagonal line, I’m going to draw it as a curvy arrow because it just looks better and engaging, like, how do you think about that, and do the non-design folks you’ve been talking about, do they need to seek out the design folks and get to engagement piece?

AC: I think that there is a certain level of attention to graphic design and kind of Gestalt principles that you will get into as you start to make diagrams that you want to live on as objects that multiple people use, like, the curved arrow is a really good example; I’m thinking about, like, the principle of similarity is something that might come up. Like, if every other line and arrow in your drawing is straight, and all of a sudden you have a curvy one, every person that you show that diagram to is going to go, why’s that one curvy. Well, you see that happen all the time with things like color. I mean, I was in a critique with a student recently, and the whole room was trying to figure out why this person had used color, and what it was supposed to mean. And when it finally got her time to tell us what she meant, you know what it was? She thought it jazzed it up. That’s all. She just made things different colors because it looked cool to her. Meanwhile, it created this rash of this misinformation about her diagram, because we’re all like, well, maybe these ones are connected in this way, and we’re just projecting. But that’s what humans do, like, when humans see a gap in the information that is provided, they will try to fill it, and sometimes the things that we come up with to fill it are wrong and ridiculous. And, in your curvy arrows case, that could be something like, to you, you’re like, god, that looks really good or like, I want to draw attention to it. But unless you have a really good rationale for why it’s different than the other ones, it might not actually be the most effective strategy. 

JS: Right. So I just want to kind of go back to the beginning before we close up, so you defined for everybody information architecture, and there’s another term that I found you use on your website, sensemaking, which I think I know what it is, but I wanted to ask you to kind of define that for folks in particular in this area that we’ve been talking about of drawing and diagramming.

AC: Yeah, such a great question. So, first of all, I don’t think that anybody really has this term nailed, and if you look up the term sensemaking, you’re going to see a plethora of attempts at it. You’ll also see like hyphenated, not hyphenated, all the things. So at its core I think – but I think what we’re trying to get at with, when people talk about sensemaking, is that there’s this thing that we’re doing, that’s not quite making things, but it’s not, not making decisions about what things we’re making, and like, what do you call that. And so, essentially, I think that sensemaking is about influencing interpretation. This was a topic that I got to speak with one of my favorite coauthors, Dan Klyn at the IA Conference this last year about really, when we think about information architecture practice, there are two simultaneous practices within that, one of them being sensemaking, and the other one being placemaking, and understanding the relationship between those two holes, we think, ultimately determines whether or not you’re practicing Information Architecture holistically. 

So what we’ve identified in ourselves is that over the course of my career, I’ve gone really deep on sensemaking, and Dan, who’s a bit more of an architecture nerd, he’s gone really deep on placemaking. And so, now we’re multiple decades into our careers, and a decade and a half working together as collaborators, and we’re going, hey, there’s actually something here that’s not quite figured out yet. Like, there was a time when it would be described as like, West Coast versus East Coast IA, there’s been like a big IA versus little IA discussion, so there’s been like many different attempts at cutting this thing out into pieces that we can then talk with each other about, and I think the sensemaking, placemaking duality is something that I’m really interested in right now. But ultimately, the reason that I think it’s important for diagrams, and for anybody working with data is that it’s really admitting that information is not the same as content, and that the information in your users’ mind is not actually something you can put there, you can only influence it. So when I’m talking about sensemaking influencing interpretation, that’s really what I’m getting at, is like, it’s not as cut and dry as like, put this message in the user’s brain. We all know that we can’t do that. But what can we do to influence their interpretation of the thing that we do show them, which is content, which obviously is driven by data and all that. 

So I think the division between information, content, and data is a super interesting distinction that not enough practitioners really start to get into, like, there’s a conflation of those three terms to all kind of mean the same thing, like, when does data become content, and when does it become information and, like, I think the line between data and content is a lot more slippery, because it all comes down to your audience. Like, I can show a raw CSV file to a data architect, and they’re going to pick something up from it; but I show that to a layperson, that’s just data, that’s not content yet that can be consumed by them. And the information that ends up in the user’s head, in both of those cases is vastly different, right? The data architect might actually be picking up really salient, interesting information. The layperson is picking up, this is not for me, I don’t know how I got here, and I want to close this document very, very much. 

JS: Right.

AC: So it’s the same content, is it data, well, the information is definitely different. So yeah, I think sensemaking and placemaking both kind of ask these really large questions of like, we’re influencing things that are in people’s minds, how do we do that, like, responsibly, accurately, consistently, efficiently. That’s a really big problem set. I think that we’re finally getting to a place where the things that were being asked to design are complex enough that we actually do need to start to think about those things, because you’re starting to see teams that are way over weighted to one side or the other. Like, they’re really great at understanding their user and modeling out ideas, but then they can’t execute for crap, or the opposite is true, where you’re like moving way too fast, and you’re making places all damn day every day, and they don’t make any sense to your users. So we’re sort of like getting into this interesting space of teams that are trying really hard, but failing because they’re not able to balance those two halves.

JS: Those halves, yeah, really – I mean, I think you have the topic for your third book. 

AC: That is, yeah, like, we’ll just drop it right here on Jon’s podcast, the plans are in the works. Dan and I are going to write a book. 

JS: Right, the plans are in the works, yeah.

AC: Yeah, Dan already knows that we’re writing a book. 

JS: Come in 2020… Yeah. 

AC: Yeah, Dan, if you’re listening, I’ve now promised a book in 2024. 

JS: Right. Okay, so this was great. So folks can check out both your books, I’ll put links in the show notes. Where else can they find you and read more about your work? 

AC: So is everything that I’ve ever done. I also have an Etsy shop where I sell workbooks, I sell signed copies of my books. So if you’re not about buying on the Zon, you can buy them directly from me, I always appreciate it. I also have a bunch of posters. I have some digital download workbooks for information architecture tasks that are pretty common to folks. And then some fun stuff, I got a coffee mug, a thing that you can print out and do with your kid to figure out what information architecture is together, so some fun stuff to check out on Etsy. 

JS: And soon coming right the diagrammatic insecurity T-Shirt will be.

AC: And soon, on my Etsy shop, there will be a diagrammatic insecurity T-Shirt just for Jon. 

JS: Just for me.

AC: Don’t tempt me Jon, I have a print on demand user base, and I am tempted to use it. 

JS: It’ll be there. It’ll be there. 

AC: I love it.

JS: Abby, thanks so much for coming on the show. This has been really great, really interesting. And yeah, I’m really excited about going through the book in detail. 

AC: Awesome. Thanks for having me. 

And thanks everyone for tuning in to this week’s episode of the show. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you are keeping up with all the episodes. I’ve got a great bunch of guests for you all the way through the end of this calendar year, and then into next year. I’ll take a little break at the end of December. But coming up we’ve got a lot more guests coming your way, I hope you’ll enjoy it. I hope you’ll check out more of the links, show notes, episode notes, stuff going on, on all and around PolicyViz. So until next time, this has been the PolicyViz podcast. Thanks so much for listening. 

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