Detail of Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, Hendrick Avercamp, c. 1608

My favourite design articles of 2016

Perhaps this year we rediscovered that simplification is rarely the right answer to any design question. Humans are complex; the world is complex; design has to be complex. What binds these articles together is not so much how technology should be applied, but how designers should apply themselves to the world they live in.

Look, I made a thing: confidence in making— Jon Kolko

Go make a thing. It’s […] the beginning of a critique, the beginning of an iteration. Look, you made a thing. Let’s talk about how you can make it better. It’s the beginning of a conversation around improvement, around potential.

What good means — Dan Klyn

Complexity is the fundamental truth of ecosystems, and by papering over that complexity with a uniformity of interfaces, we’re killing the life in these products and services. [T]he call to action here is to make the “clear” complex. To un-simplify. To enrich, and intensify the meaning of what we’re working on and with.

Play anything — Ian Bogost

Design thinks it’s a discipline that moves forward, carrying design objects into the future. But in truth, design works best when it moves downward, making things even more what they are. This latter kind of design proceeds through play rather than innovation.

The art of the awkward 1:1 — Mark Rabkin

Don’t talk about any topic that you could discuss in the open, among your team desks or in the cafe. If it’s safe enough to be overheard — it’s not the right content for a 1:1.

Empathic, vulnerable, curious: inspirational leadership in the civil service — Kit Collingwood-Richardson

Leadership at its best doesn’t pretend to know everything. Great leaders know the simple beauty of saying ‘I don’t know’; that statements like these draw people to us. They are neither weak nor timid; rather, they have the courage to express the gaps in their own skills and knowledge.

What if boldness were an explicit value of the civil service? — Janet Hughes

Being bold means bringing your whole self to the situation and engaging fully with it. It involves openness, optimism and a commitment to something bigger than yourself. […] It means staking your own credibility, capital or even safety or security on an action because you believe it’s right and true.

The collaboration curse— The Economist

Oddly, the cult of collaboration has reached its apogee in the very arena where the value of uninterrupted concentration is at its height: knowledge work. […] Deep work is the killer app of the knowledge economy: it is only by concentrating intensely that you can master a difficult discipline or solve a demanding problem.

Great products don’t happen by accident — Jon Lax

Content maps, prototypes, internationalization, audits, launch plans… they are all plays. Anything you do that has some repeatable action is a play. There are plays you may use a lot, and some [that] you use infrequently.
Thinking in terms of a play book allows you to to embrace continual improvement since you can always remove old plays that no longer work and continuously add new ones as they are created.

Let’s stop talking about THE design process— Carissa Carter

The order and process of a recipe helps new cooks get started, but it’s only with practice, inventiveness, experimentation, and constraints that you might begin to call yourself a chef.
Design[ing] your design work [is the] meta ability [to recognise] a project as a design problem and then deciding on the people, tools, techniques, and processes to use to tackle it. This ability develops with practice. […] It requires using intuition, mashing up tools and developing new techniques for the challenge at hand.

Artificial intelligence and the future of design — Jon Bruner

In the process, the designer’s role becomes one of high-level vision and curation, and the role of software in relation to the designer changes.
What happens when you generalize that idea to any kind of process? You’d have a human describe an optimal outcome and the process that leads up to it, and ask a computer to discover the relationships between each input and each step in the process and its outcome.