Notes

What are notes?

This is a microblog for frequent, shorter thoughts, interesting links and shaping ideas before they become full posts. The best way to follow is via my RSS feed.

Continuity

One

In the transition to a pariyat institution [monastery focused on scholarly study instead of intensive meditation practice], the remaining meditation monks are encouraged to practise with critical textual perspective, to measure one against the other in order to know where one is along the normative doctrinal path. In this process, the text itself becomes the authority, replacing the traditional emphasis on the meditation master and intuitive praxis as taught by [Ajahn Mun].
— J.L. Taylor in Forest Monks and the Nation State, pg. 97

Two, from The Economist:

New short-haul jets, likely to enter service around 2035, are another priority. It is a huge and expensive task… Choosing the right technology is a task that Boeing has to get right. But some observers fear that the firm, which has not launched an all-new plane since the 787 in 2004, may have lost the institutional memory for such a huge undertaking.

Three, from The Lunacy of Artemis:

Back in the Shuttle era, NASA managers argued that it took three to four launches a year to keep workers proficient enough to build and launch the vehicles safely. A boutique approach where workers hand-craft one rocket every two years means having to re-learn processes and procedures with every launch.

There’s a lot to be said on the topics of deskilling, institutional knowledge, mentorship, and continuity.

Not being first

From Scott Galloway:

The tech press has spent the past 18 months telling us Apple is behind on AI. While in the next breath reporting on the AI gaffes produced by its rivals. And that’s the point. Apple is always behind. Apple is a distinctly inventive company — its $30 billion R&D budget generates 2,000+ patents per year. But it’s mainly improving vs. inventing: ways to more precisely cut white cardboard boxes to deliver its new devices; new glues to bond layers of glass and plastic together in its phones. For the big stuff, like the mouse, digital music, and multitouch screens, it lets someone else traverse the Sierra Nevadas first.

The larger point is being the first to invent a new class of technology is rarely a road to financial success.

It’s hard to convince others at a tech company that you don’t win anything by rushing. Take your time and get it right. Don’t release a hacky MVP without a polished UX, most of the time.

A tale of two UX thought leaders

One of my favorite UX thought leaders has turned to writing exclusively about AI. He’s absolutely enamored with it.

This makes me wonder about his previous work and whether it had much depth at all. At least for the stuff I do in UX, AI is embarrassingly superficial and amateurish. But for the type of person who likes Miro boards and presentations more than actually working, I can see the appeal.

Long ago, the first programming book I remember reading was called Automate the Boring Stuff, and I still think that’s the ethos of most programming and even LLMs. I don’t think I’m automating enough of the boring stuff at work, say processing hundreds of keys, fiddling with multiple CMSes, or manually checking dozens of flows in Figma for a straggling inconsistency. But actual content design or information architecture? No way. I’ve yet to see any real applications of AI there.

Incidentally, the latest pean to AI from this guy was right next to another design thought leader’s post in my RSS feed: How To Use An Experience Portfolio To Plan Your Career. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, since so much of my job is off label, something more of a meandering product designer, project manager, content strategist with a fair bit of grunt work for good measure. Among content designers, this is fairly typical, but it’s still hard to put together a portfolio.

Coming back on topic, it’s almost to the point that anyone obsessed with AI is simply screaming that they have given up all independent thought.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel.

Design maturity within organizations

The UX community talks a lot about design maturity or a UX culture within an organization. I think this is overblown.

I’ve worked at companies with zero design culture yet made a huge impact and generally enjoyed my job.

I’ve worked at places with all the external trappings of a design culture but have been miserable. There are lots of meetings, mood boards, stickies, and nebulous research. There are a lot fewer deliverables, worksessions with Figma open, and just getting things done.

That’s not to dunk on design culture. I’m sure there are organizations that pull it off. But it’s also really easy to hide a lot of nonsense and bullshit behind the mantle of research, personal development, and design culture. What actually makes a place great to work at, and consequently able to turn out great design consistently is hard to place a finger on. Business culture doesn’t like that, so cargo cults whatever FAANGs do, usually to poor outcomes.

Another often unspoken fact that’s lurking in this discussion is that as far as the business is concerned there are these design levels:

  • Hurting the business
  • Bad
  • Good enough
  • Good
  • Great

This might sound weird to say, but maybe we don’t all have to do Great or even Good work. Moving the needle from Hurting the business or Bad to Good enough is already a major accomplishment. It’s hard work, but it’s also rewarding.

Beyond that, the ROI of design gets murky. Yes, it’s nice and all, but especially in a smaller company that money be better spent elsewhere once desing is Good or even Good enough.

This is where a lot of thought leadership in the UX community breaks down. If you can’t tell where design isn’t needed or when the diminishing returns begin, then you also have absolutely no idea where design is actually needed.

Idyllic places

The Guardian loves running stories about idyllic places that serve as an example of house society could be.

  1. The Denmark secret: how it became the world’s most trusting country – and why that matters [link]
  2. ‘You can do anything here!’ Why Lithuania is the best place in the world to be young [link]
  3. Free lunches, brain breaks and happy teachers: why Estonia has the best schools in Europe [link]

What The Guardian doesn’t write about is that these are places that paper bashes for not being woke enough, not going all in on gender ideology, or not being “diverse” enough — which is particularly amusing as “diversity” basically means a colonial and slaving past.

Crucially, and what I think nearly every Anglo-American take misses, is that you can’t create these places through either left or right-wing politics. Boring, practical, and non-reactionary politics are a result of stable communities.

You’ve reached the end, kind of

Notes are meant to be fleeting, so I only display the last 5 of them.