All posts tagged “Sense”

30 CSS Puns That Prove Designers Have a Great Sense of Humor

The job of a web designer can be a real pain and frustrating one, but it is also a close-knit community with a healthy sense of humor. Take for instance CSS puns like this:

In fact, you probably get this universal truth even if you aren’t a designer! You can find more from this Reddit thread but for your reading pleasure, I’ve pulled 30 hilarious puns which cover jokes from daily life, movies, political subjects and more.

For more humor posts:

Welcome to the 99% club.

Rule No. 1 of married life

The only man who ever won an argument with his wife


Simplest form of ghost

When Eminem is speaking

Don’t mess with Bruce Banner

How Kim Kardashian makes the headlines

Mario’s secret

You have failed this city!

Autobots, roll out!

“Good artist steal, great artists copy”

Ikea builds table.

Lego is never built inline.

Harry Potter must know this one

For people with visual eye strain.

Pumped-up chicks

So that’s how the tower was designed

A monumental moment in history

#greatwall #madeinchina

The secret organization that is said to rule the world

How the Monarchy works

How the government works

This is why people joke about what the opposite of congress is

No wonder they don’t wear shoes

Countries with no border

countries with something like a border

Too Soon?

He wanted to pass so he did something about it

Error 404 for Planes And Ships

Is There a Sense of Visual Balance in Your Web Design?

Balance is all about harmony. So, when you see something that looks nice with a sense of consistency and similarity, most likely you observe a perfectly balanced composition. It can be an object in…

Click through to read the rest of the story on the Vandelay Design Blog.

Vandelay Design

How to Make Sense of Any Mess

On Tuesday we spoke with information architect and author Abby Covert, about her new book How to Make Sense of Any Mess. Today, we’ll be offering readers an excerpt of the book itself.

How to Make Sense of Any Mess by Abby Covert

About this preview:

The following is a preview of the first chapter of How to Make Sense of Any Mess. Now available in paperback and for kindle via Amazon.


Think about everything you have to make sense of each day. Projects, products, services, processes, collections, events, performances, boxes, drawers, closets, rooms, lists, plans, instructions, maps, recipes, directions, relationships, conversations, ideas. And the list goes on.

Having to progress in the face of chaos, confusion, and complexity is something we all have in common.

Information architecture is a set of concepts that can help anyone making anything to make sense of messes caused by misinformation, disinformation, not enough, or too much information.

Whether you are a student, teacher, designer, writer, technologist, analyst, business owner, marketer, director, or executive, this book is for you.

In the time that it takes to fly from New York to Chicago, I will introduce you to the practice of information architecture so you can start to make sense of whatever messes come your way.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
—Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Identify the Mess

Messes are made of information and people.

A mess is any situation where something is confusing or full of difficulty. We all encounter messes.

Here are some of the many messes we deal with in our everyday lives:

  • The structure of teams and organizations
  • The processes we undertake in working together
  • The ways products and services are represented, sold, and delivered to us
  • The ways we communicate with each other

It’s hard to shine a light on the messes we face.

It’s hard to be the one to say that something is a mess. Like a little kid standing at the edge of a dark room, we can be paralyzed by fear and not even know how to approach the mess.

These are the moments where confusion, procrastination, self-criticism, and frustration keep us from changing the world.

The first step to taming any mess is to shine a light on it so you can outline its edges and depths.

Once you brighten up your workspace, you can guide yourself through the complex journey of making sense of the mess.

I wrote this simple guidebook to help even the least experienced sensemakers tame the messes made of information (and people!) they’re sure to encounter.

Information architecture is all around you.

Information architecture is the way that we arrange the parts of something to make it understandable.

Here are some examples of information architecture:

  • Alphabetical cross-referencing systems used in a dictionary or encyclopedia
  • Links in website navigation
  • Sections, labels, and names of things on a restaurant menu
  • Categories, labels and tasks used in a software program or application
  • The signs that direct travelers in an airport

We rely on information architecture to help us make sense of the world around us.

Things may change; the messes stay the same.

We’ve been learning how to architect information since the dawn of thought.

Page numbering, alphabetical order, indexes, lexicons, maps, and diagrams are all examples of information architecture achievements that happened well before the information age.

Even now, technology continues to change the things we make and use at a rate we don’t understand yet. But when it really comes down to it, there aren’t that many causes for confusing information.

  1. Too much information
  2. Not enough information
  3. Not the right information
  4. Some combination of these (eek!)

People architect information.

It’s easy to think about information messes as if they’re an alien attack from afar. But they’re not.

We made these messes.

When we architect information, we determine the structures we need to communicate our message.

Everything around you was architected by another person. Whether or not they were aware of what they were doing. Whether or not they did a good job. Whether or not they delegated the task to a computer.

Information is a responsibility we all share.

We’re no longer on the shore watching the information age approach; we’re up to our hips in it.

If we’re going to be successful in this new world, we need to see information as a workable material and learn to architect it in a way that gets us to our goals.

Every thing is complex.

Some things are simple. Some things are complicated. Every single thing in the universe is complex.

Complexity is part of the equation. We don’t get to choose our way out of it.

Here are three complexities you may encounter:

  • A common complexity is lacking a clear direction or agreeing on how to approach something you are working on with others.
  • It can be complex to create, change, access, and maintain useful connections between people and systems, but these connections make it possible for us to communicate.
  • People perceive what’s going on around them in different ways. Differing interpretations can make a mess complex to work through.

Knowledge is complex.

Knowledge is surprisingly subjective.

We knew the earth was flat, until we knew it was not flat. We knew that Pluto was a planet until we knew it was not a planet.

True means without variation, but finding something that doesn’t vary feels impossible.

Instead, to establish the truth, we need to confront messes without the fear of unearthing inconsistencies, questions, and opportunities for improvement. We need to be open to the variations of truth that are bound to exist.

Part of that includes agreeing on what things mean. That’s our subjective truth. And it takes courage to unravel our conflicts and assumptions to determine what’s actually true.

If other people have a different interpretation of what we’re making, the mess can seem even bigger and more hairy. When this happens, we have to proceed with questions and set aside what we think we know.

Every thing has information.

Over your lifetime, you’ll make, use, maintain, consume, deliver, retrieve, receive, give, consider, develop, learn, and forget many things.

This book is a thing. Whatever you’re sitting on while reading is a thing. That thing you were thinking about a second ago? That’s a thing too.

Things come in all sorts, shapes, and sizes.

The things you’re making sense of may be analog or digital; used once or for a lifetime; made by hand or manufactured by machines.

I could have written a book about information architecture for websites or mobile applications or whatever else is trendy. Instead, I decided to focus on ways people could wrangle any mess, regardless of what it’s made of.

That’s because I believe every mess and every thing shares one important non-thing:information.

What’s information?

Information is not a fad. It wasn’t even invented in the information age. As a concept, information is old as language and collaboration is.

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.

For example, imagine you’re looking into a bakery case. There’s one plate overflowing with oatmeal raisin cookies and another plate with a single double-chocolate chip cookie. Would you bet me a cookie that there used to be more double-chocolate chip cookies on that plate? Most people would take me up on this bet. Why? Because everything they already know tells them that there were probably more cookies on that plate.

The belief or non-belief that there were other cookies on that plate is the information each viewer interprets from the way the cookies were arranged. When we rearrange the cookies with the intent to change how people interpret them, we’re architecting information.

While we can arrange things with the intent to communicate certain information, we can’t actually make information. Our users do that for us.

Information is not data or content.

Data is facts, observations, and questions about something. Content can be cookies, words, documents, images, videos, or whatever you’re arranging or sequencing.

The difference between information, data, and content is tricky, but the important point is that the absence of content or data can be just as informing as the presence.

For example, if we ask two people why there is an empty spot on a grocery store shelf, one person might interpret the spot to mean that a product is sold-out, and the other might interpret it as being popular.

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.

Buy the book to read more.

This brings us to the end of the free preview. Below is the full table of contents so you can get a sense of where things go from here.

  • Identify the Mess
  • State Your Intent
  • Face Reality
  • Choose a Direction
  • Measure the Distance
  • Play with Structure
  • Prepare to Adjust

The lexicon of terms and the story of how this book was created is also available online. More information on the project can be found on the book website.

If you are interested in purchasing the book, it is available in paperback and for Kindle through Amazon.

Copyright 2014 by Abby Covert — All rights reserved.


The UX Booth

Making Sense of IA Messes

“The number one challenge of teaching information architecture, is getting people over fear,” says information architect Abby Covert. Abby’s new book, How to Make Sense of Any Mess, guides would-be information architects past their fears. We’re very excited to have the opportunity to ask her about the messes she’s encountered, the solutions she’s discovered, and how a little IA knowledge can go a long way toward improving any UX design.

Thanks for speaking with us Abby! You talk about fear a lot throughout your book. Why do you think that fear is so common when dealing with messes?
The number one challenge of teaching information architecture, is getting people over fear. People don’t need to be taught how to group things together or label them. They need to be taught to get over the fear of doing so. The fear that they will make bad or useless groups or labels. The fear that trying to sort something out will actually make it worse. The fear that they won’t be able to make sense of it. The fear that they will get things wrong and have to do it again. The fear that it will take a really long time to sort it all out.

The only way through the fear is time. Change takes time. Comfort with something new takes time. Recovering from the loss of the old way takes time. Deciding where to go next takes time. Knowing if you did a good job takes time. But too often people want things now. They want to sit down and “do the IA” and be done.

One thing you bring up early in the book is the difficulty with finding “truth” without first “unearthing inconsistencies, questions, and opportunities for improvement.” Part of the difficulty in doing this stems from the knowledge that opening a can of “truth” worms could lead to scope creep or an overwhelming amount of work. Can you give us some advice on how to deal with these fears?
To be honest, I worry about the frequency with which I get this kind of question.So yes, you are correct that many people believe that going down various rabbit holes of complexity will change their project size and therefore impact their scope. I have two main thoughts on this:

  1. I believe that it is our professional obligation to analyze the architectural landscape before making changes to it. Think about a general contractor in the built-world just adding a new floor to a building without first assessing whether it could stand. I know this may sound dramatic, but I find that often I am called in as a specialist to clean up messes that exist because too many individual project teams did not do the due diligence of assessing what they were building next to, on top of or underneath.
  2. If you don’t deal with the complexity now, and you want to keep the job/client you have, then you will eventually have to deal with it. Or like the tell-tale heart it will beat beneath the floorboards forevermore.

I think the fear that we all live with is so common because perfection isn’t possible, but progress towards something better than where we are is. It takes a lot of courage to be ok with taking the time to get there instead of giving up.

I love that your book is dedicated to your grandfather, “the first information architect [you] ever knew.” I assume he didn’t work with websites; what is the connection you make between his work and the IA work you do today?
How to Make Sense of Any Mess
I’m really glad you asked this question. To start, no my grandfather has never been billed as or paid as an information architect. He never learned that those two words could be put together until far after he was retired. It was when I was in college and told him about it.

At the time he was writing and self-publishing his memoirs and I was helping to restore all the cartoons he drew while serving in the United States Navy over the course of his 30 year career there. His book is called “The Maverick Sailor” and it is about his life’s work cleaning up a mess of paper and process created by the parts of the Navy that he encountered.

He knows words like efficiency, process, system, and ecosystem. He knows the importance of labels and their impact on categorization. He knows that you can have a better, deeper talk about something if you have an object to reference. He taught himself how to make sense of messes made of information and people before the world of Google and the Undo button. He moved people’s desks, changed labeling and filing systems, and worked primarily in a medium that at the time was set to “change everything” : Punch Cards. To do this he used little more than markers and a flip chart.

He is also the reason I wanted to write this book for everybody. There are many self taught people architecting information all over the world. An endless supply of would-be-mavericks waiting to be given permission and the right tools. I wanted to write a book to help them to hone their budding super powers as sensemakers. He recently gifted me his portfolio of flipchart presentations and cartoons. All I can say is that there is no question that I went into the family business. Which I suppose is making sense of messes 😉

One thing that caught my eye is this great quote: “I could have written a book about information architecture for websites or mobile applications or whatever else is trendy. Instead, I decided to focus on ways people could wrangle any mess, regardless of what it’s made of.” Obviously your grandfather is an influence, what else drew you to focusing on people?
I focused on people because I watch every day as more and more people are impacted by these “things” we make. And these things we are making are in many cases not made not of plastic or wood or concrete anymore, instead they are made of something perhaps much more complex to mold: information. I watch as these things become real places we go to, places that impact our world view and our behavior. I thought it was time to empower people to learn and understand the impact that their information architecture has on their success and on the people who use it.
At one point you define information as “What each person encountering that shelf believes to be true about the empty spot.” Can you expand on that?
It might seem philosophical, because it is. But there is no one version of truth. There is only our own subjective version of it. You can’t see mine, I can’t see yours. If we are both looking at the same thing, we are still able to see that same thing differently. I may see an empty spot on a grocery store shelf as a place where a popular product lives when it is not sold out. You may see it was a place where a recalled product used to live. In this scenario, we are both looking at the same content (products, shelves, labels) but we are interpreting different information, because we have different experiences that brought us to this point.
You clarify early on that information is not data or content. How do you differentiate the three, and why is that differentiation important?
Data includes facts, observations, and questions about something. Content can be products, words, documents, images, videos, or whatever you’re arranging or sequencing.

For example, if someone is looking at a website that you designed:

  • Data: Any observations they make about it, any past experience they have related to it, their demographics and psychographics, their abilities, their context of use, questions or assertions that the experience sparks for them, how quick it is to respond etc…
  • Content: The pictures, the words, the colors, the transitions, the available actions, etc..
  • Information: What they believe to be true and false about your intent before, during, and after the experience. Perhaps they take away “This is an awesome company offering a valuable service for a fair price.” but they could also take away “This is an ok company and I am not sure I want to pay for this service.” from the same content.

The reason to pay attention to the difference is control. Or rather lack thereof. We have control of our content and how we arrange and sequence it, but that’s all we have control of. Existing is not the way content becomes the kind of information we want. It only makes that long treacherous journey if it makes sense to those it was intended for.

I think that perhaps it is important to our explanation of things that we reserve the word information to describe that smushy, uncontrollable material our users make in their minds. I feel we must stop misleading our coworkers and clients into believing we can make information, with the hope that this opens up opportunities for us to understand the information that our content actually results in.

Obviously information architecture serves many purposes – some more user-focused, and others more business-focused. What do you think is the most valuable thing about IA, and why do we need it so badly?
The most valuable thing anyone can do in this messy time we are all living in is to reduce the linguistic insecurity within their own workplace and context. Practicing IA is all about getting everyone on the same page, literally and metaphorically. In my experience the ability to get on the same page is the critical difference between working on a project that has momentum and one that is stuck in the bogs of indecision and fear. I truly believe IA can be practiced by anyone and I believe if done honestly and collaboratively, it will always make things make a little more sense.

Thank you so much for speaking with us Abby! Readers can buy How to Make Sense of Any Mess on Amazon, and ask additional questions in the comments below, or on Twitter.

The UX Booth

Frankendesign – When Re-Using Old Designs Makes Sense

Do you all know the story of Frankenstein’s monster? A mad scientist attempts to create a living creature using parts from a myriad of individuals. Designers often have a lot in common with this classic tale, using elements from their old designs to create new ones for completely different clients.

This of course raises the question: is it ethical to do what I like to call “Frankendesign”? When is it a good time to dig up old work and repurpose it, and when should you create something entirely new?

Check The Legalities

First, I have to state the obvious disclaimer: when a client purchases exclusive rights to your work, that means they alone can make the decisions about where and how to reproduce it. It’s what they’re paying for, after all. So always make sure you have legal permission to use any previous client work that would be recognizable.

If no one can recognize it, then it’s probably fine to use. To be on the safe side, make sure you own the rights to your work. The topic of intellectual property and selling rights to design work can and has filled entire books, but as a side note, unless there’s a specific reason a client needs exclusive rights, it’s probably better not to offer them.

Time Factor

In many art and design fields, reusable graphic elements are called assets – the designer creates them once, and they can be used over and over in many different projects. A typeface is an example of a common 2D design asset. Some type designer created it one time, and you bought the license to reuse it again and again.

Another type of asset is a template, or a fixed composition that allows you to drop in designs in infinite combinations, knowing that they’re always going to look good together. Templates can be formal (Adobe software usually comes with dozens of pre-made templates that are free to use), or – my favorite – simply custom made compositions that suit your own style and needs.

Time constraints factor in big here. If you need, say, a custom layout for a WordPress theme, and your client has given you a tight deadline, it makes sense to simply use a template from something you’ve done before, switching out the actual design elements for new ones relevant to the project.

Dig Into That Huge Backlog

If you’ve been designing for awhile, you’ll eventually build up an enormous backlog of work, everything from early drafts that were never used to full-blown projects that were killed at the last minute. Variations, revisions, that thing you did for your mom for her church’s bake sale. Whatever it is, you’ve probably saved it.

Even if you only design part-time, it’s inevitable that you will accumulate many gigabytes of designs: logos, navigation buttons, custom type and lettering, vector illustrations, and so on. This is great for the designer on a deadline, because it means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you sit down to do a new project.

If you’re not already in the habit of cataloguing your old designs, I would recommend getting started on that ASAP. Not only will it help you find exactly the type of asset you need right when you need it, it will also give you the opportunity to study your old work, rather than just toss it in a folder somewhere.

Use Old Work To Get New Ideas

That leads us to perhaps the best use of old designs: inspiration. Designers are often inspired by old work they did, using it as inspiration to create new work. Perhaps there was an idea that wasn’t appropriate for that client at the time, but that you now want to explore. Or maybe you print out a previous layout or sketch and use it in a mood board to show a new client your thought process.

Another reason to study old work is so that you can get better as a designer. The more you examine what you did in the past, the easier you can correct mistakes and avoid technical errors going forward. I make it a habit to reorganize my old work every quarter at least, browsing through for old dogs that I can teach a new trick or two.

What Do You Think?

Do you use “Frankendesigns” in your work? What do you think of the practice – should designers reuse their old work more, or less? What insights have you learned from repurposing your old work?

Can you make sense of this abstract 3D font?

Read more about Can you make sense of this abstract 3D font? at

Compared to the soft yet modern beauty of ThreeSix, Panopticon – a recent typeface by MuirMcNeil – looks modern and brutal. It’s a 3D typeface that comes in four versions – the camera position shifting for each one.

Creative Bloq

P. Johnson Tailors Pocket Squares: Playful yet sophisticated silk accessories for gentlemen with a sense of fun

P. Johnson Tailors Pocket Squares

Maybe it’s the recent resurgence of ’80s touchstones like Ettore Sottsass’ Memphis movement and Jeff Koons that have us lusting after designs that blend play and sophistication, but there is…

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Cool Hunting

Sense: Oblica Catalogue

Bask in the warming glow of beautiful design found in this catalogue for Oblica fireplaces created by Sense, a creative agency based in Melbourne, Australia.

In making collateral for such unique products as Oblica’s fireplaces, Sense did a masterful job of designing around the beautiful, already-design-forward products by creating a rich, complementary experience of texture and feeling through both visual and tactile measures. The warmth of this experience is met with industrial practicality as the catalogue is modular to allow for growth in Oblica’s line. Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense on their material choices:

In collaboration with photographer Armelle Habib and stylists Jacqui Moore and Julia Green we created rich visual stories we created a textural experience across the catalogue itself, employing a number of paper types, weights and feels. The raw grey boxboard covers rest against the impeccably-printed inserts and brochure, on Notturno and Knight Vellum paper respectively, all bound together with a brightly coloured rubber x-band for a finish that is both style-conscious and functional.

Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Sense: Oblica Catalogue / on Design Work Life Creative Credits Designer: Igal Hodirker Photographer: Armelle Habib Stylists: Julia Green & Jacqui Moore Art Director: Guillaume Roux

Design Work Life

A Record of Time: A Journal of Wanderlust: Designer and artist Sean Woolsey captures a sense of wonder and adventure in nature

A Record of Time: A Journal of Wanderlust

by Kohl Crecelius It wasn’t long after SoCal-based artist, designer, and craftsman Sean Woolsey (already a CH favorite) came across a quote by American author John Green, that…

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Cool Hunting

20 Hilarious Ways CAPTCHA Tests Your Sense Of Humor

CAPTCHA is a method used by many sites to filter out bots (aka non-humans) and prevent the proliferation of much-hated spam. The idea is that humans can read words that have been manipulated (distorted, slashed through, blotted etc) while robots can’t, so if you can decipher the scribbles, then you are human, not bot.

Now, while the generation of these CAPTCHA words may appear to be ‘random’, they sometimes create combinations that would make you take a second look. Here are 20 of these randomly generated word pairings that CAPTCHA wants to test out on you. Real or not, you be the judge.