I finished “How to Make Sense of Any Mess” by Abby Covert today (it took me about 4 hours total to read, including making extensive notes). Being honest, the book is so short and to the point that no review can present its ideas in a briefer or more brilliant way than Abby herself does. So I am not even going to try. I just wanted to follow up with some of my thoughts before they get completely dissolved into the mess (ha, ha) that is my memory and I forget where those ideas originated from.
The book is positioned as “information architecture for everyone” — and it is. But one does not have to be an information architect to make good use of this book. Anyone can benefit from it, because information is all around us, we deal with it daily, and we do organise it in some ways whether we are paying attention to it or not; even no organisation is a form of organisation.
So, to avoid information piling up and creating messes, it’s better to learn the ways we can make sense of it. And this was exactly the reason I picked up this book — to learn all those ways. Here are the ideas I got out of it & ways I am going to implement those ideas in my work:
1. Anything can be a mess, and a mess can be any thing.
But that is not a bad thing at all. It actually means that anything can be made sense of. Which is great.
How to implement: Identify the mess(es) in your process, acknowledge them, and make a decision to deal with them. Do not be afraid. Being in denial about the mess or refusing to face it only leads to the mess growing bigger, stronger & meaner. The earlier you begin, the easier it will be to sort through things. Because no matter how difficult it is (or seems to be), any mess can be made sense of. You will just need some time and (maybe) a little bit of help.
2. Choosing your language is a part of building your product.
As a company, personal brand, writer, artist, creator, or anyone with any audience/user base whatsoever, you have to pay attention to your vocabulary and your language. Choose the words that describe you. See what other words they make you walk away from. If you want to be “simple”, it means you cannot be “complex”; if you want to be “down to Earth”, you cannot be “elite”.
How to implement: If you already have your brand’s mission, values, philosophy or anything of the sort, this is a great place to start. Sit down and analyse those sacred texts, and/or invite the team along for a brainstorm session. Select the adjectives which describe your brand or which you want your users to describe it with. Make a list. Build the list of the opposites (things you should NOT be). Stick to those two lists and keep coming back to them to check if you are staying true to your preferred adjectives.
3. Great Information Architecture is invisible.
This has been said before, but it is worth saying again (for those in the back): when Information Architecture is implemented well, it becomes transparent. You only notice IA when it is done poorly.
How to implement: Build. Test. Fail. Fix. Implement. Fail again. Fail better. Maybe perfection is not attainable. But what you want is for your users to enjoy your product as seamlessly as possible, without having to spend any extra time trying to locate some specific part of it they really need but don’t know where to find.
4. If there is a space your users can go to, they will go there.
Even if you didn’t intend them to. Identify & locate those spaces. Build pathways through the mud.
How to implement: Build as many user flows as you can. Do moderated and/or recorded tests. See where users can end up unexpectedly. Where they might get lost, because there is no pathway built for them there. If there is a way for them to go to a place they are not supposed to go to, you can trust them to do so.
5. Not everyone is, or wants to be, or should be an Information Architect. But anyone can be a Sensemaker.
Maybe Information Architecture is just too much for you to bear. You have plenty of tasks on your hands as it is, and your current position is far from being related to all that jazz. That is totally fine. You can still fight the messes around you and make sense of them.
How to implement: This book is not at all centered on fighting messes while building digital products (such as websites or apps) — it is just a lense I present it through, because I myself am building those products. But remember p.1 — any thing can be a mess, and therefore any thing can be made sense of. Your apartment, your time management, your personal projects, your relationship with your client(s), your brand’s physical products. Whatever it is, if there is a mess, you can make sense of it. I recommend you consult this brilliant little book by Abby to find more ways of how to do so.