Weekly Learning: Design, Measurement, Hype, and Captaincy

Framing Design in Business

A new model of the design process provides an interesting perspective to look at design in business.

Firstly, design happens on three levels: strategic, tactical, and operational:

Then it gets interesting when those three levels intersect with each other:

The six areas derived from the intersections ask different questions regarding design’s role.

What I really like about the framing is that it asks what many design practitioners often don’t.

Is Design Thinking a Movement?

The Design Thinking Movement is Absurd is the kind of articles that you need to read, not necessarily because you want to, but because you should.

You should because there are many things you probably won’t agree. And that’s exactly why you should read it.

But hear him out patiently, and see what critical thinking looks like. Chances are, you disagree with many things he said but you can’t really argue with any better standing. That’s when you learn from people you don’t agree with.

Design Thinking gives students an unrealistic idea of design and the work that goes into creating positive change. Upending that old dictum “knowledge is power,” Design Thinkers giver their students power without knowledge, “creative confidence” without actual capabilities.

What Does an A/B Test Measure?

Yeah, what does it measure really? The answers in What Does an A/B Test Measure might surprise you.

“…most people will say an A/B test measures which version is better. That’s incorrect. An A/B test measures if the outcome depends on the exposure to version A or version B; not which version is better. The outcome could be that version A is better or that version A is worse. The A/B test is only measuring how likely it is that there is any difference between version A or version B, not which is better.”

So basically A/B test doesn’t inform you on the quality of your design, it only informs the quality of difference:

“The A/B test doesn’t tell you whether or not the outcome was good or bad, only that the difference between the test and the control is “real”; that being exposed to version A or version B did indeed impact the outcome.”

“…the A/B test is simply telling you the difference you see is “real” and not due to random chance. You must look at the outcome to determine if its a positive or negative thing (which depends on context).”

The Hurtful Criti-Hype

You’re Doing It Wrong: Notes on Criticism and Technology Hype introduces a useful concept called criti-hype, which is:

…criticism that both feeds and feeds on hype…

A bit of background here:

The media landscape is full of dramatic claims — many of which come from entrepreneurs, startup PR offices, and other boosters — about how technologies, such as “AI,” self-driving cars, genetic engineering, the “sharing economy,” blockchain, and cryptocurrencies, will lead to massive societal shifts in the near-future.

At their most ridiculous, hype-filled criticisms become what historian David C. Brock calls “wishful worries,” that is, “problems that it would be nice to have, in contrast to the actual agonies of the present.”

…wishful worries are a kind of entertainment. We are, after all, a people that regularly feasts upon dystopian science fiction. Imaginary fears can be fun.

And obviously, criti-hype can be misleading:

Some of the clearest examples of criti-hype today center on the role of social media in our lives, especially the claim that its designers can directly and effectively influence our behavior. Perhaps the two most striking examples of this criti-hype trend are Shoshana Zuboff’s book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and the film The Social Dilemma…

Have you watched The Social Dilemma? No, better not.

Criti-hype becomes a huge problem because:

…it’s not just uncritical journalists and fringe writers who hype technologies in order to criticize them. Academic researchers have gotten in on the game.

And criti-hype has become an academic business model:

…here’s the depressing thing: no matter what bit of science and technology becomes hot and faddish next and no matter how unrealistic and hollow the claims made about its future are, some academic researchers will emerge to say they are doing the “ethics” or “anticipatory governance” or “responsible innovation” or whatever-the-fuck of that thing. And they will pull down big, stanky, oozey chunks of cheese from funding bodies for doing it, too. You don’t even need to say “maybe” this will happen. It’s a guarantee.

So criti-hype hurts in two ways.


…criti-hype helps create a lousy information environment and lends credibility to industry bullshit.

And secondly:

…criti-hype distracts us from real world problems and suffering that are happening right now.

In some ways, it is another version of an argument… made in The Innovation Delusion: innovation-speak distracts us from ordinary problems of technology and infrastructure, including maintenance, repair, and mundane labor. We need to be more honest and reflexive about how innovation-speak has shaped academic social science and humanities research.

By the way, if you haven’t read the brilliant The Innovation Delusion, well, you probably should.

Oh Captain, My Captain!

Solve Problems Before They Happen by Developing an “Inner Sense of Captaincy” touches something important about work.


Too often we reward people who solve problems while ignoring those who prevent them in the first place. This incentivizes creating problems. According to poet David Whyte, the key to taking initiative and being proactive is viewing yourself as the captain of your own “voyage of work.”

If an organizational system is designed, intentionally or not, to afford incentives in the wrong places, organizational corruption will happen.

The advice:

If we want to get away from glorifying those who run around putting out fires, we need to cultivate an organizational culture that empowers everyone to act responsibly at the first sign of smoke.

What resonates with me deeply is this:

The idea of having an inner sense of captaincy means understanding the overarching goals of your work and being willing to make decisions that support them, even if something isn’t strictly your job or you might not get rewarded for it, or sometimes even if you don’t have permission.

To me, that’s a variation of what I have always been saying: the most important part of a job is often not described in the job descriptions. The fine lines of our lives often hang on those moments where one thing transforms into another. Job is merely a concept that presumes a specific economic model. When a job becomes truly great, it becomes work.

Expend your understanding of the meaning of work by reading Why We Work.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Daily reminder:

Where Are the Black Designers?

They’re here.

The Extra Life Project

The Extra Life project is:

A new multiplatform project — including a TV series and books—chronicling a revolution in medicine and public health, set in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

Which means, Steven Johnson has a new book coming. And he always tells great stories.

Design. Think. Make. Break. Repeat.

The revised edition of Design. Think. Make. Break. Repeat. A Handbook of Methods has “20 additional methods, three new case studies, and a new chapter introducing life-centred design.”

The book introduces the reader to the changing role of design as a way of thinking and a framework for solving complex problems and achieving systemic change

Long story short: just pre-order it.



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