Subjective (adjective.)

Definition: Particular to an individual.

Also referenced as:

Related to: Agreement, Bias, Meaning, Opinion, Perception, Reality, Stakeholder, Truth, User



The word subjective was used 7 times across 6 pages


Chapter 1: Identify the Mess | Page 11

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.



Chapter 1: Identify the Mess | Page 13

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.



Chapter 2: State your Intent | Page 23

Language is any system of communication that exists to establish shared meaning. Even within a single language, one term can mean something in situation A and something different in situation B. We call this a homograph. For example, the word pool can mean a swimming pool, shooting pool, or a betting pool.

Perception is the process of considering, and interpreting something. Perception is subjective like truth is. Something that's beautiful to one person may be an eyesore to another. For example, many designers would describe the busy, colorful patterns in the carpets of Las Vegas as gaudy. People who frequent casinos often describe them as beautiful.

However good or bad these carpet choices seem to us, there are reasons why they look that way. Las Vegas carpets are busy and colorful to disguise spills and wear and tear from foot traffic. Gamblers likely enjoy how they look because of an association with an activity that they enjoy. For Las Vegas casino owners and their customers, those carpet designs are good. For designers, they're bad. Neither side is right. Both sides have an opinion.

What we intend to do determines how we define words like good and bad.



Chapter 2: State your Intent | Page 26

Did you ever play the telephone game as a child?

It consists of a group of kids passing a phrase down the line in a whisper. The point of the game is to see how messed up the meaning of the initial message becomes when sent across a messy human network.

Meaning can get lost in subtle ways. It's wrapped up in perception, so it's also subjective. Most misunderstandings stem from mixed up meanings and miscommunication of messages.

Miscommunications can lead to disagreements and frustration, especially when working with others.

Getting our message across is something everyone struggles with. To avoid confusing each other, we have to consider how our message could be interpreted.



Chapter 5: Measure the Distance | Page 96

What is good for one person can be profoundly bad for another, even if their goal is roughly the same. We each live within a unique set of contradictions and experiences that shape how we see the world.

Remember that there's no right or wrong way to do something. Words like right and wrong are subjective.

The important part is being honest about what you intend to accomplish within the complicated reality of your life. Your intent may differ from other people; you may perceive things differently.

You may be dealing with an indicator that's surprisingly difficult to measure, a data source that's grossly unreliable, or a perceptual baseline that's impossible to back up with data.

But as fuzzy as your lens can seem, setting goals with incomplete data is still a good way to determine if you're moving in the right direction.

Uncertainty comes up in almost every project. But you can only learn from those moments if you don't give up. Stick with the tasks that help you clarify and measure the distance ahead.



Chapter 7: Prepare to Adjust | Page 123

No matter what the mess is made of, we have many masters, versions of reality, and needs to serve. Information is full of history and preconceptions.

Stakeholders need to:

  • Know where the project is headed
  • See patterns and potential outcomes
  • Frame the appropriate solution for users

Users need to:

It's our job to uncover subjective reality.

An important part of that is identifying the differences between what stakeholders think users need and what users think they need for themselves.