Interpretation (noun.)

Definition: A mental representation of the meaning of something.

Also referenced as: Interpret (verb) Interprets (verb) Interpreted (adjective) Interpreting (verb) Interpretations (noun)

Related to: Intent, Language, Meaning, Ontology, Relationship



The word interpretation was used 17 times across 11 pages


Chapter 1: Identify the Mess | Page 10

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:



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 1: Identify the Mess | Page 14

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.



Chapter 1: Identify the Mess | Page 15

If you rip out the content from your favorite book and throw the words on the floor, the resulting pile is not your favorite book.

If you define each word from your favorite book and organize the definitions alphabetically, you would have a dictionary, not your favorite book.

If you arrange each word from your favorite book by gathering similarly defined words, you have a thesaurus, not your favorite book.

Neither the dictionary nor the thesaurus is anything like your favorite book, because both the architecture and the content determine how you interpret and use the resulting information.

For example, "8 of 10 Doctors Do Not Recommend" and "Doctor Recommended" are both true statements, but each serves a different intent.



Chapter 1: Identify the Mess | Page 16

User is another word for a person. But when we use that word to describe someone else, we're likely implying that they're using the thing we're making. It could be a website, a product or service, a grocery store, a museum exhibit, or anything else people interact with.

When it comes to our use and interpretation of things, people are complex creatures.

We're full of contradictions. We're known to exhibit strange behaviors. From how we use mobile phones to how we traverse grocery stores, none of us are exactly the same. We don't know why we do what we do. We don't really know why we like what we like, but we do know it when we see it. We're fickle.

We expect things to be digital, but also, in many cases, physical. We want things to feel auto-magic while retaining a human touch. We want to be safe, but not spied on. We use words at our whim.

Most importantly perhaps, we realize that for the first time ever, we have easy access to other people's experiences to help us decide if something is worth experiencing at all.



Chapter 1: Identify the Mess | Page 19

Carl is a design student getting ready to graduate. But first, he has to produce a book explaining his design work and deliver a ten-minute presentation.

While Carl is a talented designer, public speaking makes him queasy and he doesn't consider himself much of a writer. He has drawers and boxes full of notes, scribbles, sketches, magazine clippings, quotes, and prototypes.

Carl has the pieces he needs to make his book and presentation come to life. He also has a momentum-killing fear of the mess he's facing.

To help Carl identify his mess, we could start by asking questions about its edges and depths:



Chapter 1: Identify the Mess | Page 20

This chapter outlines why it's important to identify the edges and depths of a mess, so you can lessen your anxiety and make progress.

I also introduced the need to look further than what is true, and pay attention to how users and stakeholders interpretlanguage, data, and content.

To start to identify the mess you're facing, work through these questions:



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 4: Choose a Direction | Page 67

You can turn a space into a place by arranging it so people know what to do there. This act is called placemaking. If you arrange a table and chairs in the middle of a room, meetings, meals, study, and play are all potential uses of that place. But if you add a fancy dining set and linens to the table, you're suggesting that it's a dining area.

In placemaking, you choreograph a sequence of steps users can take and decide how you want them to move. You can recommend steps, but they'll move wherever and however they want. They may move the place settings aside and open a laptop for a meeting. You can prescribe the steps, but they do the dancing.

The ways you enforce your way of doing things changes how users think about the place you made and perhaps ultimately, how they think about you.

You could add a sign that says "Dining Only Please." You could also add waitstaff wearing tuxedos and glaring dispositions. Each of these would say something about you and the place you made.

The way we choose to arrange a place changes how people interpret and use it. We encode our intent through the clues we leave for users to know what we want them to do.