November 25, 2011

who this book is for (revised, with definition of ‘knowledge worker’ clarified and expanded)

This book is for you, who want to work to make digital environments more useful in helping us work and solve problems together, either as a user or designer.

I only have pieces of advice for the liquid information systems designer:

Take ownership of the problem, not the solution. Focus on the actual use. What does the user need to accomplish, not just in detail but also in terms of the bigger picture? Try not to hold on to pet solutions.

Assume you are wrong. Always. Learn what you can, question it, talk to people in different fields, never forgetting actual users. Question your assumptions and their assumptions.

The goal is to help knowledge workers understand the world and communicate what they learn clearly. That’s really the heart of it.

There is a “distinction between “knowledge workers” and other categories, such as clerical workers. Clerical workers use information—about, say, customer orders—to aid the smooth working of the company. Knowledge workers use information to change themselves.” I am not convinced there is a sharp boundary but it’s worth thinking about how the job of a knowledge worker results in a change of the knowledge worker.

Clerical work is external – you can do clerical work at arms reach. You move this information over there, you arrange that to happen here. Knowledge work however, is immersive – the information you work with has to be processed in the knowledge workers brain.

The liquid approach will hopefully be useful to those who design Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and other knowledge augmentation systems for large companies where the whole systems are integrated and controlled. However, half of workers are employed by small companies (as defined by companies employing under 500 people in the United States ( and these people cannot be expected to have the support of a knowledge work focused IT department. Innovation happens at the edge. Be the edge.

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Marcel Proust

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