Maybe I've been reading too many stories

July 30, 2020

This week, I’ve been thinking about language (defined as a body of words, which I obviously can’t get out of my mind). It’s likely because I finished reading Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, followed by Batuman’s The Idiot. I’m still searching for the “body of words” to describe how Batuman’s writing humors me while Hurston’s reflections move me.

I do think that language is much more important to design and research than we’re led to believe. I'm a visual learner and I've told a lot of better stories thanks to a visual.

But, dialogues between people are at the center of pretty much everything we do. We craft cohesive narratives from scattered anecdotal stories in order to create things that mean something. It feels like writing, sometimes. Or at least, writing seems to be an important aspect of it.

As Ocean Vuong, says:

You can create [language], use it to divide people and build walls, or you can turn it into something where we can see each other more clearly, as a bridge.


How to make sense of any mess

Language is how we tell other people what we want, what we expect of them, and what we hope to accomplish together.

This book moves through the process of making sense of information and people. Abby encourages the reader to choose how to read the book: sequentially or based on certain words, such as connection.

A Self-Defined dictionary

Built by Tatiana Mac, this open-source, ever-evolving dictionary provides inclusive definitions. I love how this project focuses on the impact of words and, where appropriate, suggests alternatives. Self-Defined is a reminder that while words construct the world around us, we give them their meaning.

Community-driven content design

Governments have a tendency to use confusing language and overuse words such as ‘undertake’.

Common Ground is a web app encouraging government communication with the general public about mining activities in New South Wales. It’s a long post. You may consider skipping ahead to the bit about community-driven content design, where Mel describes how writing collaboratively and testing content can lead to useful language without jargon.

We the News

Lizania facilitates storytelling, crafting collective narratives and reclaiming space through her art. This project involves a newsstand traveling around NYC; collecting and distributing the stories of Black Americans and immigrants. Lizania’s story circles are spaces for gathering, engaging in dialogue and creating shared meaning.


This was originally published on my newsletter, Design With. It was archived in 2023.