Stories, not sentences

Although today’s society is said to be in a state of information overload, in fact it may not be in excess. It’s just an overflow of odd and fragmented information in the media. The amount of information in each fragment is in fact quite small. In this slew of half baked information, isn’t the brain oppressed? The stress on the brain isn’t because of quantity, but because of limited quality.

Kenya Hara, Designing Design

Design is philosophy for the modern age. I can think of no more relevant example than this one from Hara’s book.

We’re in a messy milieu: a morass of links, images and text without sense or order or thought. It’s time for us to rethink the way we consume information now that we’re swimming in it.

First there were RSS feeds (Google Reader). Who didn’t open it up to 1000+ articles to read with half of them duplicates? Then there were social feeds (Facebook & Twitter) which now have edgerank and are selectively chosen based on interaction signals. Then, news aggregators like HackerNews or TechMeme arose. Today, we’re in the midst of crowdsourced content curation. But these approaches haven’t solved the the first problem, the RSS problem.

On Quora, the answers to the question, “What’s the next big UI innovation?” are all technology driven: real time feeds, screen size updates, content pushing & recommendations. But these aren’t UI improvements - they are middleware infrastructure improvements that have been granted affordances in UI.

We’re missing real UI improvement as it pertains to information. Some of this is happening in visual data design. “Amanda Cox at the NYTimes weaves stories with R and huge data sets. Perhaps this is where it all starts. Because it can’t just end at a nice grid layout with elegant whitespace in Flipboard.

UIs must start telling us stories, instead of whispers of sentences.

Published 2012-06-02 in product 


I am partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.

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