Why Does DARPA Work?

DARPA PMs need to think for themselves, be curious, and have low ego. Why does this matter? When you are surrounded by smart, opinionated people the easy option is to either 100% accept what they’re saying because it’s eloquent and well-thought through or reject it outright because it sounds crazy or goes against your priors. Thinking for yourself allows you to avoid these traps. PMs need to be curious because building a complete picture of a discipline requires genuine curiosity to ask questions nobody else is asking. A large ego would lead to a program manager imposing their will on every piece of the program, killing curiosity and the benefits of top down problems and bottom up solutions.”

Ben Reinhardt, “Why does DARPA Work?benjaminreinhardt.com. June 18, 2020.

Some People are Toxic Avoid Them

“You can only work for people you like…

Some people are toxic avoid them. This is a subtext [to working for people you like]. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. it doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. if you are more tired then you have been poisoned. if you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and i suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.”

-Milton Glaser, “Ten Things I’ve Learned.” Milton Glaser.com.

See also Hoodoos, Sucking Black Holes, Psychic Vampires, and The Unhappy & The Unlucky. The lesson in all of these is to be very careful about who you spend your time with.

How to Write Great Microcopy

  • Be clear, concise, and useful
  • Use consistent wording
  • Create a microcopy framework
  • Be conversational
  • Use humors and idioms carefully
  • Highlight your brand’s character
  • Be wary of word translations
  • (Almost) always use active voice
  • Use the passive voice (sometimes)
  • Provide context
  • Assume your user is smart
  • Keep it scannable
  • Write short paragraphs an sentences
  • Don’t overuse contractions
  • When to use sentence case
  • When to use title case
  • Capitalize proper names & terms
  • When to use “Your”
  • When to use “My”
  • Keep ’em calm
  • Refer to the user
  • Identify interactive elements
  • Start with verbs
  • Prompt action
  • Motivate action
  • Set expectations
  • Instruct action
  • Show progress during action
  • Give feedback after actions
  • Use constructive feedback model
  • Avoid destructive feedback
  • Create positive moments
  • Pair visuals with words
  • Be consistent with imagery
  • Use familiar words and phrases
  • Spell out numbers up to nine
  • Reassure users with social proof
  • Pick the right moments
  • Test and improve
  • Think: “How can I improve your life?”

h/t The Product Person.

I have no doubt this is good advice for “microcopy”, which seems to be the text involved with software interactions. But, I think there is an interesting contrast to advice offered in posts like “English Split Composition“. Is “microcopy” good writing outside of writing human/computer interactions in software? Is it “good” writing, in other contexts? When you think of someone like Ernest Hemingway, initially disciplined by the telegraph, that turned into his style, can taking that further into “microcopy” lead to good communication or even good art?

English Split Composition

“English is a language built mostly out of two others. Much of it was created out of the language of invaders who came to Britain around 450 ad from Anglia and Saxony (in what we’d now call northern Germany). About 600 years later the French invaded and brought their language with them, too; it was derived from Latin. The new French competed with Old English, and the outcome was a language—modern English—built out of both.

Often words with similar meanings from the two languages were both turned into English words, such as make (Saxon) and create (from French), or need (Saxon) and require (from French). So in English you can say almost anything with two kinds of words: short, simple ones with Saxon origins, or fancier ones that come from Latin.”

-Ward Farnsworth, “What Did Lincoln Know About Language That We Don’t?” Reason.com. June 22, 2020.

Buckslip

“Buckslip is a weekly-ish email letter (with companion extra bits) in which a few friends wander through the fucked-up landscape of all that we’re living through together now, and weave a few sensemaking threads from what we find. It started with a media and culture focus, but over the years it’s grown into something not quite exactly that. There’s too much else going on.

“Not just internet culture, but Culture, given the internet,” as one astute reader put it, and we like that framing. We do this for love, and for our own understanding, but along the way we’ve found a likeminded community of people who seem to appreciate us working it out in front of them?

Buckslip

Write Until There Is Nothing Wrong With It

“The process of imbuing every sentence with “minimum elegance and euphony,” [Amis] says in the clip above (drawn from a longer interview viewable here) involves “saying the sentence, subvocalizing it in your head until there’s nothing wrong with it. This means not repeating in the same sentence suffixes and prefix. If you’ve got a confound, you can’t have a conform. If you’ve got invitation, you can’t have execution. You can’t repeat those, or an –ing, or a –ness: all that has to be one per sentence. I think the prose will give a sort of pleasure without you being able to tell why.”

—Colin Marshall, “Martin Amis Explains His Method for Writing Great Sentences.” OpenCulture.com. June 24, 2020