The best books for becoming a stronger sensemaker

Abby Covert Author Of How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody
By Abby Covert

Who am I?

I am an information architect, writer, and community organizer on a mission to make information architecture education accessible to everybody. I started practicing IA in pure pursuit of stronger visual design, but in the two decades since have developed an insatiable appetite for understanding and teaching the practical skills that make people better sensemakers, regardless of their role or medium. The books I chose for this list are all foundational to me becoming the sensemaker that I am today. I offer them as suggestions because they are not the books you will find should you search for “Information Architecture” yet they have all become my go-to recommendations for helping others to strengthen their own sensemaking.

I wrote...

Book cover of How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody

What is my book about?

How to Make Sense of Any Mess is a beginner’s guide to information architecture (IA) that provides frameworks and exercises to help anyone learn how to make sense of any mess. I wrote this book because everyone has a mess in their life they need to make sense of. 

As our world becomes more and more complex, I believe that we are going to need a new wave of sensemakers who are prepared for the information-based challenges that lay ahead. I believe that information architecture is the right framing of theory and practice to prepare someone to make sense of those kinds of challenges.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior

Why did I love this book?

A mental model is our unique map of all our knowledge. Each person has their own, and we can’t see each other’s mental models or even see our own. Yet those maps dictate everything about how we show up and how we interpret the world around us. 

Mental Models by Indi Young is the best deep dive into this subject and stands as a must-read for anyone making things for other humans to make sense of. If you are going to succeed in practicing information architecture, you must become increasingly adept at understanding how other people think about the world. 

I recommend this book because it takes something theoretical and presents a solid methodological approach that anyone can grasp and adapt to their process as long as they are curious. This book also served as a major inspiration when writing How to Make Sense of Any Mess, as it was a strong example of the value that can be created by digging into an academic topic from a practical perspective.

By Indi Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mental Models as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There is no single methodology for creating the perfect product—but you can increase your odds. One of the best ways is to understand users' reasons for doing things. Mental Models gives you the tools to help you grasp, and design for, those reasons. Adaptive Path co-founder Indi Young has written a roll-up-your-sleeves book for designers, managers, and anyone else interested in making design strategic, and successful.

Book cover of Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places

Why did I love this book?

Living in Information by Jorge Arango introduces information-soaked individuals to an easy-to-grasp architectural vocabulary that describes the patterns and shifts of context in the digital (and increasingly the digitally-enhanced-physical) world.

I recommend this book as a map of the territory when it comes to designing with or for digital systems and experiences. Jorge is a wonderful storyteller as well as a crystal clear communicator and this book is a jewel on my sensemaking bookshelf.

Jorge is also one of my favorite authors to keep up with regarding information architecture. His podcast and blog are worth a follow should the subject of his book perk your interest.

By Jorge Arango,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Living in Information as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Websites and apps are places where critical parts of our lives happen. We shop, bank, learn, gossip, and select our leaders there. But many of these places weren’t intended to support these activities. Instead, they're designed to capture your attention and sell it to the highest bidder. Living in Information draws upon architecture as a way to design information environments that serve our humanity.

Book cover of Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design

Why did I love this book?

You might not think of excitement when you hear the words “Digital Governance” but I can assure you that this book is a real page-turner…especially if your job involves managing large-scale information messes. There is a special kind of chaos that only information and knowledge workers can understand and this book paints a picture so many of us have seen in practice but in a way that leaves the reader inspired to fight another day, instead of wallowing in a sea of information-induced self-pity.

I recommend this book because I have seen too many information architecture efforts die on the vine due to a lack of good governance. The frameworks and recommendations in this book mean I always have a playbook to hand to teams in need.

By Lisa Welchman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Managing Chaos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few organizations realize a return on their digital investment. They’re distracted by political infighting and technology-first solutions. To reach the next level, organizations must realign their assets—people, content, and technology—by practicing the discipline of digital governance. Managing Chaos inspires new and necessary conversations about digital governance and its transformative power to support creativity, real collaboration, digital quality, and online growth.

Book cover of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Why did I love this book?

If I could pick a book for everyone in the world to read, regardless of their interest in IA – it would be The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown.

I want to be clear, this is not a book about information architecture. It is, however, a book with a strong information architecture outlining effective daily practices that are core to wholehearted living. Learning the ten ‘guideposts’ in this book made me a stronger sensemaker and a better human. It made me look inside myself and find the parts of me that were making messes messier rather than making sense of them.

This book continues to be the single most valuable book I recommend when people come to me for help on the internal part of making sense. Not only is this a practical and inspiring read, but Dr. Brown also has developed a self-assessment to identify where you currently sit in relation to each guidepost. I re-read this book at least once a year and find the self-assessment to be a great monitor to keep checking in with.

By Brené Brown,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Gifts of Imperfection as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In hardback for the first time, this tenth-anniversary edition of the game-changing #1 New York Times bestseller features a new foreword and brand-new tools to make the work your own.

For over a decade, Brene Brown has found a special place in our hearts as a gifted mapmaker and a fellow traveller. She is both a social scientist and a kitchen-table friend whom you can always count on to tell the truth, make you laugh and, on occasion, cry with you. And what's now become a movement all started with The Gifts of Imperfection, which has sold more than two…

Book cover of Liminal Thinking: Create the Change You Want by Changing the Way You Think

Why did I love this book?

Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray provides a solid roadmap to help navigate through the rocky terrain of understanding and being able to change your own mind and habits.

When I first read this book, the words mind-blown could not quite cover it. I was in fact completely devastated by the truth that I learned in this book. It taught me the danger of making sense of messes while on autopilot and the power of the present moment as a forcing function in my work. ‘Liminal’ is a word I had to look up the first time I heard it, but it has since become the go-to word I use to describe those hard and squishy times when I am still making the decision about how to show up in the world. 

I recommend this book because as Dave Gray writes “Beliefs form the basis of everything people say, think, and do. When people change their beliefs, they change their behavior, which changes their lives.” The six principles and nine practices outlined in this book are practical enough to start changing your beliefs today, and wise enough to have a lasting impact for the rest of your sensemaking lifetime. 

Simply put, this book will change how you think… if you are brave enough to let it.

By Dave Gray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Liminal Thinking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why do some people succeed at change while others fail? It's the way they think! Liminal thinking is a way to create change by understanding, shaping, and reframing beliefs. What beliefs are stopping you right now?
You have a choice. You can create the world you want to live in, or live in a world created by others. If you are ready to start making changes, read this book.

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