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

The Books I Picked & Why

Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior

By Indi Young

Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior

Why 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.


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Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places

By Jorge Arango

Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places

Why 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.


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Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design

By Lisa Welchman

Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design

Why 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.


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

By Brené Brown

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

Why 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.


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

By Dave Gray

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

Why 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.


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