Q&A with O’Reilly Author and Futuredraft Partner, Jorge Arango

Jorge Arango is an information architect with 20 years of experience designing digital products and services. He’s a partner in Futuredraft, the experience design consultancy that solves complex problems using co-creation throughout the design process. He is a co-author of “Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond” the fourth edition of O’Reilly’s celebrated “polar bear” book. Jorge has also served the global UX community as president and director of the Information Architecture Institute.

He will be speaking at the Uncharted Minds Design Gurus Summit on September 19th. Click here to get 20% off tickets to the event.

Q. When you were growing up, were you always interested in design?

A. I didn’t know to call it “design” at the time — but yes, design was central to my sense of play. Two memories are particularly strong: my brother and I drawing screens for new video games, and building small paper models of the attractions at Disney World. In many ways I consider my career to be a continuation of these things. I suspect my 8-year-old self would like who I’ve become. I’m very lucky.

Q. What were some early influences on your career choice?

A. Two experiences were particularly important for me: visiting Disney World, and being introduced to computers by my grandfather. The latter happened when I was around eight years old; there has rarely been a day since that I haven’t been immersed in digital information environments.

Q. What did you study in college?

A. Architecture

Q. What did your parents do?

A. My mom took care of us. My dad had dual careers: he was an orthodontist and a farmer. He’s since retired from dentistry, but is still quite active in food production. (I hadn’t thought of it before, but it’s interesting that both careers have to do with the mouth.)

Q. Tell me about your first design job.

A. It was a summer internship at an architecture studio before I’d graduated from university. It made me very upset to be put on (tedious!) clerical duties right off the bat when I clearly had so much more to contribute. How could they not see that?! I had no humility back then — that’s not part of the curriculum in architecture school.

Q. What were some early lessons you learned about design?

A. The first lesson I learned in architecture school is still one of the most valuable: learning to look at the opportunities afforded by constraints when you push them to their limits.

Q. Tell me about your approach to design today.

A. The main way in which my approach to design has evolved is that I know understand and practice it as a collaborative activity. Again, that’s not on the curriculum in architecture school.

Q. How do you find clients for Futuredraft?

A. Primarily through personal and professional networks.

Q. What career advice would you give to young people today?

A. Don’t be lured by tools and techniques — look beneath the surface, to what is really happening with a design challenge. Get over your ego, your filters. You should be able to do your work with a simple pencil and a sheet of paper.

Q. Hardest part of being a designer?

A. Talking about what I do to people outside the field. We’re slowly getting to the right language to describe our work, but we’re not quite there yet.

Q. Favorite part of being a designer?

A. Working with people to help them see their worlds more clearly, and act more skillfully in them. Digital designers work on products and services that have a massive impact on the world. We have both the means and responsibility to help make things better.