Sea of hands from  Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Thailand
Sea of hands from  Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Thailand
Photo by note thanun on Unsplash

Sifting through marketing in all it’s forms is a burden for everyone, regardless of what we do to curtail it. It has no social benefit. It’s time to change it.

A call to action

We are in the midst of a cancel culture. I think everyone — right, left, and center — would be happy to ingest fewer ads. It took decades to reach this point. Let’s see if we can change the train tracks.

I will no longer purchase from any entity that does not adhere to my unsubscription, immediately. Not online, not physical locations. Give me another year, and any entity that…

It boils down to a lack of trust.

Every day we are reminded that nothing is more important than money

When we don’t have it, we can’t survive. As cash flow dwindles, we set aside those things that support our health and survival (food, warmth, shelter), and in doing so our sense of safety is chipped away. Our society is set up to make sure we understand that laziness is the only reason we aren’t financially successful & secure; any other reason will eventually be dismissed as a lack of will and fortitude.

Corporations don’t care about people, they care about profits

Bhopal toxic gas leak affected half a million people

DuPont Teflon dumped poison that got into drinking water


Diagram of circles implying overlap of UX Design, Branding, and Visual Design and that they feed into a Design System.
Diagram of circles implying overlap of UX Design, Branding, and Visual Design and that they feed into a Design System.
Diagram by author, 2021

There is no single, right way to build a design system, but there are some key things that differentiates a design system from other large-scale design endeavors.

First, a note on why there is some confusion

I think people love the phrase “design system”. It holds within it a tacit nod to the complexity, investment, and effort involved in making a system. My theory is that there are three primary reasons behind why the term is being co-opted:

  • Acknowledgement — people see the term, recognize the investment of time, complexity, and effort, and leap to the conclusion that what they leverage is a system without digging into what a…

Colossal head of a youth, the remnant of a Greek statue on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

Applied, effective UX practice can have a heartbreaking cost.

The context

Recently, a family whose orbit I am a part of has had a trauma.

My first feeling was heartbreak for their trauma. My first coherent thought was the cognitive pathways a traumatized child might be practicing.

Then a caregiver mentioned that the children were shutting down, cutting the world out and focusing just on screen time. My reaction, after a bout of empathy? What are the apps being used?

The feelings coursing through me on that idea were panic, another shock of heartbreak, followed by remorse. …

Photo by Zach Woolf on Unsplash

Every age, and especially transitional ages, have cultural quirks. Victorian England fetishized women’s ankles and legs, to the point where households would cover piano legs to ensure propriety. Today, we think about that, laugh, and shake our heads. What might we be doing that is similarly absurd?

Contextual example

Victorian England was in a huge transitional state. Industrialization was in full swing, the cultural hierarchy was being upset by common men becoming rich, the populace was moving from the country to cities, and the first whiffs of gender social change were in the air as more women came out of their homes…

Snapshot of a design problem not covered by an NDA

Oh, design problems, how I do love thee.

Design problems are quick descriptions of what we’re trying to solve in any aspect of redesign — even an update to code or user paths that wouldn’t have a visual differentiation. I use them for professional projects, personal projects, and those in between (like the portfolio project I pictured above).

Some organizations have been wary of getting too formal, and I used written design problems to keep myself aligned (and almost always reminded the team verbally of what our initial objectives were). On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve worked with…

crop of abstract painting, ©Angela Madsen 2018

I have been tangling with the idea of ‘doing harm’ as the backbone for ethics for years. Literally. Hell, DECADES. It was the metric I learned as a child, and the metric most of my community tacitly agrees with. To be ethical, do not harm others.

Recently, writing about moving toward ethics, it occurred to me that I was looking at it wrong.

Everyone manipulates. Everyone suffers, and has to grow into it at part of maturity; just shunting it to the side creates more potential for knee-jerk, hurt-them-before-they-hurt-me reactions. Everyone feels pain, and has to find a way to…

Photo by howling red on Unsplash

I have said it before and I will say it over in many, many ways: empathy comes with an unspoken rulebook. Below are some of the myths I’ve noticed most frequently in my interactions. In case there’s any question, these are the patterns I’ve found. My experience is one in many, and no one should take these as gospel, or that there aren’t more to suss out.

Myth #1: Empathizing means our previous point of view is invalidated. Automatically. Fully. Without question.

Reality: Empathy is a data point

Not everyone is built with the same problem solving capabilities, and everyone has cognitive biases. Data points lead to information, and it’s in understanding information that we…

crop of abstract painting, ©Angela Madsen 2019

UX designers should be intrinsically involved in the ethics surrounding what we design. We are in a unique position of already leading the charge on user advocacy, having some clue about the technology involved, and apply cognitive biases regularly (even if it’s not on the tip of your UX tongue).

‘Manipulation’ is a word loaded with negativity, attributable to oily salesmen, self-serving politicians, serial killers, and bad relationships. It is not an easy thing to admit; it’s fairly universal to want to believe we’re good people, and ‘manipulative’ is an invective as best. …

It’s not unusual to be pulled into projects with the assumption that information architecture has limited use: site maps and designing the navigation menu. When looked at with that limitation, information architecture seems like a nice-to-have — a bit of polish that, if it’s missing…neh. We’ll follow best practices and be no worse than anyone else — fix it when it breaks.

I contend that information architecture is everywhere and can be useful almost infinitely.


The application — like so many truths — is more nuanced than the surface. Information architecture is an abstract process and has only a few…

angela madsen

eternal work in progress. wrangler of data and empathy, understander of process, seeker of giggles.

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