How to Make Sense of Any Mess


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In a world where everything is getting more complex and we are all experiencing personal information overload, there is a growing need to understand the tools and processes that are used to make sense of complex subjects and situations. These tools aren't hard to learn or even tough to implement but they are also not part of many people's education.

Information Architecture is a practice of making sense. A set of principles, lessons and tools to help anyone make sense of any thing. Whether you are - a student or professional, a designer, technologist or small business owner, an intern or executive - learn how information architecture can help you make sense of your next endeavor.

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How to Make Sense of Any Mess

  1. 1. Make Sense Information Architecture for Everybody by: Abby the IA
  2. 2. What the #$%@ is the information age? - my dad
  3. 3. Our world is a mess. A large part of this mess is made of information.
  4. 4. A tsunami of information is still headed our way... *HT Richard Saul Wurman
  5. 5. No matter what our job, our world is full of messes we must make sense of
  6. 6. The majority of messes we face are made of information (and people)
  7. 7. In 2014 the average American will spend 40+ hours a month wading through... ...places made of information
  8. 8. and make approximately 70 conscious decisions every day *HT Sheena S Iyengar
  9. 9. We are all experiencing information overload ...and with that comes information anxiety *HT Richard Saul Wurman
  10. 10. We have to have a website But our users still like printed things that website needs to talk to the inventory system And be easy to update without a technologist Oh! Everything actually needs to be in 5 languages And the content should be controlled by our brand But don’t forget to let the users make content too Our creative director says the future is flat design Don’t forget our partnership with _____ We don’t like the word “cart” Our CEO hates flat design
  11. 11. Every thing is complex.
  12. 12. We have to get comfortable with making sense of complexity Rabbit Hole of Complexity
  13. 13. Everyone has an opinion and it can be frustrating to really talk things out
  14. 14. Frustration occurs when people have different models in their minds
  15. 15. Creating objects allows us to discuss & compare differing models
  16. 16. When we have something in common to point to we can reach consensus more easily
  17. 17. With consensus comes momentum
  18. 18. But often it is more than two people, and more than two models to reconcile...
  19. 19. A mess like this can easily feel impossible to make sense of
  20. 20. Many people get overwhelmed at this point
  21. 21. They think of ways to hide the mess...
  22. 22. Or they think of ways to pretty up the mess... New User tutorial to explain the mess Incentive structure for dealing with the mess Fancy Front end fluffing
  23. 23. ...the mess is still a mess.
  24. 24. ...but they have bought time.
  25. 25. Until the mess grows (as all messes do when given time)
  26. 26. Information Architecture (IA) tools and concepts help people make sense of messes made of information (and people)
  27. 27. IA tools and concepts are NOT hard to learn. NOR are they expensive to teach.
  28. 28. Yet IA tools and concepts are not taught (or used) as often as they ought be.
  29. 29. As a result many adults don’t understand the very basics of architecting information
  30. 30. Yet they architect information daily, for either their job or their life or both. Results vary ;)
  31. 31. Everyone Architects Information
  32. 32. Information Architecture in 5 basic lessons
  33. 33. What isn’t information? Lesson 1
  34. 34. Thinking about information as material is hard
  35. 35. Every thing has information
  36. 36. Information can be made from the lack of physical material
  37. 37. There is no true information There is only spin
  38. 38. Data is mined Information is architected
  39. 39. All information has place(s) within a nested set of architectures
  40. 40. The level of focus changes the details you can see
  41. 41. These levels of place are deeply “intertwingled” *HT Ted Nelson
  42. 42. Change at one level can have implications at another level
  43. 43. 1. Know your material & level 2. Start to unravel “truth” Next Steps:
  44. 44. Language Matters Lesson 2 Ontology Taxonomy Choreography *HT  Dan  Klyn
  45. 45. Lexicography vs Ontology • Lexicography is the practice of compiling dictionaries. Lexicographers collect different meanings for words • Ontology represents the knowledge of terms and concepts within a domain
  46. 46. Meaning is subjective Meaning is demographic Meaning is socio political Meaning gets lost in translation Meaning is complex
  47. 47. h"p://­‐we-­‐dont-­‐say/
  48. 48. Controlled Vocabularies • A controlled vocabulary is a list of approved terms and definitions for a particular context and/or setting • This exercise can help teams to decide on things like: – Variant Spellings (i.e. American vs. British) – Scientific vs. Popular Term Use (i.e. Cockroaches vs. Periplaneta Americana) – Acceptable Synonyms (i.e. Automobile vs. Car) – Acceptable Acronyms (i.e. GE vs. General Electric) – Business vs. User Terms (i.e. What we say in meetings vs. what we say to customers) – Identification of homographs (i.e. the word “pool” can relate to “swimming pool” or “shooting”) 50
  49. 49. Start with language not interfaces
  50. 50. Remember language is not just words
  51. 51. I am sorry you have having issues using our mobile site. I am sure I will be able to help you...Can you see the hamburger menu? Careful: We LOVE to use words anyways even if we have to make them up
  52. 52. We call this an “uncontrolled” vocabulary
  53. 53. Uncontrolled vocabularies increase linguistic insecurity
  54. 54. People suffering from linguistic insecurity aren’t as easy to talk things out with
  55. 55. 1. Know your material & level 2. Start to unravel “truth” 3. Wipe out linguistic insecurity 4. List words you say/don’t say Next Steps:
  56. 56. Structure is Rhetoric Lesson 3
  57. 57. There are only 5 ways to organize anything 1. Location: Rome is a city in Italy 2. Alphabetical: Rome starts with “R” 3. Time: Rome started in 753 BC 4. Category: Rome is a Romantic city 5. Hierarchy: Rome is within Italy, which is within Europe, which is within the Eastern and Northern Hemisphere *HT  Richard  Saul  Wurman  -­‐  Informa9on  Anxiety  2
  58. 58. A facet is a particular aspect, or feature about some “thing” The more facets something has the more ways it can be organized against other things.
  59. 59. 20 ways to organize a box of vegetables 1.!By cost at the grocery in the USA (Location) 2.!By cost at the grocery in the UK (Location) 3.!By countries it is eaten in (Location) 4.!By first letter scientific names (Alphabetical) 5.!By first letter popular names (Alphabetical) 6.!By first letter cultural names (Alphabetical) 7.!By seasonality of harvest (Time) 8.!By length of season (Time) 9.!By cooking time (Time) 10.!By popularity today (Time) 11.!By popularity 100 years ago (Time) 12.!By color (Category) 13.!By taste (Category) 14.!By texture (Category) 15.!By size (Category) 16.!By growing style (Hierarchy) 17.!By climate (Hierarchy) 18.!By type (Hierarchy) 19.!By soil type (Hierarchy) 20.!By best storing technique (Hierarchy) 10 facets of a vegetable 1.! Color 2.! Texture 3.! Taste 4.! Season Planted 5.! Season Harvested 6.! Soil Grown In 7.! Class 8.! Subclass 9.! Countries Consumed in 10.!Cost by Country
  60. 60. There is “technically” no right or wrong way to structure information
  61. 61. There is “academically” no right or wrong way to structure information
  62. 62. There is “theoretically” no right or wrong way to structure information
  63. 63. All you can do is measure your results against your rhetorical intent
  64. 64. Information Architecture always exists
  65. 65. How you architect your information says something about who you are
  66. 66. “It takes knowledge to know a tomato is a fruit. It takes wisdom to not put one in a fruit salad” - Miles Kington
  67. 67. 1. Know your material & level 2. Start to unravel “truth” 3. Wipe out linguistic insecurity 4. List words you say/don’t say 5. Identify facets 6. Try on structures Next Steps:
  68. 68. Define Good Realistically Lesson 4
  69. 69. Good depends on intent
  70. 70. • Time: “I only have ___ left.” • Resources: “I only have ________” • Skill-set: “I know how to ________but I don’t know how to ______, yet.” • Environment: “I am working within a market, serving an audience made of various user types, within an ecosystem, via a platform, using technology.” • Personality: “I want my work to say _____________________ about me” • Politics: “Others want my work to say _________________ about ________” • Ethics: “I want my work to do right by the world” • Integrity: “I want to be proud of the results of my work” Reality involves many factors
  71. 71. • Users: People you intend to interact with whatever is being made • Stakeholders: People who care about the outcome of what is being made • Makers: People making whatever is being made WARNING: You may fall into all three categories yourself on a given project. Be extra careful when this is a case. Remember that in many cases, meeting our own needs can prevent us from meeting the needs of others. Reality involves many players
  72. 72. 1. Know your material & level 2. Start to unravel “truth” 3. Wipe out linguistic insecurity 4. List words you say/don’t say 5. Identify facets 6. Try on structures 7. Deal with subjective reality Next Steps:
  73. 73. Make Diagrams & Prototypes Lesson 5
  74. 74. Diagrams help us
  75. 75. Diagrams help us compare our models
  76. 76. Diagram types should be collected but also continually invented for your context
  77. 77. Prototypes help us h"p://­‐content/uploads/2012/08/Introduc2on-­‐Website-­‐Usability-­‐Tes2ng-­‐Car.jpg test our ideas
  78. 78. Remember to zoom in and out as you work
  79. 79. Remember that when you are a hammer... ...everything looks like a wireframe
  80. 80. 1. Know your material & level 2. Start to unravel “truth” 3. Wipe out linguistic insecurity 4. List words you say/don’t say 5. Identify facets 6. Try on structures 7. Deal with subjective reality 8. Diagram the damn thing Next Steps:
  81. 81. Information Architecture is not just for Information Architects
  82. 82. If you make things, you are probably already practicing information architecture
  83. 83. Practicing IA requires bravery, but does not require permission
  84. 84. But in case you need permission to go with those next steps and few words of advice, I can give you your membership card: Information Architecture helps me make sense of my messes. Your Name And suggest you think about joining the
  85. 85. ... Before you go ...
  86. 86. If you forget everything else, please remember... • We live amongst a mounting mess of information • People make this mess of information • Information architecture helps us make sense • Language matters • Structure is rhetoric • We must define good realistically • We must make diagrams and prototypes to understand each other's models of the world
  87. 87. hope is that the world will make a whole lot more sense. If we all think a little harder about the information we architect... (a girl can dream )
  88. 88. How to Make Sense of Any Mess @Abby_the_IA Sign up to receive an email when pre sale opens this fall: THANKS (Ships Fall 2014)
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