1. INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE
CLOSING PLENARY, EUROIA 2013 EDINBURGH
THE POETICS OF
2. INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE
CLOSING PLENARY, EUROIA 2013 EDINBURGH
THE POETICS OF
(*) I'm aware that closing plenaries are usually used for bringing all of the loose
threads together. Recapping what a conference was about. It may disappoint you,
but I will not do that. The conference has been full of love, passion and IA as it's
always been. 9 years. You all will bring your own individual best moments back
home, the excitement, the unexpected eye-opener, the funny one-liner, the snarky
comment, the new way of thinking or approaching an issue or an opportunity.
They will stay with you. I simply will not try to pretend that I can be brief and to the
point. I'm usually all over the place. But that is, at least for once, fine, because I
strongly believe that what we need now, as a community of research, education
and practice, is to get into a lower gear, a slower pace. And reflect.
It also seems to me that there can be no place more fitting than EuroIA to bring to
tentative closure a conversation that was first publicly laid on the table 4 years
ago in Memphis, Tennessee. EuroIA has always made cross-cultural pollination
one of its best assets, and it seems just right that the sound of those trumpets is
answered by the toll of a thousand different bells.
Plus, cross-cultural puts me at advantage when it comes to language. As
someone who can't clearly speak the Queen's English, has an immigrant grasp of
his adopted Swedish, and can't even speak his mother tongue properly anymore,
I'm a perfect European.
3. WHAT IS POETICS?
(*) So, what exactly is poetics? More importantly, what is poetics to be within the
scope of our field and profession? There is a linguistic connection with our craft
there that we are mostly unaware of: the word “poetry” comes from the Greek
“poiesis”, which means “making”. And information architecture is about the act of
making: architectures, structures, and meaning. So poetics should be interesting
4. POETICS IS MAKING
HERMENEUTICS IS INTERPRETATION
(*) Poetics does not concern itself with the meaning of a text, with interpretation,
as that's a job for its cryptically-named sibling hermeneutics.
5. HUGO WEAVING, THE LORD OF THE RINGS
(*) (I feel I need to apologize for saying “hermeneutics” when I'm just at the 3rd
slide of a closing plenary. Now I know how the hobbits felt when they kept saying
“Mordor” in Rivendell and the elves where swooning all over the place like
ballerinas in the final act of a bad ballet. And Elrond had this mad angry look on
6. ERIC REISS, THE LORD OF THE RINGS
(*) BTW, just like Eric's right now.
7. POETICS IS CONCERNED WITH
UNDERSTANDING HOW THE DIFFERENT
ELEMENTS OF A TEXT COME TOGETHER
AND PRODUCE THEIR EFFECTS
(*) Poetics I was saying, is rather concerned with understanding how the different
elements of a text come together and produce effects on the reader. It is about
the act of making. What do I do in order to achieve a certain objective, produce a
Once I have a clearer understanding of the mechanism, once I'm aware of the
rules, I can bend them to form and communicate my own personal vision.
8. WHAT IS TEXT IN
(*) This of course brings in another problem I'm sure is not escaping you all, with
the possible exception of the guy who's snoring loudly in the third row (hello sir,
please do not let me disturb you): what is a text, in information architecture terms.
Where do poetics come in? Does such a thing as an information architecture
artifact even exist? To answer this question, I need to take you on a brief journey.
But before we venture down this road we need to let go of idea that I'm
addressing people and job roles or titles. Information architects, user experience
designers, interaction designers, service designers, content strategists. That's
absolutely uninteresting. I honestly do not care about labels. When I say
information architecture, I mean the field: education, research and practice.
If I'm allowed to steal a good line from Jason Hobbs, if somebody asks you “what
is that you do”, lie. Tell them you run a drug cartel. It's easier and less
9. GEORGIA TECH
(*) If we go back to the late 1990s, when what I call classical information
architecture was going mainstream, computing was a very different beast from
what it is today.
10. COMPUTING WAS A SPECIFIC ACTIVITY STILL
CONFINED TO CLEARLY IDENTIFIED BOUNDED
AREAS IN SPACE AND TIME
(*) Rosenfeld & Morville Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, the
Polar Bear book, comes out in 1998 after having been in the making for a couple
11. THE WEB IS THE UNIFYING FACTOR FOR MANY
DIFFERENT COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES
AND WILDLY DIFFERENT TYPES OF CONTENT
Lou Rosenfeld& Peter Morville, 1998
(*) Rosenfeld and Morville saw the Web as a universal aggregator. Still,
computing was a specific activity confined to clearly identified, bounded areas in
space and time. The office, the home, the living room. Once you were done, you
walked away. Computing did not follow. If your computer was off, email wasn't
delivered. Simple as that.
12. COMPUTER ROOM, SANTA BARBARA
(*) Now fast forward 15 years. It's today. Screens have gotten thinner, but that's
not the only change.
13. ACTIVITIES AND ARTIFACTS
MERGE INTO COMPLEX, PERVASIVE
14. http://www.flickr.com/photos/frogfoto/ RICHARD STERN
(*) We are constantly connected through personal, often mobile devices.
Computing has become embedded in the fabric of reality. Information is
produced, consumed and remediated through phones.
15. (*) Tablets.
16. (*) Rabbits, as improbable as it sounds.
17. AHX-FL1CKR, CC2.0 BYhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/ahxcjb/3552828240/
(*) When it's not us, it's real-time, ambient displays or touchpoints, service
18. ARAM BARTHOLL, DEAD DROPS
(*) Information has bled out of computers and into physical space. Sometimes
literally. Aram Bartholl is a German artist who created the Dead Drops
anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network. USB sticks protrude from
walls in public space. You can upload or download at will: anyone can access a
Dead Drop and everyone may install a Dead Drop in their neighborhood. The only
rules are that a Dead Drop must be public accessible and mounted read / write
without any custom software. Each Dead Drop is a singular, individual item. It is a
powerful artistic statement about the pervasiveness of computing and its new
interest in place, location, and context.
19. (*) So welcome to cyberspace. I want you to stop one second here. The point is
not just that we are jacked in into cyberspace all of the time, without the fun of
zero-gravity kung fu: there is a subtler but much more momentous change
happening here. Our perception of digital and physical is changing because of
this. Our perception of the boundaries between the two is shifting. Our perception
of the very existence of a boundary is getting blurrier by the minute. Computers,
places, and people are on the same side of the mirror. We tumbled all the way
down the rabbit hole, and it's still turtle after turtle here, and they are all
(*) Show this to your average teenager, you will get blank stares. Not surprising,
right? You should see my daughter rolling her eyes when I gesture to her “call me”
and I do this (turns an imaginary rotary dial).
21. (*) Easy laugh, right? Old man coming in. But show them this and you will get
blank stares too. Boring. Old. Music is immaterial, comes in links, pokes, shares.
It's in Spotify, Pandora, a friend's playlist on Youtube. It's a service you access
from a mountain top and not certainly something you buy on a thin plastic wafer.
22. (*) When people said “architecture”, many thought bricks and walls.
23. (*) But it wasn't. It never really was. Architecture is intent and meaning. Flows and
connections. The pulse and image of a city. Its character. Its sense of place. This
is what we bring to information space: record stores might be out, but music is still
in. This is what information architecture is about: making sense of complex
information-based ecosystems, making architectures of information that stand
regardless of the support they use. It has been websites, sure, at least for the
practice and for a little while.
24. (*) Same way photography has long been about film, right? As much as
photography is about the act of taking pictures and not film itself, as your camera
phones clearly illustrate, information architecture is about the act of creating
meaning and understanding: not a website, not a mobile app, not a signage
system, but all of them together, unpredictably connected, remediated,
reconfigurable in multiple architectures of meaning, because such is the nature of
our experience in 2013: we constantly move across channels, producing ripples
on the map as we go.
25. (*) The primary artifact of information architecture, unlike those of other fields of
design, is abstract: it is “sense-making” – the arrangement and organization of
information structures that exist primarily as the conceptual model of an
information-based ecosystem. Elements such as navigation, or search, are like
signs in a way-finding system: their value relies in their being meaningful parts of
this emergent whole. Even when fully collected, they still fall short of “being” the
(*) You can collect all of the letters or pictograms used in a specific language, but
you will not be blessed with enlightenment until you grok the system itself and its
28. http://www.flickr.com/photos/16801915@N06/5982168522/ READING TOM - SUN STUDIO, MEMPHIS
(*) In 2009, the IA Summit went to Memphis. Jesse James Garrett was the closing
plenary speaker. Mr Garrett delivered an amazing, extremely controversial talk
with no slides, pacing down the room and addressing attendees directly, reading
notes from his mobile phone.
29. JESSE JAMES GARRETT, ADAPTIVE PATH
(*) Mr Garret's Memphis Plenary had a central question at its core: why are we
still fighting yesterday's wars? Why are we not pressing on? What we have done
so far is only a part of what information architecture is. We talk about taxonomies,
thesaurus, controlled vocabulary, metadata, faceted classification, navigation,
content management, tagging. These are tools, methods, our hammers and nails.
30. JESSE JAMES GARRETT, MEMPHIS PLENARY
We agree that some IA
is better than no IA
But is there such a
thing as “bad IA”?
(*) And while we discuss hammers, we are not aware the world has moved on.
We are not addressing the proverbial elephant in the room. Those methods, they
helped us prove that yes, IA is real and valuable. We agree IA is real. It is good.
Sure we want IA, and some IA is better than no IA, as your iPhones can testify
(as in: they need more). But is there such a thing as "bad IA"? If you do what Mr
Garrett called a “thorough, responsible job, following all the agreed-upon best
practices”, can you still come up with a very bad solution? Mr Garrett thought
nobody could provide an answer to that question. I think he was right.
31. DO WE NEED POETICS?
(*) It's 2013. Suppose Mr Garrett is still right (as I said, I agree) and we cannot
critique information architecture. That means, we cannot say if any given
information architecture we see is either good or bad, and to what degree. Do we
need a poetic of information architecture then? Is it going to make any difference?
32. LOU ROSENFELD, ROSENFELD MEDIA
(*) Well, if I cannot say what is good or bad, then why should I pay big money to
Lou Rosenfeld and have him rehaul my company's digital presence when his
work is indistinguishable from what my 13-year-old daughter can concoct on
Weebly over a weekend?
33. Responsive omni-channel design
Can’t beat our hourly fees
Call +46 95 146349 for a quote
USE CODE: GANGNAMSTYLE
(*) (BTW, she's very good at layouts and child labor is not a problem at our house.
Give us a call and use the code you see on the screen for a discount or just talk
to me after the plenary).
34. (*) I think we all agree we certainly have a naïve appreciation of what is good and
what is bad. But what we ordinarily do, which is wing it mostly on the basis of
some inclinations that we would have troubles substantiating into anything more
than personal opinions, is not really something we should be proud of as
researchers, educators, practitioners. One day, Facebook is the mother of all
evils: it cropped my picture wrong and ate my witty reply to some friend's lolcat.
Then, when Facebook hires me to redo their messaging system, I suddenly see
the light. Facebook is the Garden of Eden, and the rest of the world a bunch of
elitists. 1.15 billion people are using Facebook, right? I'm afraid this is not really a
satisfactory answer. Too many dimensions are lost here. Good or bad, our
judgment stays skin-deep. We need to go deeper. This is even more important if
you consider that the overwhelming majority of artifacts we have around us are
not the product of “design”, or genius design, but rather of tradition, craft or
35. PHILIPPE STARCK, JUICY SALIF
(*) For any Juicy Salif citrus presser Philippe Starck can come up with while
sketching squids on a napkin, you have a thousand
36. http://www.flickr.com/photos/stazee/6955099577/ STAZI KOLOSOVA, KITCHENWARE - CC BY 2.0
(*) run-of-the-mill kitchen tools that are simply meant to work for a given amount
37. (*) For any Thonet chair, the simple elegance of a few pieces of wood steamed
and bent into obedience, you have a million traditional chairs with no genius
pedigree whatsoever. For any of us who has a sparkle, there's a million groping
more or less blindly in the darkness, doing the best we can, following in the
footsteps of the common language of the trade. We might have no greatness in
us: that's fine, we can live with that. That's why establishing a need for an explicit
approach to poetics, a common understanding of what poetics is and what it
means for information architecture is absolutely necessary.
38. GASTON BACHELARD
(*) I need to get a book into this conversation. Gaston Bachelard wrote “The
Poetics of Space” in 1964. It was a radical reframing of how human space was to
be interpreted. It is an important book for what it says, and for it significance:
poetics of space? How is that possible? How can we read space?
39. A HOUSE THAT HAS BEEN EXPERIENCED IS
NOT AN INERT BOX
INHABITED SPACE TRANSCENDS
(*) Bachelard brings in interior narrative as a fundamental element of
understanding space, and he starts from the house, the closet, as perfect
micro-representations of our personal universes. In those same years, Otto
Bollnow was writing Of Man and Space, working on an idea of anthropological
space, that is, a human space of relationships, which made place the center of
conversations. Both books basically tell us that there's much to space and place
40. THE HOUSE IS THE FIRST UNIVERSE WHICH
SHAPES ALL SUBSEQUENT OTHERS
THE HOUSE IS THE SHELTER OF IMAGINATION
41. SETTING IS THE ARCHITECTURE AROUND
WHICH A STORY REVOLVES
(*) Setting (Andrew Hinton would probably call it context and I tend to give it the
connotation of place), says Bachelard, is much more than background scenery. It
is the architecture around which a story revolves. Plot and character are certainly
important, but setting is up there with them. This is why so many stories we might
have heard a million times still resonate with us.
42. PLACE IS THE ARCHITECTURE AROUND
WHICH A STORY REVOLVES
(*) Place is the architecture around which our narratives and our sense-making
revolve. It is the locus where the prose of information architecture resides. Place
is not bound by geometries, websites, mobile apps, or bits: neither is information
43. J. R. R. TOLKIEN, THE HALL OF BAG END
(*) Place is where we pause and dwell. The nest from where our stories begin.
Even imaginary stories. Even stories that happen in information space. Or that
cross borders constantly.
44. (*) Bachelard is examining architecture. The house is also a powerful archetype.
Is such a structured poetic to be found also in utilitarian buildings? In services? In
the day-to-day work of us who are not the Gehrys, the Moores, or the Nolans of
our generation? The answer is positive. Yes, only even more visible, naive,
unfiltered, unaware. Unsophisticated. Waving in the wind, running behind fads.
We can see this clearly in the media. How the good or bad vibrations of any
period are best represented and made explicit, mostly inadvertently, in its
B-movies and its pulp fiction. Or in the craft of those who play, at different levels
of skills, with the structure of things to produce new meanings.
45. STEPHEN KING, IT
(*) I must confess at this point that I love Stephen King. I'm a big fan. Even when
not at his best, the man is a skilled artisan. You probably have at least heard of
this novel, written in 1985: if nothing else, you have seen the TV miniseries,
whose only merit is probably that of confirming clowns are scary as hell ...
46. TIM CURRY, IT
(*) … and they are even scarier if you might happen to picture them in stilettos
and a guepiere because you were around in the 1970s and 1980s. Anyway, the
story is a quintessential postmodern tale that recaps 60 years of American
monster stories. King plays roughly and elegantly with all stereotypes, giving us a
melancholic elegy that is primarily about childhood and its magic, its monsters,
and how growing up is forgetting, losing the shine. Nothing of this transpires in the
miniseries, btw. This is all about setting, about creating new meanings from
restructuring consolidated patterns, which is like saying understanding the poetics
of the horror story, prying them open, and exposing the machinery. King is a
master crafter when it comes to this sort of literary game, which is why I love all of
his writing even when it's clear he's not really making an effort.
47. (*) Such as in this case, for example.
48. GEORGE LUCAS, STARWARS
(*) When Star Wars came out in 1977, what is now Episode IV – A New Hope if
you pay any attention to George Lucas at all (and I think we all love George
Lucas the way we love the deranged uncle who comes to visit in his underpants,
that is, with a certain amount of suffering), I was one of the kids who sat in a
cinema and sucked that movie in. I loved it. It took ewoks and a storyline that was
crazier than the stories you hear at an Italian family reunion to sober me up. I
didn't want to be witness to Darth Vader charging in his underpants (and I'm sure
you appreciate the irony), and I'm glad I got to avoid those Jar Jar Binkses
everyone talks about.
49. AKIRA KUROSAWA, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS
(*) One of the things I didn't know at the time was that Mr Lucas, geeky as hell
and fresh out of cinema school, had basically constructed what is arguably his
masterpiece refitting Kurosawa's “Hidden Fortress” in space. Now, I leave that for
you to ponder (KUROSAWA! IN SPACE!) whenever you feel the urge to watch
anything with General Grievous or young emo Darth Vader in it. In his
underpants. What is interesting to us, is that this is again a remix that is based on
understanding the poetics of a specific language. In this case, that of cinema. The
point being that, as much as in the best of King's work, most of what is valuable
here comes from having some poetics we can rely on in the first place. Breaking
new grounds through a thorough comprehension of the topoi a well-known
grammar gives us.
50. GUILLERMO DEL TORO, PACIFIC RIM
(*) For those of you who are still a few years away from your hearing aids and
might have issues relating to the original Star Wars, there's a very recent example
which I believe played too well with the mechanics of poetics within a specific
subgenre: mechas and monsters. I mean, this should be better than bacon, right?
51. GUILLERMO DEL TORO, PACIFIC RIM
(*) Unfortunately, Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim stays so within the boundaries
of the genre that our reactions are either unfiltered awe, as we are 11 again, or
total disconnection. I loved the movie, but I understand that for many cliches are
not appreciated as the postmodern game they are supposed to be, irony and
pastiche, but as literal declarations, and they hence fall short of delivering any
52. HIDEAKI ANNO, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION
(*) So, regardless of Mr Del Toro himself producing long lists of the anime and live
action shows that he intended to homage and bring to life again, most of the
cognoscenti have been hand picking references as betrayals, with a special
attention to how supposedly Pacific Rim is a “rip off” of the cult Japanese anime
Neon Genesis Evangelion. A concept, that of rip off, that we could frame as one of
the basic element of the poetics of postmodernism.
53. WE HAVE TO BE CONSCIOUS OF THE STRINGS
ANDREW HINTON, LINKOSOPHY
(*) Where does this take us? Well, there’s machinery working. Being naïve could
only take us so far. While the viewers might be blissfully unaware of the ugly
mess that produces meaning for them, the director, the actors, the screenwriters
have to be conscious of how the machinery works. Are we? To what extent? Do
we know all the tricks of the strings and pulleys that move stage props behind the
scenes? I'm afraid not. Even if we do, we are doing a Del Toro here.
54. (*) Do we need a poetic of information architecture? Not necessarily, I would say,
if all we long for is 5pm and Fridays. If all we aspire to is Weebly or something
equivalent. If we don't fear a Pacific Rim meltdown (and I'm not speaking in terms
of financial success, but in terms of cultural acceptance and relevance).
55. WE NEED POETICS
(*) But if we are shooting higher, if we want to describe something in terms of
good and bad, if we want to have a language of critique, we need poetics.
If we want to get away from having opinions about people and hold positions
about artifacts, we need poetics.
So many conversations we have are never about the artifact itself. They are
conversations about someone's public persona and as such, at least to me, as
interesting as knowing Miss Universe's one-sentence solution for world peace.
Conversations about conversations. Poetics are a way to structure a language of
critique so that we can justify a specific reification of someone's beliefs, and
discuss that. Right now, we are only presumptuously using artifacts to ignite a
dialog about the ideas we might have in our head, with the Weeblies of the world
in the background.
56. YOU ARE THE ARCHITECTS
YOU ARE ARCHITECTING THIS PROCESS
Lisa Welchman, “You are the Architects”
(*) In the end, if we want to mature this field and really become the architects Lisa
was talking about, we need poetics.
57. WHAT POETICS
(*) Poetics is not fads and fashion. After some 20 years, we can recognize fads
when they come along. Most of these are skin-level, and do not really produce
significant changes to the information architecture. I personally have no problems
with fads, but I have a problem when we confuse layers, the finger and the moon,
as we might be missing something.
58. (*) A couple of weeks ago this blog post was all over the Internets. “Cards are the
future of the Web”. And the post is cute. Only, it is horribly superficial. I'm pretty
sure cards are the way to go. I'm not the only one to think it is so either.
59. JOI ITO, http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/6148366348/, CCBY 2.0 DAVID WEINBERGER
(*) David Weinberger wrote “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” in 2002. It's a lucid
description of the changes brought along by the Internet.
60. THE WEB HAS BLOWN DOCUMENTS APART
(*) And it definitely addresses the problem of “cards”. It only gets it right. “The
Web has blown documents apart”.
61. THE STRUCTURE OF DOCUMENTS HAS
CHANGED, NOT JUST THE WAY THEY ARE
CONNECTED TO ONE ANOTHER
(*) “The structure of documents has changed, not just the way they are connected
to one another”.
62. BOUNDED VOLUMES BECOME COLLECTIONS
THAT THE READER CAN CONSULT IN THE
ORDER SHE WANTS
D. Weinberger,2002.Small Pieces Loosely Joined
(*) “Bounded volumes become collections that the reader can consult in the order
63. (*) So, apart from being somewhat 11 years late to the game, why does that blog
post miss its mark? Because it conflates a structural change, an information
architecture change, the real change we should be working on and certainly not a
change that happened three weeks ago, with a change in visual styling. Cards are
not important because Google loves them, they use overly thin fonts, a flat look
and lots of white.
64. (*) Cards are important because that is what we do and we have been doing ever
since the idea of Web 2.0 came around.
65. (*) My Facebook page is cards. And this is a profound shift from what we had in
the late 90s. Only, it does not stop there and it's not about cards. It is about
understanding the deeper level at which systems that span many different
channels, places and devices work. It is about understanding the underlying
poetics. Facebook is about remediation, user participation, correlation, linking,
connecting, showing off, turning yourself into a museum of you, a calculated
mixture of the rough and raw and the constructed. It is about post-production
filtering and the linearity of Western time (Would a Balinese FB work the same
way, with the same timeline? I seriously doubt it). How do we move in to
appreciate the way all the different elements come together to produce effects,
and what effects, on the actors within a system without being mindless
66. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
(*) A foundational question is whether we can reuse or adapt elements of critique
from other languages. My answer to this is yes, we can and we should. Making
sense of experiences is what narrative and place-making have always been
doing. We can read a book and be elsewhere, as much as we do when we follow
Luke away from Tatooine. This is like saying new media and architecture can
certainly provide key elements to what is really “one” of the possible poetics of IA.
Others might consider different aspects, or have a different reading of people,
artifacts, and events. In time, this will develop in schools of thought, and in
different languages of critique, including most probably a Reissian critique of IA
that will involve a lot of snarky tweets and quite a few canard a l'orange.
67. INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE IS THE
APPLICATION OF ARCHITECTURAL
PRINCIPLES TO THE DOMAIN OF
Lucas,Ballay &McManus, Trillions
(*) But my take is that information architecture is application of architectural
principles, where architecture here as a capital A, to the domain of information in
both physical and digital space. Since Memphis, a few people have been
contributing to a conversation that has moved IA behind those war stories shared
between veterans Mr Garrett was talking about. In no particular order and with no
pretense for this to be exhaustive (this is my poetics, this is my list):
68. JORGE ARANGO
(*) Jorge Arango, fellow architect, past president of the Information Architecture
Institute, a love of Disney and Alexander. Read his article Architectures at the
Journal of IA.
69. DAN KLYN, THE UNDERSTANDING GROUP
(*) Dan Klyn, of TUG. Also teaching information architecture at the University of
Michigan, not a simple heirloom to manage.
70. (*) Dan has been investigating the relationship between architecture and design,
and is single-handedly responsible for bringing Richard Saul Wurman back into
71. JASON HOBBS, NOMENSA
(*) Jason Hobbs, a partner in crime.
72. JOHANNESBURG ART GALLERY
(*) His investigations to bring information architecture in as a way to solve wicked
problems in cross-channel ecosystems, such as his work at the Joburg Art
Gallery, and his research and teaching with Terence Fenn at the University of
Johannesburg run through any conversations you have been having at this
73. ANDREW HINTON, THE UNDERSTANDING GROUP
(*) Andrew Hinton, of TUG. Andrew has been around forever. He's currently
writing a book on context, and be sure you read it when it comes out.
74. (*) In 2008, Andrew delivered the closing plenary at the IA Summit with his talk on
Linkosophy. This is a fascinating talk on the disruptive power of hyperlinking, and
an early take on information architecture as architecture.
75. SHAPING CONTEXT AND CONNECTIONS IS AN
ACT OF ARCHITECTURE
A NEW FORM OF SPACE REQUIRES A NEW
FORM OF ARCHITECTURE
SPACE MADE OF INFORMATION REQUIRES
ANDREW HINTON, LINKOSOPHY
(*) I'm with Andrew here, but saying that I believe that information architecture is
mostly about architecting information, and not informing architectures (or
whatever), does not make thing immediately simpler. Quite the contrary. We don't
get ready made poetics we can use as-is, as sometimes it seems we are keen on
doing. This is a different thing. When we apply directly, we are still committing sins
of shallowness. For example, something I hear a lot is that we should strive for
simplicity. Simplicity is highly valued in architecture, right? Seems like a good
foundation for a poetics of information architecture, wouldn't you say so?
76. http://www.flickr.com/photos/frogfoto/ RICHARD STERN
(*) Me, I'm not sure. This is a postdigital world, where physical and digital are
constantly remixed in unpredictable ways, and not the world of the 1930s.
77. LUDWIG MIES VAN DERROHE
(*) Because if we say simplicity, that's what we are thinking of: the 1920s and
1930s, and this is the man: Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. German-American
architect, last director of the Bauhaus in Berlin, then in Chicago.
78. LESS IS MORE
Ludwig Mies VanDer Rohe
He of “Less is more” and one of the giants of Modernism. Died in 1969 so he sure
carries no responsibility for the icons you have in your phone now. Just so you
79. MIES VAN DER ROHE, BARCELONA PAVILLION
(*) The Barcelona Pavillion, which is really the German pavilion at the Barcelona
Exposition in 1929, is one of Mies' most famous and exemplary works. Straight
lines, free plan, primary surfaces and volumes. An apotheosis of Modern
architecture, of simplicity if you will, of the right true way to do things. It also hides
an extreme attention to detail.
80. GOD IS IN THE DETAILS
Ludwig Mies VanDer Rohe
(*) Maybe you don't know this, but Mies used to say also that “God is in the
details”. But I agree, “Less is more” is definitely more catchy in more secular
81. MIES VAN DER ROHE, BARCELONA PAVILLION
82. (*) Anyway, I'm pretty sure most of you are thinking of the Google homepage.
Less is definitely more here, as opposed to the original ordered clutter of Yahoo!
Google was replacing. So, this is the way to go right? Simplicity. Take away as
much as you can, what remains is what is necessary, Watson.
83. ROCOCOPALACE, LATE BAROQUE
(*) Right. But unfortunately, that means we could probably not only ditch most of
the heritage of Rococo, late Baroque, and some hundred years of architecture,
but also that papers such as ...
84. (*) … Aftonbladet, founded 1830, on the Internet since 1994 and one of the top
five visited sites in Sweden, are wrong. Go tell them that. Don't forget: less is
more is a Modernist take. We can't pick and choose (this is what postmodernism
does). If we go modern, we go modern all the way.
85. SHIGERU BAN
(*) Simplicity is also where architecture is not going today. And the reason is
simple: we cannot intepret today's postdigital world through a simplified, trivialized
version of Modernism or Postmodernism. Today's poetics follow other paths.
Shigeru Ban is a Japanese architect who works mostly with paper and recycled
cardboard and on architectures of emergency, post-natural disasters. One of his
most famous works, is the
86. SHIGERU BAN, CENTRE POMPIDOU METZ
(*) Centre Pompidou in Metz. The central spire reaches 77 m in height, alluding to
the 1977 opening date of the original centre in Paris. It is a splendid work, with a
complex roof inspired by a traditional chinese hat.
87. SHIGERU BAN, CENTRE POMPIDOU METZ
(*) It really shines inside. This is a detail of the ceiling. Complexity is key here.
88. ARTISTS DO NOT CREATE TO EXPRESS
SOMETHING THEY ALREADY FEEL
THEY ARE ON A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
(*) Form follows function, less is more, simple, responsive, baroque flourishes. I
do not think that any poetics of information architecture can be easily described
through any such simple formalism. They do not go deep enough.
Could you appreciate the architectures of information of today through a website
only? No. Could you do that through a mobile app? No. You only appreciate the IA
through exposure to the complex cross-channel nature of the service. As much as
architecture or city planning, we confront systems. And we do that in
pseudo-modernist settings. This is not a postmodern world of authorial citations
anymore. This is Blair Witch time, not John Carpenter's Halloween.
(*) In today's post Postmodern settings, that is, pseudo-modern, the radical
change is the absence of authors. Think Facebook, the billion individual voices
becoming Facebook. Texts are not merely observed. Texts do not last as-is very
long either: they are located within the space of participation and continuously
reinvented. Cinema, television, novels, videogames, the Web, they all converge
and merge into the multiplicity of many complex, individually-determined
ecosystems. Think reality tv, with their fictional depictions of the raw and uncut.
There, and in the Facebook and Twitters of the world, we are flexing our muscles
trying to test out the statements we will have to turn into a fully formed idea of
poetics that works across multiple channels. Through linearity, multiplicity,
enclosure, openness, separation, vicinity, correlation, consistency, place-making:
this is what we do information architecture with. These are the elements from
which we can build a postdigital, pseudo-modern poetics of information
architecture. I think I can make you see this better with an example.
90. JAKE BARTON, THE MUSEUM OF YOU - TEDhttp://www.ted.com/talks/jake_barton_the_museum_of_you.html
(*) Let me take you back 12 years, to 9/11.
91. JAKE BARTON, THE MUSEUM OF YOU - TEDhttp://www.ted.com/talks/jake_barton_the_museum_of_you.html
92. DAVE Z, 9/11 MEMORIAL - CC BY 2.0http://www.flickr.com/photos/zawrotny/8306069668/
(*) The 9/11 Memorial in New York occupies the location where the World Trade
Center towers stood and is part of a larger installation that comprises also the
93. SHANNON, 9/11 MEMORIAL - CC 2.0 BYhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/shan213/6497379005/
(*) The memorial is first and foremost a tribute to the people who lost their lives in
the tragic events of that day: on the planes, in the towers, among the first
responders, the police and the firefighters. Many of them.
94. JAKE BARTON, THE MUSEUM OF YOU - TEDhttp://www.ted.com/talks/jake_barton_the_museum_of_you.html
(*) The architect of the memorial, Michael Arad, had this image in mind of a long
procession of names, all undifferentiated, sort of random. You understand this is a
difficult proposition for survivors, relatives of victims, the foundation curating the
memorial, for everyone. Negotiations took a long time. A solution was eventually
found, and a decision was made not to adopt a specific order, either chronological
or alphabetical, but to weave a sense of place and meaning into the memorial
spaces through careful use of semantics, linking, and positioning. Place-making.
95. JAKE BARTON, THE MUSEUM OF YOU - TEDhttp://www.ted.com/talks/jake_barton_the_museum_of_you.html
96. JAKE BARTON, THE MUSEUM OF YOU - TEDhttp://www.ted.com/talks/jake_barton_the_museum_of_you.html
(*) An algorithm was devised and implemented to manage the massive amount of
data and connect all of these names wherever it made sense. When families were
requesting that friends or relatives had to be connected somehow, for example.
97. INSAPPHOWETRUST, FLIGHT 175 SECTION - CC BY 2.0http://www.flickr.com/photos/skinnylawyer/6445784715/
98. JAKE BARTON, THE MUSEUM OF YOU - TEDhttp://www.ted.com/talks/jake_barton_the_museum_of_you.html
(*) Here you can see, in different colors, the software showing the four flights, the
towers, the individual floors inside the towers, the first responders. The reddish
lines are some of the connections between individuals that were requested by the
families. Friends, relatives, perfect strangers that tried to help each other.
99. YOU CAN SEE THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE EVENT
REFLECTED INSIDE THE MEMORIAL
Jake Barton,The Museum of You
(*) Your visit to the memorial after you leave the museum is informed and
enriched by these multiple orders. It is an underlying organization that shapes and
structures your interactions. As Dan Klyn would say, somebody asked “What”
should we do before getting to “How” we are going to do it. That What is a
powerful act of information architecture, and it is an invitation to discover our own
personal path through the labyrinth of names and stories. It is a declaration of
poetics, of equality, complexity, and meaning, and it informs this place.
You can find an amazing video on TED that illustrates the project, The Museum of
You. Most of the images you have seen come from there.
100. INSAPPHOWETRUST, FLIGHT 11 SECTION - CC BY 2.0http://www.flickr.com/photos/skinnylawyer/6451065227/
(*) American Airlines Flight 11, heading from Boston to Los Angeles, has a special
place in the history of 9/11. Flight attendant Betty Ong was the person who got
the world to know what was happening. As soon as the plane was hijacked, she
managed to call an American Airlines reservation center. Ong (and her colleague
Sweeney) continued to report until Flight 11 finally and tragically crashed into the
Ong's name is now part of the memorial. We can weave her story into our own
different, individual trajectories through the tragedy that was 9/11, connect her to
people who were in the tower, or that were killed while trying their best to save
The poetics of information architecture that the 9/11 memorial brings to life reflect
the spirit of a different order, bringing not unity but multiplicity and complexity, and
speaking through many different voices to our many selves dispersed across the
multiple media and channels through which their stories can reach us.
Poetics built on the strong, solid prose of information architecture.