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Context Design (beta2) World IA Day 2013

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CONTEXT DESIGN
INFORMATION as ARCHITECTURE (beta)




World IA Day | Ann Arbor | 2013
Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
What do we mean by “Information
                                                              Environment”??




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Context Design (beta2) World IA Day 2013

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My talk for World IA Day 2013, based on a book I'm writing. This is another permutation, somewhat different from the first "beta" talk I did in the fall. More about book: http://inkblurt.com/contextbook/

My talk for World IA Day 2013, based on a book I'm writing. This is another permutation, somewhat different from the first "beta" talk I did in the fall. More about book: http://inkblurt.com/contextbook/

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Context Design (beta2) World IA Day 2013

  1. 1. CONTEXT DESIGN INFORMATION as ARCHITECTURE (beta) World IA Day | Ann Arbor | 2013 Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  2. 2. What do we mean by “Information Environment”?? Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt (This is another iteration of a talk about a topic I’ve been writing a book about (for O’Reilly Media). More information available at http://inkblurt.com/contextbook ) About 10 years ago when our community started the IA Institute, one of the questions we had to tackle was - what is IA? It’s been a long conversation ever since. The more concrete, tactical part of the definition (about art/science of org/labeling websites, etc) was helpful for making IA sound relevant to business concerns back in 2002, and it is still part of the picture. But it tended to be used instead of the other one (that used to be listed second) -- the structural design of shared information environments. But what do we mean by that phrase? It sounded right at the time, but we still don’t have anything really undergirding that phrase.
  3. 3. Labels Card Sorting Mental Models Navigation Methods Facets Tools Controlled Affinity Diagrams Taxonomies Hyperlinks Processes Vocabularies Thesaurus Task Analysis Hierarchies Ontologies Context Models What’s underneath that makes these things work (or not)? Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt We have a lot of methods, but not a lot of understanding about why or how they actually work. Kind of like antidepressants. We also tend to talk about a lot of things like “understanding” and “information” and whatnot -- but what do we mean by those things? We need more rigor, more science - I don’t mean information science but science about humans.
  4. 4. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Curated, complex information environment. Physical objects, digital interfaces, lots of language and labels around. All connected together to form a whole experience. This is a highly controlled version of the world we now live in -- which is more emergent, messier, but even more pervasively connected & digitally enabled.
  5. 5. Reality hacking. Context “Fountain” | Marcel Duchamp ~ 1917 Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Recognize this? >> This was named by art experts as the most influential work of art of the 20th century. Not because of its beauty, but because it signaled & partly catalyzed a rift in how we think about culture. Duchamp and friends grabbed a urinal and signed it with a fake artist’s name, and entered it in an art show. It didn’t get in -- but then they publicized the “injustice” of being rejected so widely it became famous, and started conversations about what the nature of art really is. Who decides it? >> And it was all done by adding a bit of language to an object. By changing its context. >> It’s a sort of reality hacking. Why? I’ve been convinced for years now that the central problem set for information architecture is the understanding and shaping of context.
  6. 6. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Context has been in the air lately. Just about a year ago, John Seely Brown tweeted this about context. I grabbed a screenshot because it’s precisely the thought that had been bugging me for many years: that we aren’t only designing *for* context, we’re creating it.
  7. 7. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Here’s the coiner of the word “cyberspace” quipping on context as well.
  8. 8. Information changes how we experience the flickr - uicdigital physical. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Information (in the sense we tend to mean it colloquially) is what creates and changes much of what we consider to be contextual reality. Look at this photo -- there’s information everywhere in this scene. >>The lines on the road tell us where to drive; the traffic light is a virtual barrier that affects our behavior; the road signs give us a layer of instruction that adds meaning to the city around us. without the information here, it would quite literally be a different place. Really, you could have civilization without cars, lightposts and buildings, but you couldn’t have it without language. Language is our reality in many ways. And a city is as much a construct made of language - speech as well as labels, signs, other semantic artifacts - as one made of atoms.
  9. 9. Digital systems control more of our semantic life. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Here’s another city intersection - this one in Dublin. Now the signs aren’t static. Whereas we’ve lived with signs/labels that were always persistently part of the surfaces they were on, now the surface and the semantic meaning aren’t always persistently tied. Context shifts with the twinkle of an LED.
  10. 10. flickr - aokkone More pervasive; more immersive. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Now look at today. When you’re using a GPS, where are you driving? Your brain merges the information from the device with what you’re seeing in the windshield. They become essentially the same. So now we’re in even richer information environments.
  11. 11. http://www.notorietyinc.com/blog/volkswagen-x-mit-a-i-d-a-holographic-dashboard-gps-navigator-video More pervasive; more immersive. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt In fact, research is happening now to actually increase the detail & realism the information dimension for drivers.
  12. 12. Information makes places, kind of like this picture makes a pipe. If you could smoke the pipe. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt This is the famous Magritte painting -- it says “this is not a pipe” The picture definitely shows a pipe but it’s not a real pipe you can smoke. >>Information is kind of like this in the way it makes places. >>Except for a key difference that, with Information, you can smoke the pipe.
  13. 13. photo: http://cjsd.blogspot.com/2008/03/day-d20- Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt died.html Recognize this? It’s a home-made dungeon for Dungeons & Dragons. This is an information environment -- but it’s only barely part of the physical world. It’s all just information. But we experienced it as feeling very real, with real consequences and meaning with our peers. Ok whatever -- that’s D&D. Can’t take that seriously right?
  14. 14. US Constitution Some immersive information frameworks aren’t physical at all. archives.gov Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt What about this? How is this all that different from a D&D ruleset? Some people got together and wrote an information artifact, just words on pages, but it’s the framework the United States has existed within for over 2 centuries. Information is real, and it creates contexts that can have powerful effects on the reality we live in.
  15. 15. We co-inhabit digital publics legislated by engineers. “Beacon” “Buzz” Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Which is why people get so upset when some of the places they live in suddenly change their rules. Without representation, without explanation. What did these two platforms get so wrong? They assumed that, just because the environments they created were digital -- informational -- the rules of physical social context didn’t apply. They oversimplified or ignored some very complex things about how people really live. They treated these designs as software engineering solutions, rather than life solutions.
  16. 16. It’s very hard to make context clear in digital places. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Careful not to have another Buzz debacle, Google has to go to great lengths to explain Google plus. But it’s very hard to do. The environment becomes so beleaguered with labels and narrative that the user has to learn a linguistic construct as well as the more “physical” structures represented in the graphical interface.
  17. 17. vs flickrcom - shimonkey flickr.com - anirudhkoul Obvious difference. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt For example, in physical space, there’s an obvious difference between a little nook in the corner of a room where you can whisper to someone, and a stage in front of thousands of people where a microphone will announce what you say to all of them. Whisper image CC http://flickr.com/photos/shimonkey/447924817/ Crowd image CC http://flickr.com/photos/anirudhkoul/2046282436/ http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
  18. 18. D vs @ flickrcom - shimonkey flickr.com - anirudhkoul Not so obvious. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt But on Twitter, all it takes is D vs @ to make that difference. It changes from requiring a big, physical change to a tiny alphanumeric slip. The information environments we’re creating are littered with these dangerously thin barriers between contexts. Whisper image CC http://flickr.com/photos/shimonkey/447924817/ Crowd image CC http://flickr.com/photos/anirudhkoul/2046282436/ http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
  19. 19. We’ve always lived in language. abcdefghijklmn opqrstuvwxyz abcdefghijklmn opqrstuvwxyz Map = Territory Now we live in software -- language made into machinery. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt photo: http://cjsd.blogspot.com/2008/03/day-d20-died.html We’ve always lived in language -- since the earliest beginnings of civilization, it’s been part of what makes us people. >> But now we also live in software, which is language made into architecture. Places we inhabit. >> The map has become the territory. So, in a weird way, the D&D geeks won ... we all live in their dungeons now.
  20. 20. Existing Context online room The Context we design. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt We aren’t just designing for existing contexts anymore. We are designing the context itself. And the more that information dimension pervades our physical space ...
  21. 21. What we make for the “screen” changes the world “outside the screen.” Existing Context online room The Context we design. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt The more we’re actually designing all human context. >>What we make for the screen changes the world outside the screen.
  22. 22. Actually, we’re turning the world into the “screen.” Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Actually, we’re turning the world into the screen.
  23. 23. We don’t fully understand what we have wrought. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt I don’t think we really understand what we have made. We keep going as if everything we do with this technology just has to be great, but we end up making mistakes and wondering how we screwed up.
  24. 24. A deceptively simple model for context. Situation Agent Understand Subject Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  25. 25. Situation Agent Understand Subject Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt In many of the situations we’re tasked to design for, agent & subject are in the same situation - or are the same entity.
  26. 26. (Did I mention “deceptively” simple?) Situation(s) Subject Subject Subject Subject Agent/ Subject Subject Subject Understand??? Subject Subject Subject Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt The truth is, anything could possibly be an agent or subject... it gets crazy pretty quickly. But still, this simple model can help us look at each major entity in turn, from its perspective. But how do we then understand what that agent is understanding? That’s all about cognition.
  27. 27. Pace Layers “Information Technology” “Information Science” Written / Graphical Language Spoken Language Perception/Cognition Start Here Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt We too often start trying to solve problems beginning with information technology -- or when we’re being *really* insightful, we’ll start with information science. We should begin more often with the most basic, foundational part of human experience - perception & cognition.
  28. 28. Contextual Understanding involves Perception of & Cognition about Information Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  29. 29. Information in Three Modes People communicating with people. Semantic Digital Ecological 10100010 01001000 10100010 01001000 01110011 01110011 Digital systems transmitting to & receiving from other digital systems. Animals (including people) perceiving the environment. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt There’s a long history of people trying to define information. I’m not into defining things so much these days -- I’m more interested in describing them. And that frees us up to understand a thing in more than one mode or dimension -- to be OK with grasping something in all its facets. I think information affects perception and understanding in three major modes.
  30. 30. Semantic Digital Ecological Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Let’s start w/ ecological. What do I mean by that?
  31. 31. Mainstream Cognitive Science (not “ecological”) Brain = Computer that works with representational models of the world & tells body what to do. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt This is still the predominant way of seeing how the brain works. It’s part of the assumptions built into many of our methods and training.
  32. 32. Embodied Cognition (not yet mainstream) So what’s ecological here? Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Embodied cognition differs ... and one strain in particular (called “radical embodied cognition” or “the replacement hypothesis”) says we should not try to marry embodiment with cognitivism -- but start over, replacing representationalist/cognitivist cognitive theory entirely. That’s the camp I’ve found myself aligning with.
  33. 33. James J Gibson - Ecological Psychology of Perception Long sidelined, now hailed as pioneer of embodied cognition. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt JJ Gibson has emerged as a hero of the more radical camp of embodied cognitive theorists. He started out studying WWII pilots - and found that centuries-old assumptions about how people comprehend their environment were simply wrong. His ideas have been acknowledged and quasi-appropriated here and there, but now many are starting to see his whole corpus of thought more clearly -- he was really writing about embodied cognition (but calling it ecological psychology). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception is an amazing read.
  34. 34. Information Pickup Theory The perception-action loop. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt JJ Gibson’s theory of perception involves something called information pickup theory. He’s not talking about information in the Claude Shannon sense of information, but in a different sense -- ecological information in the environment. Intrinsically meaningful because of how we perceive it in our embodied cognitive experience.
  35. 35. A few key ideas from Gibson’s theories Information “pick-up” is perception of evidence of structural variation in surfaces/substances. We perceive the environment in human-scale terms, not scientific abstractions. We perceive environment as “nested,” not logical hierarchy. We perceive elements in the environment as invariant or variant. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  36. 36. The concept for understanding this relationship between perceiver and environment is... AFFORDANCE “... the perceived functional properties of objects, places and events in relation to an individual perceiver.” - JJ Gibson Perception exists only insofar as we perceive affordances. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt JJ Gibson invented the concept of affordance. Others have since popularized it, but gotten it somewhat wrong -- mainly because they’re coming at it from a traditional cognitive-science perspective, not an embodied perspective.
  37. 37. Weather Vane & Watt Steam Governor For both, “thinking” and “acting” are products of their environment. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Like the wind blowing the weather vane, or the steam governor “thinking” that it should slow down the amount of steam entering the engine -- the environment is the origin of our perceptual systems (our bodies -- including our brains).
  38. 38. Sigmund Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt I’ve seen this with my dog, Sigmund. When I try taking him for a walk, he’ll stop as if the ground has grabbed him. Sometimes I’ll let him explore to see what’s up, and it’s almost always something that I didn’t perceive the way he did - either because it wasn’t relevant or because I physically can’t perceive it. I’ve learned a lot by watching my dog figure out the world. It’s not that different from us. He just doesn’t have the rich layer of language draped across the world like we do.
  39. 39. Every use case mapped out for an artificial brain. Supposedly made in our image. ASIMO Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  40. 40. Can’t handle all the possible edge cases. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  41. 41. Use cases not mapped out. The architecture of the body does most of the “thinking.” (The “brain” mainly manages sensors.) “Big Dog” Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  42. 42. You can’t even kick this thing over. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  43. 43. Semantic Digital Ecological Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  44. 44. Language is Environment Language is “a form of mind-transforming cognitive scaffolding: a persisting, though never stationary, symbolic edifice [playing a] critical role in promoting thought and reason” - Andy Clark - Supersizing the Mind Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Humans have created *more environment* through language. We learn its affordances from birth onward. Some theorists have convincingly argued that language has been around long enough for humans that it has been part of shaping our evolution over a million + years.
  45. 45. Contextual clarity requires structure. “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Language brings structure into the world. Like the surfaces, objects, substances, etc that Gibson describes as part of the natural environment (or the built environment) language too comes from the same ecological reality. This joke is a joke because of the structural components of the sentences -- the way they join together, and the way objects within them are detached and contextually ambiguous. Language is environment, not information. Information is what we *pick up* from the learned affordances of the language layer we add to our surroundings.
  46. 46. Ecological & Semantic Information In Conflict Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Don Norman famously talks about the affordances of door handles. In this case, I was walking into a store and did not even notice the sign. This is a situation where ecological information overrode semantic information. I was looking through the glass, into the store I wanted to enter. Peripherally I saw a handle that invited pushing -- afforded that action.
  47. 47. Ecological & Semantic Information In Conflict Which red x???? Looks like a “confirm” action. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Similar issues can happen in interfaces. Logically speaking, the red X’s in the first example are all very different -- but ecologically, they require too much thought to disambiguate. In this app I found myself always deleting rather than declining, closing rather than deleting, etc. In an unsubscribe interface for fab.com, my wife discovered that she was apparently re- subscribing without realizing it, because that big red button -- like a big berry you can’t help but pick -- contextually feels like it’s a confirmation, not a cancellation/re-subscription action.
  48. 48. Which of these will accidentally tweet publicly? Very little semantic or ecological information about what context I’m in Ecological Information / Affordance for action. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt The infamous Twitter “DM Fail” problem is largely caused by users responding to DMs via SMS. In this case, it’s hard to tell: which of these is a Twitter app that will safely allow me to DM someone, and which is my SMS app that will tweet to everyone who follows me? The physicality of the interface can easily override my perception of the semantic information’s differentiating cues.
  49. 49. Digital Information Semantic Digital Ecological Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Digital information is the sort that most serious information professionals will say is “information.” The Claude Shannon formulation.
  50. 50. Digital Information 10100010 10100010 01001000 01001000 01110011 01110011 Black-box, computer-to-computer whisperings. Not meant for direct human contact. (But we do experience its effects in other modes.) Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt
  51. 51. Digital Information Mode Leaking into Semantic Environment Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt We see machines around us trying to get us to perceive what they are saying, or what they want to hear from us. We see them murmuring to each other in weird, noisy machine-only semantics that we do not comprehend either ecologically or semantically. The gas pump above has to have a sticker added to it that explains what “Enter Data” means. The Twitter profile with the iPhone coordinates expresses my location not in a semantic way (the name of a city, for instance) but in a Cartesian grid that I have no contextual orientation for, either semantically or ecologically. The Delta app has information that I, as a human, can read, but it gives priority to the machines that I encounter in the workflow of the airport.
  52. 52. Semantic-information “place” signified by “account” Digital architecture determining ecological & semantic context. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt If I walked into a bank and asked to access an account, it’d be clear what I meant. But online, it can mean different things (my profile-account represents me in the digital context -- and needs a label, which happens to also be “account”). The digital systems behind the scenes at Kohls require that these two things we call “account” be separate - requiring disambiguation. The ontology of ‘account’ is in question here. It’s one of the many sorts of things we have to sort out with language, when we’re working in an environment that’s made of almost nothing *but* language.
  53. 53. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Dan Klyn and TUG came up with this diagram that explains how ontology is at the center of what we’re doing. Strangely, when I tried finding the word “ontology” in IA texts, it’s almost nonexistent. I’ve honestly not paid much attention to ontology for many years, but it turns out to be one of the central things we’re overlooking when attending to how we shape context.
  54. 54. ONTOLOGY What am I? What is my world? How do I exist in it? Please describe a formal, explicit specification of a shared conceptualization for purposes of structuring semantic data. 00101011100100101110100101 Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Ontology can be the philosophical sort, or the information technology/science sort. A big part of what IA should be doing is bridging these two planes of existence.
  55. 55. “Friend?” Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt I can’t get enough of using this slide because it points out how the mechanistic golems we create can oversimplify what we mean with the words we use. One of the big problems Facebook and Google have both run into is a facile conflation of the word “friend” into a data entity -- when in reality, “friend” has nearly infinite shades of meaning in our lives.
  56. 56. What is “card” in this environment? Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Lowes launched a service called MyLowes -- that requires the registration of a card. But they also have a “Lowe’s Card” that’s a consumer credit card. Conversations at checkout can end up like a “who’s on first” routine -- “do you have your Lowe’s card?” “My Lowe’s card? That’s what I’m paying with.” “No I mean your ‘my lowe’s’ card.” “This IS my lowe’s card!”
  57. 57. Shopping Simultaneously in a Store & the Cloud Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt Now that retailers are trying to be in the cloud and on the ground at the same time, context is especially confounding. It requires a great deal of work to situate the user’s perception of place.
  58. 58. Subway station + Food store Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt And here we have a situation where a subway station is also filled with pictures of products that you can actually buy -- not unlike Magritte pipes that you can smoke. With the QR code sprinkled throughout -- digital information wrapped in massive simulacra of ecological information -- plus the semantic information of labels/brands. This could have just been a list of words with QR codes next to them, but perhaps wisely, the retailer decided to create the place in our image, to help bring the “reality” of shopping for groceries into what would otherwise override perception as a subway station.
  59. 59. Information Architecture uses Labels, Connections & Rules to create the structural design of information environments. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt In essence, IA uses Labels, Connections and Rules to create structural design of information environments. Labels aren’t something added to the world as an afterthought -- they are the keystones of human life. Connections between labels, places, actions -- these are the links that bring relationships and structure to all the things we label. And the rules (something we tend to overlook as part of IA) are the dynamic agency that can shift and change the contextual experience we inhabit. This is just a scratch in the surface of what it means to do information architecture, but I hope it’s getting us a bit closer to understanding what we mean when we say “information environment” and when we say we are creating architectures with information.
  60. 60. Thank You. Andrew Hinton | @inkblurt

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