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Make Sense
Information Architecture for Everybody
by:
Abby the IA
What the
#$%@ is the
information
age?
- my dad
Our world is a mess.
A large part of this mess is made of
information.
A tsunami of information
is still headed our way...
*HT Richard Saul Wurman
No matter
what our job,
our world is
full of messes
we must make
sense of
The majority of messes we
face are made of information
(and people)
In 2014 the average
American will spend
40+ hours a month
wading through...
...places made
of information
and make approximately 70
conscious decisions every day
*HT Sheena S Iyengar
We are all experiencing information overload
...and with that comes information anxiety
*HT Richard Saul Wurman
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
Every thing
is complex.
We have to get
comfortable with
making sense of
complexity
Rabbit Hole
of Complexity
Everyone has an opinion
and it can be frustrating to
really talk things out
Frustration occurs when
people have different models
in their minds
Creating
objects
allows us to
discuss &
compare
differing
models
When we have something in
common to point to we can
reach consensus more easily
With consensus
comes momentum
But often it is more than
two people, and more than
two models to reconcile...
A mess like this can
easily feel impossible
to make sense of
Many people get
overwhelmed at this point
They think of ways to hide
the mess...
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
...the mess is still a mess.
...but they have bought time.
Until the mess grows
(as all messes do when given time)
Information Architecture (IA)
tools and concepts help people make sense
of messes made of information (and people)
IA tools and concepts are NOT hard to learn.
NOR are they expensive to teach.
Yet IA tools and concepts
are not taught (or used) as often
as they ought be.
As a result many adults don’t understand the
very basics of architecting information
Yet they architect information daily, for either
their job or their life or both.
Results vary ;)
Everyone
Architects Information
Information
Architecture
in 5 basic lessons
What isn’t information?
Lesson 1
Thinking about
information
as material is hard
Every thing has
information
Information can be
made from the lack
of physical material
There is no true
information
There is only spin
Data is mined
Information is architected
All information
has place(s)
within a
nested set of
architectures
The level of
focus changes
the details you
can see
These levels of
place are deeply
“intertwingled”
*HT Ted Nelson
Change at one level
can have implications
at another level
1. Know your material & level
2. Start to unravel “truth”
Next Steps:
Language Matters
Lesson 2
Ontology
Taxonomy
Choreography
*HT	
  Dan	
  Klyn
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
Meaning is subjective
Meaning is demographic
Meaning is socio political
Meaning gets lost in translation
Meaning is complex
h"p://6thfloor.blogs.ny2mes.com/2011/05/20/words-­‐we-­‐dont-­‐say/
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
Start with language
not interfaces
Remember
language is not
just words
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
We call this an
“uncontrolled” vocabulary
Uncontrolled vocabularies
increase linguistic
insecurity
People suffering from
linguistic insecurity aren’t as
easy to talk things out with
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:
Structure is Rhetoric
Lesson 3
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
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.
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
There is “technically”
no right or wrong way
to structure information
There is “academically”
no right or wrong way
to structure information
There is “theoretically”
no right or wrong way
to structure information
All you can do is measure
your results against your
rhetorical intent
Information Architecture
always exists
How you architect your
information says something
about who you are
“It takes knowledge to know a
tomato is a fruit. It takes wisdom
to not put one in a fruit salad”
- Miles Kington
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:
Define Good
Realistically
Lesson 4
Good depends
on intent
• 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
• 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
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:
Make Diagrams
& Prototypes
Lesson 5
Diagrams help us
Diagrams help us
compare our models
Diagram types should be
collected but also continually
invented for your context
Prototypes help us
h"p://usabilitygeek.com/wp-­‐content/uploads/2012/08/Introduc2on-­‐Website-­‐Usability-­‐Tes2ng-­‐Car.jpg
test our ideas
Remember
to zoom in
and out as
you work
Remember that
when you are a
hammer...
...everything looks
like a wireframe
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:
Information Architecture
is not just for Information Architects
If you make things,
you are probably already
practicing information
architecture
Practicing IA requires
bravery, but does not
require permission
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 IAInstitute.org
... Before you go ...
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
...my 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 )
How to
Make Sense
of Any Mess
@Abby_the_IA
http://abbytheia.com/makesense/
Sign up to receive an email when pre sale opens this fall:
THANKS
(Ships Fall 2014)

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