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The Architecture 
of Understanding 
Peter Morville, O’Reilly Webcast
Nature
Isle Royale National Park
Planning 
Inspiration
Playing 
Practicing 
Planning
“With respect to learning by failure, it’s all fun and 
games until someone gets a larval cyst in the brain.”
Everything should be made as simple 
as possible, but not simpler.
“There is a problem in discussing 
systems only with words. Words and 
sentences must, by necessity, come only 
one at a time in linear, logical order. 
Systems happen all at once. They are 
connected not just in one direction, but 
in many directions simultaneously.”
Food Scarcity 
(overpopluation) 
T T 
T T 
Inflow 
(birth rate) 
Outflow 
(death rate) 
Stock 
(population) 
Disease 
(canine parvovirus) 
Immigration 
(via ice bridge) 
Parasites 
(moose tick) 
Weather 
(mild winter) 
Inflow 
(birth rate) 
Outflow 
(death rate) 
Stock 
(population)
The design and management 
of information systems. 
Understanding the nature 
of information in systems.
Categories
Categories are the cornerstones of cognition and culture.
We use radio buttons when checkboxes or sliders would reveal the truth.
Connections
Web 
Pages Hyperlinks 
I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
Space 
Places Paths 
I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
29 
Multi-Channel Cross-Channel 
SERVICE 
SERVICE 
Adapted from Cross-Platform Service User Experience 
portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1851637 
+ +
Mind 
Categories Connections 
I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
Time 
Actions Consequences 
I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
32
“The system always kicks back.”
“How can I know what I 
think until I see what I say?”
Culture
Artifacts 
Espoused 
Values 
Underlying 
Assumptions 
Visible organizational 
structures and processes 
(hard to decipher) 
Strategies, goals, 
philosophies, justifications 
Unconscious, taken for 
granted beliefs, perceptions, 
thoughts, feelings 
(source of values, action) 
Three Levels of Culture
National values are fixed. Organizational practices are not.
Double-loop learning in organizations (and individuals) is rare.
The relationship between information and culture.
“There’s a secret about MRIs and 
back pain: the most common 
problems physicians see on MRI and 
attribute to back pain – herniated, 
ruptured, and bulging discs – are 
seen almost as commonly on MRIs of 
healthy people without back pain.”
“If you want to accelerate 
someone’s death, give him a 
personal doctor. I don’t mean 
provide him with a bad doctor. 
Just pay for him to choose his 
own. Any doctor will do.”
Limits
“It is now my suggestion that many 
people may not want information, and 
that they will avoid using a system 
precisely because it gives them 
information…If you have information, 
you must first read it. You must then try 
to understand it. Understanding the 
information may show that your work 
was wrong, or may show that your work 
was needless. Thus not having and not 
using information can lead to less trouble 
and pain than having and using it.” 
Calvin Mooers (1959) 
The limits of information
“We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
“Tell me about a day in your life.”
“Willpower is the single most 
important keystone habit for 
individual success.”
“A culture of generosity.” 
Josie Parker, Ann Arbor District Library
Daylighting
Daylighting
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it 
hitched to everything else in the universe.” 
John Muir
IA Therefore I Am Thank You!

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The Architecture of Understanding

  • 1. The Architecture of Understanding Peter Morville, O’Reilly Webcast
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 6.
  • 7.
  • 8.
  • 9.
  • 10.
  • 14. “With respect to learning by failure, it’s all fun and games until someone gets a larval cyst in the brain.”
  • 15.
  • 16. Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
  • 17.
  • 18.
  • 19. “There is a problem in discussing systems only with words. Words and sentences must, by necessity, come only one at a time in linear, logical order. Systems happen all at once. They are connected not just in one direction, but in many directions simultaneously.”
  • 20. Food Scarcity (overpopluation) T T T T Inflow (birth rate) Outflow (death rate) Stock (population) Disease (canine parvovirus) Immigration (via ice bridge) Parasites (moose tick) Weather (mild winter) Inflow (birth rate) Outflow (death rate) Stock (population)
  • 21. The design and management of information systems. Understanding the nature of information in systems.
  • 23.
  • 24. Categories are the cornerstones of cognition and culture.
  • 25. We use radio buttons when checkboxes or sliders would reveal the truth.
  • 27. Web Pages Hyperlinks I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
  • 28. Space Places Paths I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
  • 29. 29 Multi-Channel Cross-Channel SERVICE SERVICE Adapted from Cross-Platform Service User Experience portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1851637 + +
  • 30. Mind Categories Connections I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
  • 31. Time Actions Consequences I n f o r m a t i o n A r c h i t e c t u r e
  • 32. 32
  • 33. “The system always kicks back.”
  • 34. “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?”
  • 36. Artifacts Espoused Values Underlying Assumptions Visible organizational structures and processes (hard to decipher) Strategies, goals, philosophies, justifications Unconscious, taken for granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, feelings (source of values, action) Three Levels of Culture
  • 37. National values are fixed. Organizational practices are not.
  • 38. Double-loop learning in organizations (and individuals) is rare.
  • 39. The relationship between information and culture.
  • 40. “There’s a secret about MRIs and back pain: the most common problems physicians see on MRI and attribute to back pain – herniated, ruptured, and bulging discs – are seen almost as commonly on MRIs of healthy people without back pain.”
  • 41. “If you want to accelerate someone’s death, give him a personal doctor. I don’t mean provide him with a bad doctor. Just pay for him to choose his own. Any doctor will do.”
  • 43.
  • 44.
  • 45. “It is now my suggestion that many people may not want information, and that they will avoid using a system precisely because it gives them information…If you have information, you must first read it. You must then try to understand it. Understanding the information may show that your work was wrong, or may show that your work was needless. Thus not having and not using information can lead to less trouble and pain than having and using it.” Calvin Mooers (1959) The limits of information
  • 46. “We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us.” – Winston Churchill
  • 47.
  • 48. “Tell me about a day in your life.”
  • 49. “Willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.”
  • 50. “A culture of generosity.” Josie Parker, Ann Arbor District Library
  • 51.
  • 54.
  • 55.
  • 56.
  • 57. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir
  • 58. IA Therefore I Am Thank You!