Between June 2013 and March 2014, I was honored to serve as part of the Chair Committee for the Information Architecture Summit. It happened to be the event’s fifteenth anniversary. This being the third time I worked on the event, I wanted to give it a little 15th birthday present.

What would a fifteen year old IA conference want more than some documentation of all this grassroots glory!?!?

I set out to find out what had happened the past 14 years. Then throughout the planning process, I created diagrams and information graphics that helped the team and our community understand the interior workings of the beloved community event. I have collected them all below along with some photos of them in action at Poster night. Read the rest of this entry »


“And you may ask yourself – Well…How did I get here?” – The Talking Heads

This summer marks my tenth year as a practicing information architect. It is not surprising that a decade of reflection would yield some lessons, but instead of lessons I want to share with you the story I told at this year’s IAI Annual Meeting.

This is the story of how the last ten years unfolded for me.  Read the rest of this entry »

Today in my thesis class at SVA I had the students complete an assignment that initially felt simple, but was in my opinion one of the more complex tasks that I have asked them to do.

I asked them to anticipate the top 3 questions that could be asked of them about their work based on how they plan to present it. Then I asked them to answer those questions clearly and post the resulting document to their public blog.

Given that my thesis is around how to bring the concept of information architecture to new audiences, I documented the top 3 questions I currently get as a result of introducing IA. I can’t speak for my students, but this assignment was really exciting, challenging and rewarding to accomplish. I urge any of you working on something big out there to try this same method.

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In my class this week at SVA, the theme was terror. In response to my empathic prediction that they would all be feeling a bit stressed at this point in their thesis work, I delighted them with the gift of 2 hrs and 30 minutes back on their calendar unexpectedly. In return I asked for 7 minutes of their time to discuss what they are most scared about these days.

What I heard student after student was unsurprisingly a particular strain of terror. The terror involved in impending separation and change. The terror of wanting to be done with something while still fearing the loss of the comfort of where you are.

They are all experiencing the weeks that lead toward trading the devil they know for the devil they do not. We have all been in this moment, maybe not in graduate school but somewhere. The following is a writeup of the advice I found myself giving over and over this week. Read the rest of this entry »

I have been in a rush, a whirlwind so far this week. Starting a new consulting project and going back to my regular teaching schedule so close to returning from the IA Summit was not the easiest transition to make but I returned with a drive in me. A focus on finishing is coursing through me.

The focus of my class at SVA this week was “Establishing Interactions”. We broke down their thesis projects into the nouns and verbs that would come together to deliver their final vision across channels, contexts and users. With less than a month left till the final delivery of their thesis projects, the clock is starting to tick pretty loudly. At this point, a list of interactions that can be worked through, prioritized and tracked is a necessity to make sure important things don’t fall through the cracks.

To aid in their emotional journey, I also introduced some techniques for avoiding procrastination and the dreaded senioritis. My full lecture slides are available for download, and below are some additional thoughts in reflecting post class. Read the rest of this entry »

Taxonomy Woes

“Can I make my final book feel like a choose your own adventure? …Can I write my final book as if I am a fictional character experiencing my thesis? …Can I change all the words in my subtitles to reflect language related to imaging technology and cameras since that is what my work is about? … Can I write my final book for my user instead of for my stakeholders? … Can my book *be* an energy harvester?”

Each of these questions came from thesis students working not just on digital experiences but also on physical products and experiences. They are also writing a book and giving a short talk to present their thesis body of work. They each have several mediums to execute via as well as differing contexts and channels to serve users in. To assist them with forming a clear plan of attack for this, in week 9 at SVA Products of Design, we discussed the creation of structures and the relation of structure to meaning.

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In my thesis class at SVA Products of Design this week, I talked to the students about ontology. Unlike lexicography, which is the collection of meanings, ontology is the designation of a specific meaning within a given context.

In other words:

“What do we mean when we say what we say”

Dan Klyn

Facebook re-purposing the words “like” or “friends” for their purposes; The hamburger icon navigation phenomenon flying around the mobile web; The use of the floppy disk icon to mean “save” far past the use of floppy disks for storage of files; The “folders” that are used to organize your “files” on a computer; These are all examples of ontological design decisions that impact not just our everyday life but our perception of the world that we live in and the places we spend our time.

At some point the makers of things looked at the potential and relative meanings for those images and terms and claimed or created a specific version for the context in which they interact with us, the users.

For each of the culturally excepted examples I state above there are thousands of examples (millions maybe) that people “just didn’t get.” It turns out that there are many complications and complexities involved in establishing meaning with the intent of it making sense to others.

As some brain food before sending my students to the park with their own ontological dilemmas I gave a short lecture on the lessons I have learned so far about dealing with the establishment of meaning.

The lessons we went over can be found in full in the deck, but in brief I explained to them:

  • Taxonomy is a tool of rhetoric: meaning can be lost in the way something is organized just as easily as the way it is presented once found
  • Every instance of poly hierarchy potentially reduces meaning: If everything is bold then nothing is, this goes for categorization as well
  • Cultural meaning matters: What means something “here”, can mean something different “there”
  • Pay attention to grade and reading level: We are not all graduate thesis art school students.
  • Beware of homographs and accidental synonyms

In preparation for class I asked them to come prepared with a lexicon of terms that they intended to use in their thesis work and a list of words they intended to not use. They were then asked to exchange lexicons with another student, who was asked to point out any term within each definition that could be further defined, contested and/or unpacked to add more clarity or simplicity to their definitions. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to "What" MountainThe opposite of why is now.” – Seth Godin

There is a certain point in any creative endeavor when it is no longer time to ponder, and it is instead time to act. To make. To realize. And perhaps to fail. Fear seems to be an obvious but elusive partner in this part of the journey. Fear can walk ahead of us and get all the glory.

Leaving us…

Ever pondering, ever restless, ever more, more, more.

Never satisfied, never proud, but never bored.  Read the rest of this entry »

This week’s assignment at SVA POD was to raise the “fidelity” of their thesis work without increasing the resolution.

  • Fidelity: How much you have figured out at this point?
  • Resolution: How real does it “seem” at this point?

I don’t know if it was the assignment or simply the natural settling in that happens at week 6, but a surprising amount of “relief faces” were used in yesterday’s class. Several students have even centered on their “what” almost fully.

This week’s class was about how to think of resolution in relationship to fidelity when moving through a design process. I want to document for you the points I discussed with them as I think they could be applicable to many projects, not just that of thesis design students.

Example design outputs mapped on a spectrum of Fidelity and Resolution.

Example design outputs mapped on a spectrum of Fidelity and Resolution.

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For years I have been fascinated with the interchangeable nature that the words “Fidelity” and “Resolution” seem to have in design conversations. They seem to be accidental synonyms in our fuzzy language of critique. Unlike the way I encounter them in the wild, I see a slight but incredibly important difference in the terms.

A spectrum comparing the level of fidelity of common tools used across many design disciplines.

A spectrum comparing the level of fidelity of common tools used across many design disciplines.

  • Fidelity: How much you have figured out at this point?
  • Resolution: How real does it “seem” at this point?

In my experience, using these words not like synonyms, but instead like gauges for our process, helps focus us on progressing forward not just shining up what we have. Read the rest of this entry »