While findability comes first, we must also remember that categories are about more than retrieval. Classification helps our users to understand.
Through splitting, lumping and labeling, we reveal choices and invite questions.
Of course, all taxonomies are imperfect, as is the language they’re built on… like maps and myths, taxonomies hide more than they reveal. They bury complexity to tell a story, and they always miss someone out. Some things, like luggage, get lost by accident, while others – people, places, ideas – are buried by design.
Either way, each glitch in the matrix subtly changes understanding and behaviour, which is why this work has moral weight. Classification has consequences, as Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star argue in Sorting Things Out:
“Each category valorizes some point of view and silences another. This is not inherently a bad thing – indeed, it is inescapable. But it is an ethical choice, and as such it is dangerous – not bad, but dangerous.”Peter Morville – Intertwingled (Amazon link here)
I know almost nothing about Information Architecture, but I’ve been thinking a lot about structuring information recently.
Here’s the metaphor: Jacques Carelman‘s famous Coffee pot for Masochists.
All the pieces are there, but it just. doesn’t. work.
We’ve all used badly put together tools, instruction manuals, software, doors. At best they’re slower and frustrate us. At worst, they cause us to lose out or harm us.
It’s the same with ideas. Whether we’re communicating simply to transfer knowledge or for emotional impact (your priorities may vary, but if you want to do either you really need to be doing both), the way they’re put together counts.
Let’s do a Zinnser on that last paragraph.
It’s the same with ideas: the way they’re put together counts. The structure of your ideas is crucial whether you’re communicating to transfer knowledge or to create an emotional impact, and really, if you’re serious about doing either you really need to be doing both.
Better? I think it’s a bit better. Must try harder.
So without further ado, here’s my Information Architecture Reading list:
The introduction and first chapter that are included in the kindle sample are pretty compelling, but I can’t find an short quotation from it that doesn’t make it sounds boring, so I won’t.
Oh okay, I think this bit is cool:
[The] abundance and pervasiveness [of information] makes our lives better in many ways, but it also introduces new challenges. With so much information available in so many places, it can sometimes be difficult to cut through the noise to find the information you need and understand it once you have found it.
Information architecture (IA) is a design discipline that is focused on making information findable and understandable. Because of this, it is uniquely well suited to address these challenges. IA allows us to think about problems through two important perspectives: that information products and services are perceived by people as places made of information, and that these information environments can be organised for optimum findability and understandability.
It’s possible that I like this book because it makes me feel like I’m in the matrix.
Big in Japan:
I’ve started this, and referenced Peter before. I thought I’d shared a link to a talk about the book on youtube, but can’t find the post, so here it is:
by James Gleick
So far: fascinating. Need to think more about it to say how it’s helped and changed my thinking – watch out for a future post.
by Ginny Redish
On the strength of the couple of chapters that Ginny shares for free on her website I paid £25 for this. It’s worth it for the first few chapters alone.
by Steve Krug
It’s brilliant and funny. More from me about him here.
by Don Norman
Look! It’s the coffee pot. This book is how I know about the coffee pot for masochists in the first place. It’s supposed to be brilliant, and it’s good so far.
Information: A Very Short Introduction
Stumbled across it on Amazon just now. Middling reviews, but Floridi directs a lab and straddles multiple chairs at Oxford; has well appointed office; wears tweed and high cheekbones). Might be a good starting point?
HistoryofInformation.com is designed to help you follow the development of information and media, and attitudes about them, from the beginning of records to the near present. Containing annotated references to discoveries, developments of a social, scientific, or technological nature, as well as references to physical books, documents, artifacts, art works, and to websites and other digital media, it arranges, both chronologically and thematically, selected historical examples and selected recent developments of the methods used to record, distribute, exchange, organize, store, and search information. The database allows you to approach the topics in a wide variety of ways.
Right, almost time to go – quit while you’re only five books behind and all that…
by Jorge Arango
This guy is supposed to be great, and I like the cover. He’s an actual (bricks and mortar) architect who became an information architect
Unlike “the three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic which are woven within the K-12 curriculum, information literacy falls through the cracks. It doesn’t fit into any one subject area, and teachers fail to include in class. And it’s an big problem, because the internet makes literacy more important, not less.
When I was a kid, I had a mom, a dad, and a single volume of the encyclopedia, and I trusted them to answer my questions. Now Google offers us billions of answers, but the difficult question is trust…
Evaluating accuracy, objectivity, currency and authority is easier said than done.Peter Morville, Intertwingled
This is good, and true, and important – and I recommend the book.
But it also misses a trick: what Peter Morville describes so well in Intertwingled mostly falls within the scope of a good definition of literacy.
There is no literacy that doesn’t involve managing information. I’ve described literacy as:
… being able to read with fluency and with critical understanding, and to write both to communicate and to think.
That’s concise, but these information skills – understanding structures and relationships within and between pieces of information, and deconstructing or assembling them in a way that suits your purpose – are key components of critical understanding, and of communicating.
We might need to extend the concepts of reading and writing to cover new skills, and the relative importance of organising information might have grown – but we should be teaching these skills wherever we’re teaching people to read and write.
And we always should have been, because they’ve always been vital.
In the era of ecosystems, seeing the big picture is more important than ever, and less likely. It’s not simply that we’re forced into little boxes by organizational silos and professional specialization. We like it in there. We feel safe. But we’re not. This is no time to stick to your knitting. We must go from boxes to arrows. Tomorrow belongs to those who connect.
Peter Morville, Intertwingled: Information Changes Everything
Great title, Peter!