Give a Hoot! Mapping (and Caring for) the Semantic Environment

I delivered this presentation at the 2014 IA Summit in San Diego, California.

En Castellano: El diagramado y cuidado del entorno semántico

Presentation Summary:

Before an architect designs a building, she must first understand the environment it will be designed for: the plot size, shape, and location, the conditions of the ground, exposure to the elements, access to essentials like water and sewage lines, traffic patterns, and more. Only after she’s carefully measured and analyzed the place can she propose a meaningful and practical intervention.

Information architects must also understand the environment we will be designing for. However, ours is not a physical environment but one made of signs: instead of earth, vegetation, roads, and neighboring buildings, we deal with words, ideas, rules, roles, and relationships. Ours are semantic environments, and just like architects do, we must thoroughly understand them before we start proposing designs that change them.

This presentation will introduce the concept of the semantic environment, as it has been developed in the field of general semantics, and will teach you a method for mapping the various semantic environments that affect your project. I will argue that one of the information architect’s responsibilities is to avoid polluting these environments (“Give a hoot!”), and will show you specific ways in which you can do this. I will also present a case study that explains how this technique helped in the creation of a multi-channel information architecture for a service-focused organization.

In this presentation, you will learn:

  • What the semantic environment is, and why it’s important to your projects.
  • How to avoid polluting the semantic environment.
  • How to create a map of your project’s various semantic environments.
  • How that map can inform the design of a cross-channel information architecture.
  • How my team helped develop a cross-channel IA for a service-focused organization by using this technique.