Episode 26 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with my friend Andrew Hinton. Over the last two decades, Andrew has brought great depth to the information architecture community. He’s one of the founders of the (late, alas) Information Architecture Institute and author of Understanding Context, an essential text for anyone who wants to understand how people make sense of the environments they operate in. (It’s a must-read for designers.)

Our conversation delved into the foundations of information architecture and how language and environment relate to each other. I was especially taken by how Andrew makes these (potentially) complex subjects engaging and actionable to his students and colleagues:

If I get people to get out of abstract-head and out of information-head, the way that we typically think of information and start with, how do we understand our physical environment and interact with it in the same way lizards and spiders interact with their environment. The principles are basically the same. And then build from there. That’s how I can teach this.

Now, if I’m working with just colleagues on the fly in the middle of a project, or I’m talking to my colleagues here at work, I don’t go into all that. I mean, I’ve been here six months and I have yet to go into all that. But what I do is try to slip in this grounding and kind of draw on the whiteboard. Here’s a person. Here’s some things that they’re interacting with. Here’s how that might change over time. I’m always trying to locate it into like, you’ve got a human in an environment doing stuff.

Because ultimately that’s what user experience brings to the table. There’s a human being, and we have to make all this other stuff we’re making compatible with that human being. So we’re creating new parts of their environment that we want them to use and understand.

Andrew’s work has greatly influenced my thinking about the role of information architecture. If you enjoy my blog, you’ll likely find this conversation inspiring. (If it does, then do yourself a favor and read Understanding Context — it will change how you think about your work and your world.)

The Informed Life Episode 26: Andrew Hinton on Language and Environments