Architecture Walking Tour of San Francisco

Over the past two years, I’ve led walking tours of the architecture of downtown San Francisco. The tour is offered as a conference activity, usually in the afternoon of a “workshop” day. I’ve led such tours at the O’Reilly Design conference (2017) and Enterprise UX (2017 and 2018.)

The tour gives user experience designers a firsthand understanding of how people form mental images of physical environments. We also examine the forces that gave the city its present form — social, commercial, political, regulatory, etc. — and how that form continues to evolve. As we move around the city, we discuss how these insights apply to the design of information environments.

Due to​ the constraints of moving and addressing a larger group in a busy urban setting,​ we cap participation at fifteen people. The activity takes around two and a half hours.

Besides being a great learning experience, the walking around looking at architecture is also a lot of fun. It’s a memorable way for participants to gain professional insights beyond the confines of usual conference settings.

Would you be interested in having me lead an architecture walking tour at your event?

Living in Information

Digital systems — such as Facebook, Wikipedia, and your bank’s website — are more than products or tools: They create contexts that change the way we interact, think, understand, and act. In many ways, they function like places. This presentation covers three perspectives from architecture that are essential if we are to create digital products and services that serve our needs. These perspectives are:

  1. The importance of having a solid conceptual structure
  2. Understanding these structures as part of a broader system
  3. Accommodating change by ensuring the system’s sustainability

The presentation is based on a book I’m writing — also tentatively titled Living in Information — which is scheduled to be published by Two Waves (a Rosenfeld Media imprint) in 2018.

Leading Effective Co-Creation Sessions

I first led this co-creation workshop with Chris Baum at UX Week 2017 in San Francisco, CA.


Today’s complex design challenges require that designers be able to effectively collaborate in real-time with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. When facilitating co-creation sessions, designers need to be able to “hold the center line” and see and hear clearly, free of preconceived notions and ideas. This workshop teaches practical techniques to help designers acquire the skills needed to successfully co-create with others to generate breakthrough ideas.

Topics Covered

Setting the stage

  • The meeting space as a three-dimensional, shared scratchpad
  • The importance of context to creative thinking
  • The importance of people to the process
  • The tools: Markers, stickies, projectors, etc.
  • Ideal layout for the space

Capturing and generating knowledge

  • Speed vs. accuracy
  • Choosing the right level of granularity
  • Choosing the right words to represent concepts
  • Formulating open-ended questions
  • Conceptual modeling

Creating an opening for insight

  • Interpersonal dynamics
  • Accommodating humans — when, how much, what?
  • Technology — when, how much, what?
  • Establishing a rhythm for the session
  • Sharing learnings with people who weren’t in the room

Workshop Exercises

  • Live capture and synthesis of conversation
  • Managing sketching sessions and capturing the stories behind sketches
  • Facilitating conversations
  • Observing the dynamics in the room

Participant Take-Aways

  • You’ll learn how to run a co-creation session
  • You’ll improve your collaboration and facilitation skills
  • You’ll find out how to carry the momentum from the co-creation session into your day-to-day practice

From Strategy to Structure (and Back Again)

The products and services you design should address the needs of your organization and of society as a whole. As a designer of information environments, you need to think beyond the user interface to the underlying structures that bring order and coherence to the artifacts people interact with.

This half-day workshop teaches tools to help visualize product strategy, and translate that strategy to an information architecture to produce products and services that address the real needs of people and organizations.

The workshop is structured in three parts divided by two hands-on exercises. However, this is not a rigid structure: The workshop is set up to be a conversation focused the attendees’ interests.

There are no slides; instead, I lead participants through a series of ideas and concepts by drawing diagrams live using an iPad Pro. This format is more engaging and interactive than traditional slides.

By participating in the workshop,

  • You’ll learn how to visualize product strategy and to connect it to purpose
  • You’ll learn how to bridge that strategy to semantic structures that inform coherent UIs
  • You’ll learn how pace layering can help you create information environments that better stand the test of time
  • You’ll get an overview of conceptual modeling as a tool for designing better information environments

I’ve given versions of this workshop at Euro IA 2016 (Amsterdam), the Italian IA Summit 2016 (Rome), and plan to do so at the IA Summit 2017 (Vancouver). 

Leaving Your Mark

Update 2016-12-26: I’ve published a post based on this presentation.

Closing keynote for the 10th Italian Information Architecture Summit, delivered on November 12, 2016 in Rome.


What mark are you leaving in the world? Look around you. Rome is a testament to the power of architecture to create places that stand the test of time, marks of people long gone. Stone, metal, wood, pozzolana: Architects design for the ages.

Digital information environments, on the other hand, are among our shortest-lived designed artifacts. What was once a cutting-edge application quickly becomes outdated as device form factors and operating systems evolve. It seems those of us who design and produce websites, applications, and other information products and services are constantly trying to catch-up so our designs can remain relevant. Instead of designing for the ages, we work for and within an ever-smaller now.

But not everything changes at the same speed. The structure of information environments, in particular, evolves at a slower pace than its forms. Because of this, information architects can and should design for the ages too.

In this closing keynote, we will look at information architecture as a discipline in the broader context of design for purpose, and how as an information architect you can leave a mark that endures.

Dejando Huellas

A Spanish-language version of my keynote Leaving Your Mark, delivered at Interaction South America 2016 in Santiago, Chile.


¿Cuánto duran los productos y servicios que estás diseñando? ¿Cinco años? ¿Dos años? Dados los constantes cambios en las tecnologías que los subyacen y las características esenciales de los medios interactivos, los apps, sitios web, y otros artefactos informáticos son algunas de las cosas más efímeras que hemos diseñado. Estas cosas están transformando el mundo, creando ecosistemas que impactan la forma en que entendemos el mundo e interactuamos los unos con los otros.

Esta presentación ofrece un modelo para pensar sobre longevidad de los productos y servicios digitales que diseñamos, y así velar por su eficacia a largo plazo.

Architects Everywhere

Keynote presentation for World IA Day 2016 San Francisco.

Update 2016-03-03: I’ve published an article based on this presentation.


Architecture is everywhere. Look around you: The place in which you are reading these words has an architecture, and somebody designed it. Less obviously, the wesbite, app, and operating system through which these words reach your eyes also have architecture — and this is one which you can design.

As we gather to celebrate the 5th World IA Day, we will ponder the question: In what sense is our work “architecture”?

In this presentation, you will learn:

  • What we mean by “architecture” in IA.
  • How being conscious of the impact of architectural decisions can help you design products that can grow and adapt to changing needs.
  • How you can design more effective architectures.