The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world. Businesses are scrambling to serve their customers in a new reality. Many companies are looking for new ways to provide value over digital channels and having to do so in a context of great uncertainty.
We’re not returning to the pre-pandemic world. Many of the changes we’re making now will be with us for a long time. This moment is an inflection point, a unique opportunity to shift the ways we work and create value. As designers, we must ask: What is our role in bringing forth new realities? How might new solutions better serve human needs?
Information architecture isn’t about nav bars and search engines and site maps; it’s about order in service to understanding. To effectively design order, we must look beneath the surface, to the elements that make IA distinct from other disciplines. These elements are language, distinctions, relationships, and rules. Information architects use them to create structures that help others understand.
In a world that is increasingly mediated through environments made of language, it’s essential that designers master these elements. This presentation illustrates how they work by examining a masterwork of information architecture, Dmitri Mendeleev’s periodic table of the elements.
In the early 1990s, the U.S. Army War College created an acronym to describe the geopolitical situation following the Cold War: VUCA. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, four characteristics they saw as defining the multilateral post-Cold War world. The rise of information technologies — and the internet in particular — has radically transformed our political, economic, and social reality. We are all now living in a generalized state of VUCA. We see signs of it everywhere — including the enterprise.
Design can be a powerful organ for organizations dealing with VUCA. In this presentation, I give some reasons why. I also cover some reading materials that have led me to this line of thinking. I was gratified to see participants in the videoconference suggest other resources worth investigating if you’d like to delve into design’s more strategic value; I’ve added those recommendations into my reading list.
I have a lot of reading to do! I was familiar with some of these resources, but not all of them. That’s one of the upsides of sharing incipient ideas with a smart group of folks like the Enterprise Experience community: you get to hear from other folks who know more about other parts of the domain. I’ll be digging into these books, posts, and videos for sure!
Information architects design distinctions. We categorize things for a living – that is, we set off concepts against each other to make it easier for people to “find their personal paths to knowledge”.
As software “eats the world”, the distinctions we create in information environments grow ever more powerful. As a result, information architects have greater responsibility today than ever before. This requires that we understand how people understand things, ideas, and themselves – and especially how these understandings are informed by differences in people’s capabilities, access to information, knowledge, self-identities, and power.
This presentation explores the tensions inherent in making distinctions. What are the responsibilities for professional distinction-makers in a world in which the effects of their work have greater impact than ever before? How might information architecture lead to healthier societies in the long-term?
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of sharing the stage at UX Week, the premier UX conference in the world. I spoke about the subject of my book, Living in Information. You can see the full presentation here:
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:
The importance of having a solid conceptual structure
Understanding these structures as part of a broader system
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.
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.
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
Creating an opening for insight
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
Live capture and synthesis of conversation
Managing sketching sessions and capturing the stories behind sketches
Observing the dynamics in the room
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
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).
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.