On the IA-Chess Analogy

Jessi Shakarian, writing in Medium:

When I picked up Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond, the so-called “polar bear” book, I didn’t expect to find a passion around chess. However, chess has become my lens of looking at information architecture in the real world.

In the book, the authors use chess is an analogy for information architecture — it’s a system of rules that doesn’t change based on where you play (on a wooden board in your living room, online against a friend across the country, or on an app on your phone).

The chess analogy is one of my favorite ways of explaining information architecture. As Jessi points out, the game has been around for a long time. Many people know about chess and — more importantly — are aware that it and its physical instantiation aren’t the same thing. As Jessi explains,

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​Double Dragon

Elias (my son, who is five) and I spent an hour playing video games in an arcade museum. Many of the machines — Asteroids, Millipede, Donkey Kong — were part of my childhood. And now here they are, in a museum.

It was great fun to revisit many of these old games. But the most fun was to play them​ side-by-side with my kid — especially those that allow two players to cooperate. We spent about 20 minutes on Double Dragon; Elias on a stool so he could reach the controls. He was Billy, and I was Jimmy, and in the virtual space our physical and cognitive differences fell away. Soon, E had mastered the mechanics of the world and was nearly as competent as I. We could explore the place together and collaborate as equals, something we’d never done before.

Compared to today’s VR platforms, Double Dragon is crude. Still, inhabiting a shared cognitive space with my son where our abilities were on par was incredibly powerful. I wonder if greater fidelity to reality would improve ​the experience.