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.
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.
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.