Upcoming IA Workshops — Spring 2019

Information architecture is more important today than ever before. However, many digital designers working today don’t realize there’s an area of practice dedicated to structuring information to make it easier to find and understand. That’s why I created my Information Architecture Essentials workshop. It’s a great way to get started towards making more relevant and valuable digital products and services.

I’ll be teaching the workshop in Zurich in February as part of World IA Day Switzerland, and in Orlando in March as part of the IA Conference. Can’t join us for either of those events? Well, I can also lead bespoke instances of the IA Essentials workshop to help internal design teams come up to speed quickly on information architecture. Please get in touch if you’d like to have me teach the workshop at your organization.

Switching Modalities

Whenever I’m in the process of working on something, I find it useful to switch modalities. By this, I mean going from one way of working to another; seeing the work from a different perspective.

For example, this blog post started as a series of notes scribbled in a (paper) notebook. That was one modality. When my ideas were more definite, I switched to writing a draft in Ulysses. That’s another modality. I think differently when I’m working on paper than when I’m writing in Ulysses; writing words in a text editor happens at a higher level of granularity than thinking about concepts. Instead of thinking about what ideas I’ll get across, I’m thinking about how I’m getting them across.

There’s a point in the process where the draft is done, and I need to switch modalities again. I upload the post to WordPress, but I don’t publish it yet. I find that looking at it as it will appear on this blog reveals all sorts of things I missed; I’m now approaching the work as a reader and can spot gaps in the reasoning. In this editing phase, I also correct grammatical problems. For some odd reason, I don’t catch them when I was in the text editor. I need a new way of seeing the work (the preview in WordPress) to spot them, and switching from the text editor to the publishing system does the trick.

Sometimes — when I have a bit more time or a text requires particular attention — I also check the WordPress draft in a mobile web browser. Switching to the smaller screen size reveals all sorts of issues I hadn’t noticed before. This, too, is a modality switch; the mobile screen is a context that allows me to see the work in a different perspective. It prompts ideas and refinements I wouldn’t have spotted otherwise.

Modality switching is good for more than just writing; every creative endeavor can benefit from it. When I used to paint, I’d occasionally take a step back from the canvas and squint at the painting. Seeing it small and blurry would allow me to see the composition as a whole, without details. And whenever I’m working on a navigation structure for an information environment, I switch between text-based outlines and visual sketches of how menus will be laid out.

Switching modalities is also useful in group settings. I’ve been in many workshops that revolve around conversations prompted by presentation decks. This is one modality — one that gets old fast. There comes the point when the group must switch; for example, by sketching out ideas on paper rather than talking about them. Inevitably, the switch is a catalyst for new ideas to emerge.

Changing modes of thinking is a quick and easy way to quickly flesh out ideas, and to get unstuck. For much of my career, I did it unconsciously (and therefore, ineffectively.) Now that I understand it better, I pay attention to how I’m thinking. If ideas are flowing, I stick to the mode I’m in; when I get stuck, I know it’s time to switch modalities. I can now switch very quickly and effortlessly; sometimes, just getting up and walking around will do. Cognition can’t be pushed… but it can be nudged.

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 workshop mixes video lectures with a remote hands-on activity to help designers work more strategically. Participants will:

  • Learn what strategy is (and isn’t)
  • Learn what questions stakeholders need to answer when defining a strategy
  • Learn how to bridge strategy to screen-level artifacts
  • Practice conceptual modeling as a way of designing more strategically aligned products

Information Architecture Essentials

More of our transactions and social interactions are moving online every day. People access these digital products and services using a growing variety of devices: notebook computers, mobile phones, wearables, voice-driven smart assistants, and more.

Good experience requires that these systems be coherent and understandable. As a result, information architecture (IA) is more important today than ever before.

In this fast-paced one-day workshop you will:

  • Understand the primary goals of information architecture
  • Explore how people find information and how IA helps that search effort
  • Learn about the use of conceptual modeling in IA
  • Master basic IA components: organization schemes, labeling systems, and navigation systems
  • Identify the communication skills essential to architecting in multi-disciplinary teams
  • Learn how UX designers communicate IA design concepts to other team members
  • Discover how to create architectures that can evolve over time


The workshop is divided into four parts:

  • Part 1 introduces information architecture
  • Part 2 covers conceptual modeling, which is foundational to good IA
  • Part 3 reviews the standard components used to implement information architectures
  • Part 4 describes essential skills one must master to actually do IA

Hands-on exercises give participants a direct practical understanding of key IA concepts.

About me

I’ve been practicing information architecture for over twenty years, and am currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve helped “make the complex clear” for organizations ranging from non-profits in the developing world to Fortune-100 corporations.

I’m co-author of Information Architecture: for the Web and Beyond, the fourth edition of O’Reilly’s celebrated polar bear book about IA, and author of Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places. I’m also a former president and director of the Information Architecture Institute.

In addition of working as a consultant, writer, and speaker, I’m also an ​adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco, where I teach Systems studio classes to Interaction Design masters students (MDes).

Would you like me to teach this workshop at your organization or event?

Becoming a Leader – From IA to Business and Beyond

I organized a day-long pre-conference workshop for the 2008 Information Architecture Summit, which was held in Miami, FL. In the workshop we explored leadership as it relates to IA from two perspectives: how IAs can become effective leaders in their organizations (and in society as a whole), and how IA skills and processes can make managers and organizations—of any type— more effective.

Workshop sessions were led by an world-class roster of speakers: Christopher Fahey, Margaret Hanley, Harry Max, Karen McGrane, and Josh Rubin. We also held a screening of Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, an extraordinary short film about leadership.

Read more about the workshop.