Presentation at UXPA 2013: Understanding Information Architecture

Summary: Dan Klyn provides slides to his talk at UXPA: Understanding Information Architecture.

It was a delight to give a presentation with my friend and fellow IAI Board member Shari Thurow in Washington D.C. today at the User Experience Professionals Association conference.

Here is approximately the first half of the session’s slides:

UXPA has rules about not releasing recordings of sessions before they do, so in the meantime here are some of the things I wrote in the “notes” fields on a couple of the slides:

In 1996, if you were talking about the architecture of “places made of information” you’d have been told that that’s a nice metaphor. And if you’d have asked a political scientist to name the places in the world where the most important social and political events were happening, you’d have heard about Eastern Europe or The Middle East or North or North and South Korea.

Today, ask that same question… if you were to ask “where did the Arab Spring happen”…. you might hear Tunisia or Egypt but more likely you’d hear Facebook and Twitter. This is not a metaphor. These are real places, made of information. Places we inhabit. And many of these places, like some of the buildings we live and dwell in, require specific architectures to support the activities people want or need to engage in in these places.

At the advent of the WWW, you might look to an information architect to devise an organization scheme for your website, and to develop a sitemap to explain the hierarchy of the information to be navigated on the site. Today, many of the products and services we work on can’t be represented in a sitemap, or be effectively structured on the basis of hierarchies (especially fixed hierarchies). The complexity and contradiction of what people and businesses want to see happen among users and across channels and devices in digital space is breathtaking.

So how does information architecture earn its keep if we’re no longer able to make a sitemap or “do the navigation”? For some of us, including my friend Jorge Arango [“information architecture is the only field I’m aware of that is concerned with the structural integrity of meaning across contexts”], IA has never been primarily about sitemaps or wireframes or doing the navigation. And while some of the tactical stuff in the Polar Bear Book might be mostly played out in 2013, underneath it and connecting it back to the IA work done in the 1960s and 1970s is the idea that IA is and has always been about meaning. And about making structures to support, enhance and extend that meaning.

I realize that this definition of IA may be different than the one you came to the session with today. And that’s OK. What I’d like to do is propose a model for understanding information architecture that obtains in any context. In any decade. For any matter of communication: print or digital or hybrid. A way to identify the elements of products and services that are information architectural in nature and to ensure a successful society among those elements.

The model is ontology, taxonomy and choreography.

I used to work as a bicycle mechanic in high school. One thing I learned doing that job was about how gears work, and the perhaps counter-intuitive way that the littlest gear does most of the work in the system of a bicycle. The littlest and most important gear in this system is ontology. Our particular meaning. What we mean when we say what we say.