IA Summit 2015 Main Conference Talk
Topic(s): information architecture
Information architecture is the practice of making the complex clear. But is information architecture clear? We collected attendees’ deepest questions and greatest doubts considering the practice and results of information architecture work and thought. And in the Understanding Bee, we are ready to do some ‘splainin.
Inspired by the dramatic arc of an elementary school spelling bee, Peter Morville, Abby Covert and Dan Klyn are asked to answer questions one at a time, at random. Marsha Haverty served as moderator.
About the speaker(s)
Peter Morville is a pioneer of information architecture and user experience. He is best known for being an author of the “polar bear book” on information architecture. His latest book Planning for Everything is about the design of paths and goals. Peter has been helping people to plan since 1994. Clients include AT&T, eBay, Harvard, IBM, the Library of Congress, Microsoft, the National Cancer Institute, and Vodafone. Peter lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Knowsy.
Peter also annually heads the IA Summit Polar Bear 5k Fun Run!
Dan Klyn is an information architect from the United States and co-founder of The Understanding Group (TUG). He’s interested in planning, strategy, and architecture for places made of information. He likes coffee an awful lot and teaches information architecture at the University of Michigan, School of Information. Klyn’s research is focused on applying the teachings of Richard Saul Wurman and Christopher Alexander in digital practice. In April 2018, he completes a 2-year term as President of the Information Architecture Institute.
Abby Covert is a staff information architect at Etsy. She specializes in delivering a collaborative information architecture process and teaching those that she works with along the way. She speaks and writes under the pseudonym Abby the IA, focusing on sharing information architecture content with those working within the design and technology communities. She is the author of How to Make Sense of Any Mess, a book about information architecture for everybody. She also holds credit for the invention of World IA Day.
Marsha Haverty’s first glimpse of IA-ish things came in 1995 by a serendipitous cross-reference in a college library. She attended the earliest IA Summits, and her 2002 JASIST paper on IA as a field is used in university curricula.
She has a longstanding interest in the interplay of information structured both as language and visualizations. Her ’99 master’s thesis on a spatial, adaptive hypertext system appears in Cognitive Support for Learning: Imagining the Unknown, and Center for Data Innovation named her among “15 Women in Data to Follow on Twitter” in 2014
Currently, Marsha is an experience architect at Autodesk, and is focused on bringing implications of ecological psychology to design.
Marsha Haverty: I want to cover some rules for the event. Our panelists are going to answer some questions that you all submitted. Some of you submitted via a survey from the Information Architecture Institute, and some submitted verbally to me in the last couple of days.
We’ve gathered these questions, and our panelists have never seen these questions before, and it’s their job to answer until you achieve understanding. It’s not just the shiny glow of understanding, we need something a little more visual, so we can really know you understand.
We have three different sections of the game, and what we’re going to do is have you guys show us your understanding in different ways for each section. We need to practice for the first one. We need a baseline. The first one, hoot and holler, clap, make some noise. What I’d like you guys to do is give us a baseline of, “I have achieved understanding.” Hoot and holler, and make noise. Let’s try it.
[cheers and applause]
Marsha: All right, just to understand if that’s a fair baseline, let’s do a, “Yeah, I’m OK. I’m OK.”
Marsha: Let’s go back up to our baseline
[cheers and applause]
Marsha: That’s interesting. I think we’ve got a good baseline. That’s the first one. We’ll talk about the rules of the next one as we get into it. The panelists have a couple of play chips at their disposal. They have a punt, if they’re just not up. They’ve got one punt each. If they’re just not up for it, they can pass it along, and they have a lifeline.
Some of you have been designated as lifelines, and you have no idea about that. That will happen at some point. I think those are the rules, so let’s introduce our panelists. You know these people. We have Peter Morville.
[cheers and applause]
Marsha: Abby Covert.
[cheers and applause]
Marsha: And Dan Klyn.
[cheers and applause]
Marsha: You’re not peeking over here, are you? You’re not peeking at the questions, are you? Please remember baseline, and don’t achieve the baseline unless you actually have achieved understanding. You can get close to that, so you need to graph yourselves. For this first question, we’re going to get Abby up out of her chair, because she’s got a shirt with bees on it, so you get to answer first.
Marsha: Our first question, from our community is, how can we make sure kids are getting exposed to principles of information architecture so that college or graduate school is not the first time they’re hearing about these things? This is our easy section.
Abby Covert: This is the easy section, yeah, I know. I think there’s a couple things there. There is a really interesting trend in, at least the American education system, that is really pushing us toward establishing a hard and objective truth for things, and I believe that will continue to be a really big challenge as we discover, how are we going to introduce concepts that are around things that aren’t so easy to grasp, and information architecture is one of those things that’s not so easy to grasp.
I believe that children can go all the way through their high school education firmly believing that there is one right way to do things, and unfortunately that is generally dictated by the political and society system that they live in. I guess I feel like the way we can ensure it is, talk to your children about objectivity and subjectivity. Make sure that they know that subjectivity is the normal, and that objectivity is very difficult to find, and to rely upon.
I think that’s a conversation that parents are actually the most well prepared to have with their children, not teachers. That would be my answer.
Marsha: Wait a second. Let’s do all at the same time, what is our understanding level? Let’s measure.
Marsha: We’ve got some hoots.
Abby: I don’t know.
Marsha: It wasn’t up to baseline.
Abby: It wasn’t up to baseline. I think Dan’s got to go.
Dan Klyn: Same question?
Marsha: Same question, not until they’re happy and achieving understanding.
Dan: Can you repeat the question?
Marsha: Yes. How can we make sure kids are getting exposed to principles of information architecture, so that college or graduate school is not the first time they’re encountering these things?
Dan: I think somebody here needs to make that content. I haven’t seen it. I have three children, they understand what I do through osmosis. They have friends. One of my daughter’s friends, after my daughter explained to her what her dad does, said, “Oh, it’s like the woman in Inception.” That is flattering, but that isn’t good enough.
Dan: As I am wont to do, I would like to lather up from what Abby does, and the combination of somebody making explicitly on purpose, material. I don’t know if it’s a book, because I don’t know that kids read, but making content about this, and then combining that with what we’ll do as parents, I think that’s what I do.
Marsha: Yes, we have to do this all simultaneously. How do we feel about our level of understanding for that question?
Marsha: Cool. We have achieved the first question.
Peter Morville: I’m really glad those guys went first, because it gave me more time to come up with something. First of all, I have a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old daughter. I’m not sure they totally understand what I do, or what information architecture is, so maybe I’m not the best person to answer this.
They have not read any of my books, and I don’t think they will for at least 10 or 20 years. Let me flip the question around a little bit. As Ted Nelson mentioned the other night, most adults in the world haven’t heard of information architecture. Even those who have, don’t really get it.
I don’t actually think that our community has done a poor job of communicating the principles and value of information architecture, I think there’s a cultural resistance to complex things like systems thinking and information architecture. It’s not an easy task. That said, my answer to the question would be to send several million copies of Abby’s book to seventh and eighth graders around the world.
Abby: I’m not supposed to clap.
Marsha: You know it’s good of the people who aren’t supposed to participate start clapping.
Abby: I didn’t know there was going to be emotional espionage.
Marsha: Speaking of Abby’s book, we have a copy to give away, and I’ve just been told that we have other prizes to give away as well. One of the things that we want you to do as we’re getting warmed up for this, if you have additional questions, we’re going to have chances to filter those in as we go.
As soon as you have a question forming in your mind that you would like to bring to these panelists, come up and maybe we can gather over in this area and we will work you in as well. We would love to have additional participation from you. These questions come from you guys, but as we have a conversation more, things are going to come up, so we want some carefully controlled chaos.
The next question, are we ready? How can we get better? We need a person, let’s have Peter. Would you like to start?
Marsha: How can we get better at pivoting between front-end information architecture and backend information architecture, because we’re dealing with data so much all these days? Where we influence the design of the data schema and the APIs that are all over the place. These are the easy ones.
Peter: Punt to Dan.
Dan: I think we should refuse to pivot. It’s the same thing, all the way through, and that isn’t so easy to understand, so let me unpack that a little bit. Just like that podcast that I mentioned yesterday, 99 percent invisible, that’s a nice way to talk about architecture. So much of it is invisible.
If the front part is visible, and the back part is invisible, there’s a continuity between those. If we let the people that we work with frame that for us as a need to pivot, then we lose the thread. Being better at collaborating all the way through, but I would hesitate to let it be characterized as a pivot or a shift, because this is the same thing.
Marsha: What do you think?
Dan: Wow, thank you.
Marsha: Would you like a chance to answer?
Abby: I was hoping not to have to, and you guys just said I didn’t need to, so thank you for agreeing. The world is in a good place.
Marsha: This question, I think is a relapse of some of the answering that we’ve heard, but let’s look at it, too. Let’s start with Dan. Will it ever not be hard to explain the value of what we do? Lots of people have this theme in their questions.
Marsha: They really want to know this one.
Dan: Can I see if my preferred lifeline is in the room? Is Cat King here? OK, get on up here.
Dan: She was subjected to the imperial conditioning, come on.
Marsha: There’s a microphone with your name on it, lady.
Dan: Of having to take the course that I get to teach at the University of Michigan, and so I don’t know that I could say whether it’s harder not hard. The question of, when will it not be hard, I think will benefit from somebody that is asked to learn it recently, to measure the distance between here and there. Repeat the question, please.
Marsha: I’m eating breakfast. OK lifeline, this is for you. Will it ever not be hard to explain the value of but we do?
Cat King: No.
Marsha: Let’s ask the audience.
[laughter and applause]
Dan: Yeah, we’re done here.
Marsha: All right. Peter, would you like to add to that?
Cat: I would like to add to that.
Marsha: Would you like to add to that?
Cat: What is wrong with hard? Why are we not allowed to do hard things? Why are our organization is trying to simplify, when they should be allowed to explore complexity first? Why is hard something we’re avoiding?
Marsha: I think they understood it twice. Now, it’s time to change up how you guys are going to communicate your level of understanding. For this one, instead of hooting and hollering, and clapping, as the panelists answer the question, stand up when you feel like you personally have a level of understanding. Once the room is all standing, we have achieved the answer. Yes?
Abby: Can we stand up and sit down for different answers?
Marsha: Yes, absolutely. We’re going to graph the curve. Peter, would you like to start with this one?
Marsha: How do you select and measure which set of ethics you apply to a project? That came in from about three people.
Peter: I thought this topic of ethics might come up, because of last night’s keynote. Was it a recent one?
Marsha: This came up recently, yes.
Peter: I was sort of dreading that. I think it’s extremely difficult to talk about ethics in any sort of public setting. It’s extremely difficult for us to be honest about the topic. What we saw with Elizabeth Buchanan’s questions, the first set of questions, “Are you a racist, are you a sexist,” no hands go up, compared with the second set of questions, where we were OK putting our hands up, shows that we’re all uncomfortable being perfectly honest in a public setting.
I’m not going to talk too much about ethics, other than to say it’s a very personal manner. It’s something that we should all reflect upon. The choices that we make, we live with for the rest of our lives, and the best recommendation I have for folks is to read, “Crime and Punishment,” by Dostoyevsky. If you read that, it will stick with you for the rest of your life, and you may think about your actions a little differently.
Marsha: Let’s refresh on the rules. As you achieve understanding, stand up.
Abby: They’re not standing.
Audience Member: We need another break every couple of minutes.
Marsha: Ideally, we keep standing, so we get the whole room standing. It’s too hard?
Abby: It’s hard.
Marsha: Let’s sit down, and as the next speaker comes up, you can stand again. We’ll do stand and sit, that’ll work. Abby, do you want to go next?
Abby: Can you repeat the question?
Abby: The framing’s important.
Marsha: The question is, how do you select and measure which set of ethics you apply to a project?
Abby: I don’t know that select is the right construct for me, in the way that I do my work. I feel like collection of the values that exist in an organization, and comparison of those values to the effect they want to have on society is a really important part of my job, but I don’t have a standard set that I’m picking from.
I don’t think that we can have a standard set that we’re picking from. I actually think that the standard set that we have is what we’re picking from, and that’s the problem. It’s more about discussing the values within your organization, and the impact that those values have on not just your users or your profit margin, but on the world that your children will live in once you are not there any longer.
Marsha: Let’s let everyone stand, who wants to stand. OK, we have a pocket in the corner over there. Would you like me to repeat the question?
Dan: No, I think I remember. In my class that I get to teach, I have been avoiding the work of Christopher Alexander for the last several, I redo it every time I teach it, and I used to dab a little, and then I stopped because he’s a really angry man who has a really finger-wagging way of saying how things ought to be done.
I have a problem with that, but relative to this question, the technique that he teaches us to use for making structure, I don’t know that we can center all of our practice on the way that he would have us do it, but here’s one thing that he says.
When you have options, because I think that’s where this also comes in is, when there are options that have ethical consequences to them, you can look at your options, and asking each of those options, “In the presence of this, am I more whole than in the presence of that?”
Another way that he runs the question, if you look at a Michael Graves teapot that kind of looks like Hitler, and a teapot that your grandma used, look at each of those and say, “If this had to be the representation of myself, all of me, not just the parts that are public, but my whole self, which of these is the representation that I would select?”
If you looked at that work on your bench as if that were a reflection of you, because it always is. It’s so subjective, like Peter and Abby were both saying. You’re the subject. Ask yourself, “If I were to do it this way, would I feel whole? If I did it this way, would I be happy to be accountable to that as an avatar for me?” I doubt we could make as many evil things as we make, if we did it that way.
Marsha: Applause and standing, awesome. Peter, would you like to?
Dan: It looks like we have to keep going, some people are still sitting.
Marsha: Would you like to add anything?
Peter: Not yet.
Marsha: Let’s move to the next question. Would you like to start, Abby?
Marsha: OK. The question. When we think about fields that sit at influential centers of our information society, such as data journalism and big data science, is it our obligation to reach out to these practitioners about good IA practice?
Marsha: Peter or Dan, would you like to…?
Peter: I’d be happy to move to the next one.
Next question. Dan, would you like to start?
Why should information architecture be considered a discipline rather than just a skill or competency within a bigger discipline?
You all have a life line, except for Dan.
Dan: I can punt.
Marsha: You can punt. [laughs]
Dan: I want to save that.
Maybe one of the reasons…it gets back to the earlier question about kids these days and future kids.
If it’s a discipline, it shows up in the academic catalog of the colleges that they look at. Has anybody here looked at a college catalog or a list of courses that you didn’t even know that was a thing?
That’s on the basis of what I would like to see the outcomes be, but I think the question…is the person who asked the question here?
It’s OK. We won’t…because I think I would want to know a little more about what was underneath the question, but making it be a discipline…and a lot of the people in this room have been — I think “fighting” is the right word — to make it be a discipline.
Part of the propelling energy for that for many of you — you fighters out there. You know who you are — is because of the kids. If you make it be a discipline, people will know about it.
My course is buried in a HCI and librarianship world. I meet graduates from the University of Michigan School of Information all the time who have no idea what information architecture is.
Peter: I can do this standing?
Peter: Is that what you’re going to say?
Peter: In the late ’90s, early 2000s, I was fairly active in trying to help establish information architecture as a discipline. We had a certain degree of success.
Getting the “Polar Bear Book” actually taught in academic courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, but made very little headway in terms of establishing IA as a discipline.
I’ve sort of come to not really care about that or not really want that for IA. As Ted Nelson was alluding to or specifically saying in his talk, there’s a lot broken in academia today and in the way that we structure disciplines.
I’m not sure I want that for information architecture. I’ve always thought of IA as a bridge, as a way of connecting other disciplines and areas of thought and practices. I’m perfectly happy for us to have no actual territory, but to continue to play that role of forging connections.
Marsha: OK. Got some standers.
Abby: I guess my question back would be why can’t we be both? Like why are we not allowed to be like any other specialty which has some people that apply that specialty to projects like cleaning out their garage or making a more effective chore chart for their little kids to follow?
I mean, why are we so square on dividing between commonplace information architecture and academic information architecture? They’re born of the same ideas. It’s just the implementation that’s different.
I think that it’s borderline insulting to say that at the academic level, we’re not doing the same things that people are applying at the commonsense level. We’re just the ones studying it deeply.
I feel like asking questions like that is part of what divides us. I would really like to see us look at IA as both a specialty and a skill set anyone can have.
Hello, Veronica, standing on the tables, completely awesome.
Abby: If anybody else would like to get on that table, I will take it as a sign that we can finish this question.
Abby: Thank you, sir. Question done.
Marsha: Good. OK.
Does anyone else have other questions? We haven’t had anyone filter up, but this is a good time if you guys want to inject a question before we start into the next section. Anybody? Yeah. Come on up.
Abby: [singing] Chris Chandler is amazing dude. He’s coming to the front of the room. Chris Chandler is amazing dude. He’s coming to the front of the room.
Chris Chandler: Right. All right.
The other day in Los Angeles, Dan did what he called a dry run of this presentation. He was asked the question, if he could name some great examples of information architecture. He declined. I told him I was going to ask him again here today.
That’s my question. I’d like to hear some examples of great information architecture. Go!
Abby: I’ll take it.
I don’t know if any of you have had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 memorial in New York City, but the names that have been displayed of those who passed that day are organized in a pretty emotional way. They are not organized alphabetically. They’re not organized by the companies that those people worked for or the fire department number that they were under. They’re organized by their connection to each other on that day.
I lack the ability to say these words without getting goosebumps all over my fricking body. That, to me, is beautiful information architecture.
Marsha: You guys?
Peter: I’ll go with something a little less emotional, but interesting nonetheless.
I would say that the original conception of the iTunes ecology, the way that Apple and, I think Steve was very involved in this, sort of decided which features went on the iPod, which features went on the desktop application, which features went in the online store was brilliant. It was ahead of its time. It changed the way that we think about what we now call “cross channel design.”
It was absolutely brilliant. That’s a good example of information architecture.
I would finish by saying that the current iTunes is one of the worst examples of information architecture.
Dan: Chris, thank you.
The question that I was asked in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago was about apps and websites. So that’s where my cranky refusal…I asked the audience if they knew anybody who was an architect. And then asked, “Do those people like anything?” That helped to make a little bit of sense or at least it got a laugh.
But I’ve been thinking about it a little bit more, Chris. I have an example. Some of you know that I talk down about Apple products and services as examples of information architecture all the time. Make my students do stuff with iTunes all the time.
But this example is I was speaking at an event. I was using an iPhone, which is something that I’m loathe to do, but my real phone was broken and in the shop.
So I was borrowing somebody’s iPhone. I was in an unfamiliar place, and I misplaced it. I was scared and my friend graciously let me borrow this. I was panicking. I went to the information desk and the two volunteers standing there were like, “Nobody’s turned in an iPhone since we’ve been here, but we haven’t been here all day.”
They saw my face. One of them had pity on me. It was like, “Well, here.” They just handed me their iPhone.
I tapped in my Apple ID on this “lost your iPhone” app, and in a drawer behind the volunteer, “Brr-brr-brr.” That was amazing! Information architecture made that possible.
That’s something that made me feel as good as the best experiences I’ve had in buildings. It’s great.
OK. Great. I neglected to give Chris Chandler his copy of Abby’s book, “How to Make Sense of Any Mess.” This is yours. I will run this over to you.
Marsha: We now have a stack of books from Rosenfeld Media to give away. Oh. We have more questions. “Why We Fail” by Victor Lombardi. We have “Service Design” by Andy Polaine, Lavrans LÃ¸vlie and Ben Reason. And “Make It So” by Nathan Shedroff and Christopher Noessel.
Marsha: All right. So we have a question.
Audience Member: So I’m a business analyst. One of things that I found over the course of this weekend was I don’t really hear a lot of mention about my discipline, my profession. It’s really married with IA and user experience and design.
Yet I didn’t hear a lot of it this weekend. So I was wondering. I’m certified. It’s a thing. It’s a discipline, right? But I’m wondering what is your impression of business analysis and how it fits into what you do?
I’m not looking for, “Oh, we love you guys. It’s all good.” I actually want to know…
Audience Member: …where it fits in.
Marsha: Oh, get your book! [laughs]
Peter: I’ve bumped into business analysts ever since probably 1998, 1999, I remember bumping into some folks at Vanguard who were business analysts.
It’s always surprised me that organizations sort of split business analyst kind of work and information architect kind of work. For me, there’s no divide.
I managed to be fairly oblivious to job titles. I don’t really care about them. When I talk about being an information architect, I think everybody is an information architect, as Abby and I were just talking about the other day.
Being an information architect is like being a poet. Not that many people get paid well to do just that, but we’re all information architects. We’re all poets.
I think that the work of a business analyst is a vital part of the work of information architecture. However an organization wants to slice and dice the job titles isn’t that interesting to me, but I’m really happy when I work with my clients to work with business analysts and figure out how we can work together to make things work better.
Abby: I’ll add more to that.
I also get a chance to work with business analysts pretty regularly, whether by title or just by function.
One of the things I think is interesting about it is it seems that the position of a business analyst is to believe that you can put all of your corporate agenda into the head of another human being without getting their stuff all over it.
Abby: So I really struggle with that, because a good business analyst is able to, like a good information architect, remain the filter and not the grounds in the cup of coffee.
But I see too many bringing lots of opinions into the room that aren’t actually founded in the overall corporate ethos as much as in that person’s mental model of how their company works.
I also see that because of the devaluation of that position, they can be angry as well. If there’s one thing that I understand about angry people is they are not easy to work with. Accessing their mental model is obfuscated by all sorts of craziness.
It’s hard to work with a business analyst that is threatened by information architecture. I think that that’s something that as a community, you’re right. You didn’t hear those words enough this weekend. We’re not admitting that business analyst’s function is something that all of us tend to do as part of our work to get information architecture right.
I think the fact that you have tools and have a certification in that when I don’t in what I do makes me wonder what don’t I know from what you’ve got. So I wish you guys would talk to us more, too.
Marsha: Anyone else?
Dan: It looks like this is pretty well understood, so the one little piece that I’ll throw in is business analysts know where the existing information architecture is. Peter Eisenman is a pedantic crank, so I love him. He says that architecture is not design. Design is synthesis, and architecture is analysis.
That pairs well with a little Andrew Hinton, who talks about invariance in the environment. UBAs are finding what is invariant in the environment, and that’s where the architecture is. You’re finding, you’re analyzing these places made of information, and you can identify the things that don’t change and the things that do. You’re showing them a picture of their architecture before we often are invited in.
Marsha: OK. Response? We didn’t un-understand, did we? OK.
Abby: Did anybody un-understand it?
Dan: Did I push anybody away from a good place with this there? I apologize.
OK. We have another question. Great.
Audience Member: I often forget things while I’m speaking, which is unfortunate. Can you all hear me? OK. Maybe this question is about just being a good person, but to sound smart let’s say it’s about pedagogy.
How do you help someone or a group understand and not be intimidated by complexity without chastising them or deriding their own world view or sensibilities?
I guess, followup, do we have a responsibility to this? Like do we care? I’m curious about what you guys have to say about that.
Dan: You get a book, too.
Audience Member: Do I get it right now?
Peter: Thanks. That’s a great question. I do think we have a responsibility to do that. I think we have an opportunity to do that. I think that the place to start is to help people feel comfortable. One way to do that is to wear shorts.
Peter: Another way to do that is to avoid big fancy words.
Another way to do that is to just embrace your own sense of humility and share your own ignorance and lack of knowing with folks.
I am working with the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School right now. There’s a wonderful ecosystem mapping project across physical and digital environments.
Harvard Business School is a place where everyone kind of has to pretend that they know everything. I think that one of my responsibilities on that project is to get folks to admit they don’t know, right? So that they can actually work together to fill gaps.
This is one of the first projects where I finally realized it’s not enough to be the big superhero information architect and fly in and do a bunch of wire frames. I am going to be working very closely with my clients at the library to co-create our ecosystem and experience maps, so that it’s a shared product.
It’s taken me a long time to get that, right? That we have to create this together. We have to admit our ignorance together and move forward together.
I think that breaking down those barriers that come from pretending we know more than we do, it’s a great opportunity to move things forward.
Abby: I’ll add to that.
I would say…
Abby: I totally agree with what Peter said. I think in terms of practical advice, stop doing it for them. Just stop. Because it leaves them believing that the diagram is the work, and it’s not.
Making the diagram is the work. If you do all the work for them and you show them the diagram, the diagram is easy. You just went to your cubicle and you drew some boxes and you put arrows between them. What’s the big fricking deal?
They don’t understand that, nor should they. They’ve never been asked to do it themselves. Stop doing it for them. Burn the straw dog.
Marsha: All right.
Dan: I think these guys have…I agree. The one piece that resonates in me relative to this question is permission. The power of giving…Mr. Wurman told me a story about when he was working for Lou Kahn, he was already an information architect. He was worried that that would be a problem for this old man that he loved who was teaching him to be an architect.
This was before he conceived it in terms of information architecture, but he was making books and maps and diagrams and all sorts of things in part because he was a junior and had all this time to pursue his interests.
So at the office, he had a giant press sheet that he was looking at for some project not related to the work of Lou Kahn’s office. Lou Kahn, after Mr. Wurman had left the building, Lou put it up behind his own desk. That gave Mr. Wurman permission…
Then he also said, “You know, Ricky, even when I’m getting a haircut I’m an architect.” So giving him permission to consider what he was doing in print as architecture, or at least as, “You respect me, and I’m giving you permission to do what you want. Not what I say to do.”
Marsha: OK. Good.
Marsha: All right. We have only two minutes left. Does anyone have one last live question? We have one book left. Does anyone have one last live question?
Audience Member: Hi. Sorry. I’m losing my voice.
Marsha: That’s not surprising. Killing it last night.
Audience Member: Thank you. Thank you.
I come to this…this is my first time, actually, that I come to a conference like this.
Audience Member: I come to a conference like this. It’s so well done, and I get really fired up to go back home. Well, I live here, but to go back to my company two miles away and start using all the things I’ve learned and start having conversations about all the things I’ve learned.
But I know that I’m going to go back, maybe on Tuesday after this on the weekend, and I’m going to have ten projects. I’m the only UX person at my company.
We’ve got a marketing director, who’s got that skill set. A designer, who’s working toward that skill set. But it’s kind of me.
So how do we get practical as UX teams of one, IA teams of one? Being the only person appreciating this discipline in a company? What’s the minimal viable engagement with projects and how do we figure that out in real life?
Abby: I think you need to share the work. Maybe the politics of your organization make it so you can’t tell them that you’re making them do your work, but I think that that might be the way that UX teams of one or IAs that are operating solely in an organization need to get through, is by saying, instead of like, “Hey! I want you to do this information architecture task for me.” It’s like, “Hey, do you think that you could go and just collect all of the terms that mean this in the organization and email me a list?”
You have to tactically break up the assignment into chunks that can be discretely given to your partners, so they can be a part of that conversation. Going around and doing all of that mining yourself is going to be really tiring. As many meetings as you can leave having delegated as many things as you’ve accepted I would say would put you in a really good position.
That said, do not frame this like, “Hey, guys. So I’m too busy, so you’re going to help me do my work.” No. It’s their job to work with you, because you are the filter. They need to give you the content to go through. They need to help you to explore that territory.
They shouldn’t expect you to be putting on the headlamp and going down there by yourself. You don’t need to do that all the time.
Dan: I think we can…
Marsha: Yeah. We’re out of time. OK.
Great. Thank you guys. So the part three will happen next year. [laughs]
Peter: I want to do a final, a closing…
Marsha: Yes, absolutely.
Abby: As do I.
Marsha: Yeah. Great.
Peter: So that’s sort of a coincidence that we call this the “Understanding Bee.” Understanding is at the center of the work that we do. We need to have the courage to dig into the complexity of our ecosystems to drag people with us into the complexity of ecosystems. And to come out on the other side with shared understanding.
It’s interesting. This morning I was just looking at the etymology of the word “understanding.” Actually comes from a word “understandan,” where there’s instead of a “-ding” at the end, there’s a “-dan.”
Peter: It’s not standing under. It’s standing together. That’s really where the word comes from. I think that with the word “understanding” comes empathy, comes kind of this notion of being together, getting together, of coming together. Hopefully, that’s some of what we have done here this morning.