Last year I was unable to complete the chapter I was meant to contribute to the collection Advances in Information Architecture: The Academics / Practitioners Roundtable 2014–2019 (published earlier this year). This was partly because I lacked the resources to divide my brain between the book chapter and finishing my dissertation. I think I was also unable to commit to saying anything of great importance in the chapter until I was clear and confident in what I’d done for my Masters research study. In which case, why write the chapter?
Regardless, there was some writing I’d done for the chapter which I could share, so I put it online as an essay called Thoughts on Information Architecture as it Relates to Design: The Lost IA (DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.14131.04642). Three significant contributions from the essay (amongst other things said) include:
One, that a designerly IA, associated largely with web design in the late 1990s, was ‘lost’ in the wake of what came to be the dominant conceptualisation of IA (related to digital design) being the Library and Information Science (LIS) IA of Rosenfeld and Morville’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (aka Polar Bear IA; aka Classical IA).
Two, that although Classical IA enjoys the benefits of loosely being considered a form of Design, it is not. By way of an argument, I map Classical IA back to Information Science using the M3 Model recommended by Flavia Lacerda and Mamede Lima-Marques (also see). I chose to use the M3 Model because it has served as the conceptual framework for discussing IA, in disciplinary terms, throughout the history of the Academics / Practitioners Roundtable workshops and in Advances in Information Architecture.
And three, the ‘lost IA’ is mapped to a diagrammatic representation (see below) of a description of composition and architectonic in relation to design objects provided by Nelson & Stolterman in The Design Way (2012). I deviated from continuing use of the M3 Model because in the form given, it is unable to capture what praxis means in Design or Design’s particular intellectual culture (as described by Nigel Cross in Designerly Ways of Knowing, 2006, p. 2), being distinct to that found in the sciences (and humanities).
Visualisation of Nelson and Stolterman’s discussion of ‘compositional wholes’ (The Design Way. 2012, p160)
About the diagram: (Quoting from the essay)
“…[T]he area in pink is that area where the Lost IA operated. IA deliverables such as sitemaps, task flows and wireframes represented the conceptualisation of substance (i.), that is content and functionality, and intrinsic ordering system (ii.), being the structure”.
“Utility…[is] not mentioned in the quote by Nelson and Stolterman…but warrants inclusion…because structure doesn’t actually exist in IA during the process of designing, accept [eish!] conceptually. Otherwise, articulation of structure is always retrospective. Structure is an emergent quality, inseparable from those things which both define it, through the negative, and through which it speaks, such as interface, content or technology.
And yet, without its constant consideration through the design process as the single and only compositional force, anything of experiential value cannot manifest. There is literally no aspect of digital design, or UX, which does not touch or is not touched by the compositional structure [iii.]. If there is, then the design has not been compositionally resolved.”
Presentation for UX South Africa, on November 4th, 2020.
Building upon a rethinking of complexity, a lack of appropriate design skills is identified as the primary limitation to ideating effective solutions in and for complexity. In this scenario, scarcity prevails. New theory and practice in information architecture is argued to provide such skills when conducted in design, as a form of design.
This is a radical shift in how IA is usually considered in UX, and beyond, and is long overdue. Because of the near pervasive lack of these skills, a variety of assumptions and myths have come to constrain the otherwise natural abundance to be found in acts of designing.
Despite the importance and need for these new skills, they require enactment with an awareness of a far more troubling form of scarcity. This is the artificial scarcity born of the commodification of the web over the last two decades which has vastly undermined the otherwise inherent abundance and potential of the technology.
In both cases, the young field of UX is challenged to question certain fundamental, and fundamentally flawed, beliefs regarding what is and is not possible by design.
View or download the presentation (3.25 meg .pdf)
On the 17th of September 2019 the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) communicated the board’s decision to dissolve the organisation. The communication was entitled: 09/17/2019 – Decision – The future of the IAI and may be found, for now, at:
The IAI was registered as a 501 c (6) nonprofit organization in the state of Michigan in the USA. Such entities are organised to support trade and commerce interests related to a profession or practice and are not-for-profit. It is important to note that the closing of the IAI is the closing of an entity which I believe many people, both within and beyond the practice, have come to consider as being representative of more than just trade and commerce related to the practice.
The dissolution of the Institute is by no means, nor should it imply, the dissolution of the practice (if that is even possible) or the field (which may be argued not to actually exist at this time or at least to be in its infancy). Nevertheless, a void now exists in a place that IA held in the world. Mature, transparent, representative and just consideration needs to be given to what could or should replace the IAI, if anything at all.
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With all due respect to the founding mothers and fathers of the practice of Information Architecture as represented, by-and-large by the IA Institute, they happened upon something far greater in context, relevance, importance and meaning than had initially been conceived.
The recognition that both the theory and practices of multiple disciplines are more or less tacitly at play and in evidence in the practice of IA is gaining momentum within the IA community and is supported by research-led efforts taking place within academic, educational and applied spaces by an increasing number of people from around the world.
We are at an inflection point in the development of a practice which stands more to benefit by expanding its current framing than not, despite real evidence and cogent argumentation that the frame of the practice is in truth broader, regardless of the opinions of the practice’s community, their volume, reach or indeed their silence on the matter.
If we can rise above matters of community, there is a higher calling than the benefits to be gained by the practice.
The world is being swept forward uncontrollably into a future which in all likelihood will be heavily determined, in the main, by the values and interests of commerce and technology. IA, in its current framing, is contributing an extremely small part of what it could contribute to ensuring that our global, socio-technological futures are based in values and interests of a higher-order than those contained within commerce and technology. That is to say, human goodness. We are also at an inflection point in the development of humankind where commerce and technology, left to their own devices, could easily result in equivalent experiences as those which emerged from the last Industrial Revolution where some of the greatest atrocities in human history, including but not limited to colonisation, may be found.
A field can contain multiple types of practice based on multiple interpretations of the meaning of the field. In fact, it is not uncommon for multiple interpretations and practices to be at odds with one another within the same field. This adds credibility to a field, is a sign of its maturity and should be encouraged in the appropriate forums and formats with the appropriate protocols and controls.
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Times such as these are precarious for young fields such as IA where power positions within the community of practice will inevitably be at play in the consideration of the future of the practice and field. Neither purposely hidden power agendas nor historical or cultural assumption should dictate future definitions of purpose, promise or value related to the practice of IA in the consideration of a replacement entity.
These issues should however not imply the need for consensus on one or an other epistemological (disciplinary, theoretical or philosophical) position or underpinning. The same applies to matters of praxiology related to practice, profession and even the important issues related to markets, trade, commerce and people’s livelihoods. On the contrary, and in an effort to mature the field, a form of entity, related entities or invented entity is required which can singularly contain a multiplicity of positions and the inclusion of new positions which will inevitably emerge if we are successful.
In other words, we require an entity for the field and not the practice.
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As applied here, the term ‘field’ should be understood to include:
- Discipline, practice and education
- The community of the field of which the community of practice is a part
- Spaces of and for the storing and growing of the various forms of value created by the field, not limited to practice or practitioners, for the field and the world in general.
‘Field’ should be understood as representing the interests, needs and values of all stakeholders (internal and external to the field as well as those directly or indirectly impacted by the field) rather than its ‘shareholders’.
At the level implied herein, ‘field’ should pursue an authentic agenda of global, cultural and social inclusion without fear or favour towards any majority, if it is to possess any integrity what’s so ever. To be precise: the purpose, promise and values of the field should not be a matter of numbers or place but rather one of just and fair futures where the wellbeing of the overall ecosystem should take centre stage.
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It is my firm belief that a hundred years from now IA will be understood to have been a defining field of the 21st Century for its contribution to the betterment of life on earth. The field as it stands today is a very long way off achieving this purpose, nevertheless, it yet remains within our ability.
The reasons for the dissolution of the IA Institute still need to be understood both broadly and deeply, its lessons, meaning and cautions for the future documented for reasons of historical record and the value therein, for those who will live on while we have have passed on. This may require many years of fact finding and reflection as it calls for the larger creation of a record of the field as a whole. Regardless, both must be done but at this moment the needs of the future should take priority.
I was happy to deliver a keynote presentation at the IA Summit in Chicago this year entitled ‘Postcards from the Edge’.
While at the Summit I participated in the 6th Academics and Practitioners Roundtable. This year the topic was ‘Ethics and Information Architecture’ where I presented a lightning version of the paper ‘Wicked Ethics in Design’.
Thank you and well done to the organisers of both of the above.
Pics by Resmini
I haven’t posted in ages. I have a great reason though: I took 2017 off. I highly recommend it to anyone who can afford it (in one sense or another). I did do stuff though. I sold my apartment, put all my things in storage and travelled through Israel then settled down to write a book about information architecture design. It’s almost done.
I did some other things too. Terence and I wrote and presented a paper on strategy design at ICoRD ’17 in India entitled: Conceiving and Applying Relationship Models for Design Strategy. A further version of the paper, co-written by us, was then presented in Hong Kong by Terence at the Design Management Academy International Conference 2017 titled: Experience-led Design Strategy.
In March myself and Dan Klyn conducted the workshop Human-Centered Design and IA at the 2017 IA Summit in Vancouver.
Terence, Tasmin Donaldson and myself put on World IA Day in Johannesburg last year and this year. At the latter I presented some of the new thinking to be included in my book.
Other stuff…Terence and I are working on a paper for a special edition of the journal Philosophy and Technology. We wrote a chapter for a book soon to be published addressing ‘educating citizen designers’ in South Africa and our paper ‘Wicked Ethics in Design’ will be republished in a new book on ethics and design.
Perhaps not much of a year off, but it’s been great just to do research and write. Long overdue but nonetheless, this year I start my MA in Design at the University of Johannesburg.
At the top of Masada in Israel
A few weeks back Terence and I conducted a great workshop on developing human centered UX strategy to a mixed crowd of around 30 people. It seemed to go really well and we received great feedback. At the last minute I was also asked to keynote at the conference and spoke on the same topic. Thanks to the UXSA folks for the opportunities and the fun time.
The new board of the IA Institute has just begun its two-year term and I have the good fortune of having been nominated and voted in as the Director of Education. It’s a new, and much needed, position at the institute and I hope to be able to help move things along positively. It’s been great fun so far and my first project is well underway and on track.
Once again, we have hosted World IA Day Johannesburg and, once again, we had a ball. The line up this year included: Sebabatso Mtimkulu, Ray Whitcher, Rob Enslin, Stephen Hobbs, Nicholas Hobson, Lindi Maritz and Rob Cowie.
The star of the event was Flavia Lacerda who we brought out from Brasilia to present on the topic “Pervasive Information Architecture: designing information ecosystems for the Internet of Things” It was, as it always is, a complete joy to see her again.
We also used the event to host a ‘townhall’ to discuss the possibility of forming a UX body of some kind for South Africa.
The guys behind the UX SA Conferences have really been doing a great job. For the last few years they’ve been selling out and it’s starting to gain international attention. This year the majority of presentation submissions came from abroad. They’ve also been a great platform for myself and Terence. Here’s some stuff we’ve done at the conferences:
- UXSA Cape Town 2014: Presentation of Designing for the liminal (youtube link)
- UXSA Johannesburg 2015: Presentation of the Firma Model (youtube link)
- UXSA Cape Town 2015: Workshop ‘Big picture problems (and solutions)’
- UXSA Cape Town 2015: Presentation of the UX Landscape of South Africa (youtube link)
- UXSA Johannesburg 2016: Workshop ‘Developing human-centered UX strategy’ (happening on the 10th of May 2016)
Last year, Dr. Marco Pretorius, Terence and myself embarked on researching and baselining the maturity of UX in South Africa. It was a huge effort but I think it turned out really well. As part of the project we created the report, published an academic version of the findings, created a website – www.uxlandscape.com – and have also presented the findings (youtube link) at the UX SA Conference 2015 in Cape Town. The contents of the report include:
- About the study
- Executive summary
- Part 1: Demographics
- Part 2: UX Practitioners
- Part 3: Institutional UX
- Part 4: Education and knowledge building
- Conclusion and recommendations
- Next steps
Our intention is now to run this every two years so as to meaningfully contribute to the growth of the field here in SA.