Multi-Channel Communication

This year I collaborated with Q LTD to redesign The Kresge Foundation's website (here's the old one). We updated the information architecture and content to better reflect the foundation's priorities, while striving to improve usability, findability, credibility, and other facets of the user experience.

One of my favorite parts of the process was helping the organization to engage with social media in a safe, sensible manner. We provided the education, encouragement, and design needed to get the ball rolling. Along the way, I had to answer a couple of wildly divergent questions.

First, several folks asked: Why should we use social media at all when we already have a website? In response, along with explaining the potential of social media as tools for conversation and community, I told this story:

Ten years ago, Marcia Bates gave a talk at the University of Michigan about information seeking. Her delivery was dry and the subject quite academic. I recall plotting to escape. But once I began to understand the thrust of her argument -- that while we focus attention on design for directed search, people absorb the vast majority of knowledge (80 percent) by simply being aware in their social context and physical environment -- I was hooked. This was a provocative message to deliver in what was still largely a library school. Of course, I didn't know what to do with this knowledge. How could I design for awareness? The answer arrived years later in the forms of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media that brought the water cooler to the Web.

So, I continued, while it's comforting to believe our goals can be achieved by one or two channels, it's simply not true, which is why we must embrace a multi-channel communication strategy that accommodates the spectrum of behavior from active, directed search to passive, undirected awareness.

Information Seeking Modes by Marcia Bates

This brings me to the second question (asked by an IT manager): since we have social media and The Web is Dead, why do we need a website? I explained that reports of the Web's death had been greatly exaggerated, and that the site remains the centerpiece of the communication strategy, providing access to the full archive, and serving as a verifiable source of authority. After all, you can't believe everything you read on the Web!

Multi-Channel Communication Strategy

Later, I created this diagram (above) to illustrate the complex, dynamic relationships between an organization's website and its social media. As an information architect, I'm finding the diagram plus my Marcia Bates story to be helpful in explaining how and why the structural design should support multi-channel communication. It's an interesting time to be having these conversations, given the ongoing evolution of how we know what we know.

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Social Computing

As an advisor to the Foundation, I'm pleased to offer a preview of the new encyclopedia entry on the topic of social computing.

Thomas Erickson on Social Computing

After exploring the videos and commentary, I recommend reading about the organization's mission and history. It's an interesting and inspiring story!

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User Experience People

For the butterfly book, Jeff and I aspired to bring search to life through colorful illustrations. And, we shared them in the Search Patterns Library.

User Experience People

In the same spirit of open source, we're pleased to publish our first version of user experience stencils for Omnigraffle. Whether you're sketching scenarios or drawing maps, we hope they'll help you to put people in the picture. Take them for a spin, and please let us know what you think!

Update: User Experience People 2.0, More Formats (Thanks Livia)

Strange Connections

Ubiquitous Service Design is our most recent collaboration.

Don't miss the growing collection of IA Summit podcasts and slides.

New interview and a chance to win a copy of Search Patterns.

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Seeing the Summit

I'm convinced there's buried treasure where information architecture meets visual thinking. I had fun collaborating with Jeff to create maps and illustrations for the butterfly book, but I still don't feel like I'm there yet.

Seeing the Summit

That's why I'm so excited by this year's IA Summit. In the realm of visual thinking, it's hard to beat a program that includes Dan Roam, Dave Gray, Dan Willis, Richard Saul Wurman, and Kevin Cheng. See you at the summit!

Strange Connections

After reading an advance copy (thanks Dave!), I highly recommend Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo.

Mac Slocum interviewed me about the Web's fun and wicked problem.

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The Information Architect Episode

Have you read 33 by Richard Saul Wurman? If so, I'd love to hear your reaction. By happenstance, I was on the phone with Mr. Wurman recently. He asked for my opinion, and I had a hard time responding. The word that popped out, eccentric, was intended as a compliment.

33 by Richard Saul Wurman

But, I really did enjoy the book, especially the Structure of Instruction episode and, of course, the Information Architect episode.

Here are some excerpts:

The Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination loved information but knew that information that didn't inform wasn't information - it was data, non-information.
He was, as he liked to call himself, an Information Architect, in fact the original Information Architect, since the time the little fellow chaired the American Institute of Architects' 1976 national convention with the theme The Architecture of Information.
And that's why I've chosen to call myself an Information Architect! he told the gathering. I don't mean a bricks-and-mortar architect. I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural and orderly principles to make something work - the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear.
The Information Age has been in existence for more than two decades now and yet, does it inform? the Commissioner asked.
And yet, through this field of black volcanic ash has come a group of people, small in number, deep in passion, called Information Architects, who ply their trade, make themselves visible and develop a body of work on paper, in electronic interfaces, in some extraordinary exhibitions. These people are now and they are the future.

It's a tough book to describe. Eccentric is my word. What's yours?

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The Real Information Architect

This entertaining presentation by Gail Leija is one of the best (and most fun) overviews of information architecture that I've seen in a while.

And, to learn a little more about the real IA behind the PPT, it's also worth watching this auto biography (my life as told by my cars).

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Web Style Guide

The 3rd edition of the Web Style Guide is here ahead of schedule.

Web Style Guide

And since the authors haven't yet had time to make the whole text available online, here's the foreword (which I had the distinct pleasure of writing).

Once upon a time, there was a pig named Wilbur. What? Did you expect a line on design or a word about the web? Or would you prefer a simile, a figurative yet sincere invocation of kinship with The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White?

It's true, this book has style. And it covers all the elements from css and typography to html and the structure of prose. But, if we focus too narrowly on the conjunction and the comma, we may lose sight of the composition.

So let's return to the runt who becomes "some pig" thanks to the writing in Charlotte's Web. Wilbur and his spider friend, Charlotte, teach us about loyalty and friendship in a way that touches all readers, young and old.

In similar fashion, Web Style Guide delivers value and meaning to seemingly disparate audiences, from the student prodigy who would be webmaster to the grizzled veteran information architect who's been there and organized that.

For the beginner, this book teaches the fundamentals of interface design, information architecture, and usability without unnecessary complexity or jargon. It's the clearest, most practical guide to Web design you'll find.

Experts will savor this book differently. In an age of specialization, we often get stuck in a rut. Web Style Guide invites us once again to see the whole and to learn the latest techniques from related disciplines and communities of practice.

But this book is more than a manual. It speaks not only to what we do but why. Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton inspire us to strive for universal usability. And because not everyone can enjoy the beautiful images and typography of the printed work, the authors walk the talk by sharing an accessible version of Web Style Guide online, for free.

After all, concern for people lies at the heart of design. We lift ourselves up by helping others. As Charlotte explained to Wilbur at the end of her story, "I wove my webs for you because I liked you." Isn't that our story, too?

During World Usability Day, Sarah gave me the book, fresh off the press. It was the perfect context in which to receive my copy. Are you ready for yours?

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Found Futures: Talking with Stuart Candy

Stuart is a researcher at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies and a research fellow of the exceptionally farsighted Long Now Foundation. He's also a guerilla futurist who takes alternative futures to the streets.

Maui Poster
Image Credit: Matthew Jensen for FoundFutures

With mentor Jim Dator and co-conspirator Jake Dunagan, Stuart has unleashed a slew of artifacts and experiences from the future upon an unsuspecting public, including postcards from 02036 and plaques honoring those who suffered and died in the great pandemic of 02016.

As the sceptical futuryst explains, these exercises in ambient foresight and anticipatory democracy are intended to engage the public in creative thinking about possible and preferable futures.

By creating immersive experiences that provoke an emotional response and are difficult to ignore, futurists can elude the dryness that can be associated with the two-dimensional text and statistics of traditional scenario planning.

These experiments are also answers to a question at the heart of Stuart's research: how can we study human behavior in contexts that don't yet exist?

This question is clearly relevant to those of us in the design world as well. Our work requires both insight and foresight. Whether the design horizon is three months or five years, our deliverables bring imaginable futures to life.

And, as these examples illustrate...

...we also engage directly in the design of more provocative tangible futures.

Imaginable Futures
Image Credit: Design for Future Needs

These experiments in what Jason Tester calls Human-Future Interaction are just the beginning. One of Stuart Candy's hopes is to engage wider, more distributed audiences through simulations and gaming. Inspired by the success of World Without Oil, he's accepted a spot as game master of Superstruct. Whoever said being a futurist can't be fun?

Of course, futures thinking is hard work too. Towards the end of our conversation, Stuart noted that as Stumbling on Happiness makes clear, most of us are quite terrible at looking forward. We make basic and consistent mistakes. And, we retrospectively edit our imagined futures, quietly building our false memories and false confidence.

But, despite our inability to predict how we'll feel after eating a burrito, Stuart intends to continue searching the future, and engaging us in the process with surprising experiences and shocking artifacts. So be prepared and stay alert.

You never know what might happen next.

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The Beautiful Web

One of my best friends from college, Tony Grant, has been cataloguing his father's artwork in preparation for a retrospective show.

James Grant's artwork

I found to be a wonderful reminder of the web's potential to help us tell inspiring stories and share beautiful images.

Strange Connections

My design partner Q LTD created delightful, delicious sites for Hollander's and Forte Belanger. Which reminds me, it's time for lunch!

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Mountain Biking on eBay

Last month I had lunch with user experience managers at eBay. We discussed the challenges of designing a marketplace in which buyers and sellers game the system. For example, sellers have learned to increase sales by misclassifying individual components as complete systems. They know that users who search for mountain bikes may also buy accessories they don't know they want or need. And, while the resulting clutter can be frustrating, hardcore buyers enjoy the thrill of the hunt that eBay affords. They don't want the search to be easy.

Potawatomi Trail

This resonates with my latest passion: singletrack mountain biking. I don't love riding the Poto despite the fierce climbs and descents, the deadly rocks and roots, and the treacherous sand and mud. I love the experience precisely because of the danger and difficulty. It's fun because it's hard (and beautiful).

I suspect that's why the smart folks I've met at eBay love their work. They're dealing with amazingly complex user experience strategy and design challenges that quite simply make your head hurt. Sounds like fun!

Strange Connections

Genius Freeman Dyson reframes green technology in our biotech future.

Latanya Sweeney on the false dichotomy between privacy and security.

I was recently interviewed by Richard Wallis on Talking with Talis.

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I'm happy to learn (from the comfort of my hotel in Oslo, Norway) that Parentography has launched.


Parentography is an online community where parents can share reviews of family-friendly places and activities. I had the good fortune to work with the founders (Tim and Noelle) and the Q Crew on the site's design.

While I enjoyed shaping the information architecture, my favorite contribution was the excursion. Excursions let us tell stories and share experiences.

I've offered a few of mine. How about you?

And, please do send feedback. As the beta designation and the blog suggest, this is very much a work in progress. And, since I plan to be an active Parentographer, I'd like to see it get better and better. Cheers!

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Apple iPhone

Engadget has excellent coverage of Steve Jobs' Macworld 2007 keynote delivered earlier today. And, here's the New York Times story.

Apple iPhone

This device is seriously cool and represents an important and highly desirable step towards ambient findability. Looks like my next Treo will be an iPhone. Heck, I might even dump my Dell laptop for a MacBook.

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Interaction Design

I've invested much of my career defining information architecture as distinct from interaction design. So, it was funny this summer to find myself working on a couple of Web 2.0 projects that pulled me way into the left of Jesse's diagram.

At a certain point -- I think it was the drag-and-drop interface that pushed me over the edge -- I realized it was time to go back to school (not literally).

So, I've been reading up on the topic:

Dan's book provides an excellent overview of the history and concepts surrounding interaction design. Jenifer's book digs deep into the patterns of effective and successful interaction design. It's a good read and a great reference. I haven't read the other two yet, but they're on my list.

Ironically, I was a technical reviewer for Designing Interfaces. When I read the manuscript, a long while back, my head was so deep into information architecture and findability, I didn't really engage. I wasn't ready for the interaction. It took a bit of pain to make the content relevant.

Also ironic, just when I'm ready to join IxDA, I'm starting a very large (and exciting) traditional IA engagement. But that doesn't dull my interest. Even on content-centric projects, I think there are intriguing opportunities to design for information interaction at the crossroads of these sister discplines.

So, now that I'm ready to learn, what else should I read?

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What's New in the Third Edition

Lou and I have received a few questions recently from faculty hoping to use the 3rd edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web in their Winter 2007 courses. Well, we have good news. According to O'Reilly, the new polar bear will be available by the end of the year.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 3rd edition

And, to help with course planning, here's an excerpt describing what's new:

We've maintained the overall organization of the book while bringing the concepts, examples, and illustrations in each chapter up to date. We received substantial help from the information architecture community in the form of responses to a series of surveys we conducted in 2006. The chapters on organization and navigation systems have been expanded to address tagging, folksonomies, social classification, and guided navigation. The chapter on design and documentation includes new sections on the role of diagrams in the design phase and the when, why, and how behind blueprints and wireframes. The education and the tools and software chapters have been revised based upon survey feedback. And, the chapter on enterprise information architecture enjoyed a major rewrite to accommodate lessons learned over the past few years. Finally, we've updated the appendix to include pointers to the most useful information architecture resources available today.

This edition was a real collaborative effort. Thanks to everyone who helped!

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Information Architecture Survey Results

For the third edition of the polar bear book (almost done!), Lou Rosenfeld and I conducted five surveys of the IA community. All of the results are now available via the IA Institute web site, and cover the following topics:

Many thanks to the hundreds of you who participated, to Beth Koloski, our wonderful research assistant who did all the dirty work and assembled the results, and Noreen Whysel of the IAI, who kindly published them on the site.

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Communicating Design

Information architects, interaction designers, and anyone who labors over wireframes and sitemaps should read Communicating Design by Dan Brown.

Communicating Design by Dan Brown

His new book covers personas, usability reports, concept models, content inventories, sitemaps, flow charts, wireframes, and screen designs. For more, check out the book site or one of Dan's many articles. Nobody brings web design deliverables to life like Dan Brown!

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The Bulletin of Information Architecture

The latest issue of the ASIS&T Bulletin includes a special section on information architecture with a nice mix of philosophical and practical articles.

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Alignment Diagrams

I'm excited that Indi Young has signed with Rosenfeld Media to write her book on Alignment Diagrams which will feature her pioneering work in information architecture and user experience design from mental models. Disclosure: I'm on the Advisory Board. But I'd read this book no matter who published it!

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Insidious Micromedia

My friend Dan Klyn has been spreading some wildly appropriate memes over the past few months, and this SES Canada presentation about RSS, standards, particles, and the age of insidious micromedia is no exception. Check it out!

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The Resilience of Information Architecture

At the IA Summit, Grant Campbell and Karl Fast presented "From Pace Layering to Resilience Theory: The Complex Implications of Tagging for Information Architecture." I highly recommend both the paper and the slides, and if you're really into resilience, check out Ecology and Society.

Of course, that doesn't mean I totally agree with Grant and Karl. First, I don't agree that information architects have ignored tags. To the contrary, IAs are infatuated with collaborative tagging. We simply haven't found many opportunities (yet) to integrate tags into our practice.

Second, the authors commit the same sin as Clay Shirky and David Weinberger by ignoring context. Tagging has flourished in the free-wheeling blogosphere, but has had little traction in the realm of corporate and government web sites where authority is an equal partner to findability. It remains unclear when and whether tags belong in the information ecologies in which IAs typically practice.

That said, I've begun a Web 2.0 consulting project in which I'll get to integrate tags and taxonomies, so I'm on the hunt for inspiration. Amazon's experiment with tags seems to have failed. Has collaborative tagging ever been successfully integrated into the web site of an established institution? How about examples of sites (even small ones) that elegantly combine tags and taxonomies? Thanks!

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In Search of Clarity

I was born in Manchester, England. Thus, it's safe to conclude that I love football, beans on toast, and dry humour.

Unfortunately, this British sense of humour gets me into trouble. Like when I wrote Big Architect, Little Architect as a tribute to Big Dog, Little Dog and earned the eternal ire of little architects around the world.

Calm down folks! Who ever said bigger is better? Embrace your miniscularity. As Richard Feynman wisely noted, there's plenty of room at the bottom.

So, now all that Defining IA fuss is behind us, it's time to set the record straight with respect to folksonomy. While skimming the April issue of EContent, I was horrifically amused to read the following:

Peter Morville, who authored Ambient Findability and is one of the blogosphere's leading opponents to folksonomy, finds little value in user-generated tags.

Now, while I have been known to tag bash and leaf lash on occasion, I had hoped readers would recognize my barbed words as tough love tenderly wrapped in dry humour. Clearly, I over-estimated my readers.

So, for the record, I see lots of value in user-generated tags, and continuing value in taxonomies and controlled vocabularies. In some contexts, one will exist without the other, and sometimes they will co-evolve in pace-layered harmony.

Or maybe not.

In any case, I hope this article has been helpful to little architects, folksonomy fetishists, my readers, and anyone else still searching for a sense of humour.

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Polar Bear III

Lou and I are pleased to announce we've signed a contract with O'Reilly to publish a third edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web.

Since its original publication in 1998, the polar bear book has sold more than 100,000 copies and become established around the world as a leading text for students and practitioners.

But it's time for an upgrade, and we'd love your help. Please contribute by completing PB3 Survey #1. This is the first in a series of community surveys we're planning to ensure we include the best ideas and examples.

Also, we're hiring an editorial assistant, so if you know someone who may be interested, please send them the position description. Thanks!

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You Are Here

Welcome to the next generation. In case you haven't noticed, it's a borg. I mean, it's a blog. Yes, after years of quiet resistance, I've succumbed to the call of the blogosphere. I've been assimilated.

In blogging, my most transparent and prosaic goal is to promote my new book, Ambient Findability. I've poured blood, sweat, and tears into this strange text, so I won't be shy about inviting folks to read it.

That said, I'm hoping this blog will go beyond the book. As my classification scheme hints, I'll be writing about authority, business, culture, design, search, ubicomp, etc. And let's not forget the oft-maligned category of miscellaneous. I very much reserve the right to write about seemingly random topics.

So, if you want the original findability, it's there but not here. And if you like this new place, please come again, or better yet, leave a piece of yourself behind.

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