Understanding Information Architecture

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there has never been a better time to be an information architect. Demand for classic IA remains strong, while cross-channel and ubiquitous beg for attention. It's tremendously exciting but also overwhelming. That's why Jeff and I created Understanding IA.

Understanding Information Architecture

We want to connect the dots between where IA comes from and where it's going. And, we hope to encourage folks to think differently about what we do. So, please take a look and then let us know what you think. Thanks!

Strange Connections

Don't miss Design for Cross-Channel Experiences at the IA Summit!

Or, perhaps we'll see you at IA Konferenz or UX Lisbon.

Or, stay put, grab some popcorn, and watch the World IA Day videos.

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Framing Futurity

In my article about being an information architect, I reveal that I've been doing some soul searching around my goals and aspirations. I find such introspection to be invigorating, especially when I'm lucky enough to do my thinking while hiking amidst the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Old Rag Mountain

During this particular round of reflection, I found it helpful to brainstorm a whole bunch of ways of framing the future, including:

  • Where do you want to be in 20 years?
  • What BHAG would you be willing to suffer for?
  • How do you want to change the world/web?
  • How can I get better faster?
  • What do I want to learn?
  • Boredom or fear. Choose one.
  • Big/small fish in a small/big pond?
  • What's my sustainable, competitive advantage?
  • How about choosing an interesting life, one day at a time?
  • What activities/relationships will lead to flow/fulfillment?
  • Do I want to leverage what I know or who I know?
  • What's on my bucket list?
  • What if you only had two years left to live?
  • What if you could only work for four hours a day?
  • How can you achieve a healthy life/work balance?
  • What legacy do you want (and how much do you care)?

Perhaps you'll find these useful next time you think about your future. Of course, in my case, I ended where I started, albeit with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. I remembered how much I love the freedom and adventure that come with being an independent consultant, and I realized that there has never been a better time to be an information architect.

Strange Connections

Part I and Part II of my UX Russia interview.

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Up The Stairs

A couple of years ago, I began to notice big red boxes appearing inside and outside grocery stores in Ann Arbor. I ignored them for a while, which wasn't easy because they are big and red, but eventually I gave Redbox a try. My first experience wasn't great. Using a kiosk interface to browse the DVD selection while strangers peered over my shoulder was unnerving.

Still, I endured the kiosk search a few more times before stumbling upon the website and realizing I could search and pay online, then pick up my movie at the kiosk with a swipe of my credit card. This multi-channel epiphany led to a much better experience, and I'm now a Redbox fan.

But how many folks never get past the kiosk? How do we make it easier for people to learn about multi-channel possibilities? The idea of smoothing the steps into a gentle slope sounds good, but I'm not sure it's entirely practical.

Up Stairs

#ubicompsketchbook on Twitter and Flickr

Perhaps we need ways of catapulting users to the next level. Or, even better, maybe we should copy foursquare and turn it into a game. I can imagine Redbox offering free rentals to users who reach the next level. Steps might include your first web/kiosk or mobile/kiosk combo or the first time you return a DVD in a different city than the one in which you rented it. What do you think? How would you get users up the stairs?

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Ubicomp Sketchbook

After hanging out with Dave Gray in Savannah in February, I was inspired to improve my visual thinking and sketching skills, so I bought Sketchbook Pro and a Bamboo Tablet, dug out an old Moleskine I'd never used, and signed up for a drawing class at the Ann Arbor Art Center.

Six months later, I'd made a bit of progress with the notebook but none with the tablet. And the drawing class? I quit after a few weeks. Too stressful!

That's why our Ubicomp Sketchbook Collaboration makes sense. Because it's Dave's fault. And now, he's making me use the tools he inspired me to buy.

Ubicomp Sketchbook

Seriously, I'm really looking forward to sketching the future. We'll be building on ideas from Ambient Findability, Smart Things, and Everyware. And, we'll be using strange words and phrases like intertwingularity, spime, information shadows, synthetic synesthesia, and Ubiquitous Service Design.

We'll use words and pictures, and we'll even try a bit of design fiction. We also hope you'll join us by sharing your sketches and ideas. To follow along, just keep an eye out for the #ubicompsketchbook hashtag (and Flickr tag).

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Smart Things

I'm excited to see that Mike Kuniavsky's Smart Things is (finally) available. It's a great book that should provoke some interesting conversations about the near future of design, information architecture, and user experience.

Smart Things

Here's my back of the book blurb:

Smart Things is a rare artifact from the future that packs immediate practical value. I predict its coverage of multi-scale design will change user experience practice forever. It is the most useful book about the future of design I've read and has changed the way I work. Mike Kuniavsky doesn't just write about the future, he lives there... and now so can you.

Buy it. Read it. And then, in the near future, let's talk!

Strange Connections

Dave Gray is uncovering some great #designfiction resources including Representations of the Future with Graphs and A Survey of Human-Computer Interaction Design in Science Fiction Movies.

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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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Information Shadows

Mike Kuniavsky's fascinating Information Shadows keynote explores the serialization of everyday objects in today's era of ubiquitous computing.

Bike Shadow

It's required reading for fans of Spime, Everyware, Blogjects, and UFOs. Mike's written several articles too. Sounds like a great title for a book!

Strange Connections

Coming soon to You(r)Tube: Gut Bots.

I'm taking Three Cups of Tea and Cost on vacation. Any more suggestions?

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Spime Search

Inspired by this mesmerizing Bruce Sterling vimeo, I've added more links and examples to spime search, but I'm plagued by the plethora of even better examples I haven't yet found. If you discover one, please let me know!

Bruce Sterling from Innovationsforum on Vimeo.

Strange Connections

My Search Patterns talk is now a Slidecast (with audio).

Catriona Cornett's inspireUX is worth a visit.

EuroIA is headed to Amsterdam.

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My favorite contribution to Search Patterns this week is WineM.


Here's an excerpt from last year's press release:

The smart wine rack uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to track individual bottles in the rack and identifies ones that fit the users' wine selection criteria. Collectors and restaurants can use WineM racks to search collections, track specific bottles, update information about wine in real time, and manage inventory visually...the wine in a collection can now be dynamically reorganized by any combination of year, region, price, or any other information axis that interests the collector or sommelier.

A handheld device accepts queries, and full-color LED lights transform the elegant wine rack and the bottles themselves into a search results interface. The system even supports faceted navigation. Very cool!

Strange Connections

I'm happy my disturbing hole has wormed its way into the minds of futurists.

If you're coming to the IA Summit in Miami, please consider the IA Institute's Leadership Seminar. An important topic and some great speakers!

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Search Patterns

I'm working on a new book (and talk) about the future of search, and I've created a seed collection of patterns and examples to support my research.

Search Patterns

Please add tags, notes, and comments, and suggest new examples. Over time, I hope to include patterns that illustrate user behavior and the information architecture of search. I'll be blogging about search patterns as the collection and my ideas evolve. If you have comments or suggestions, please let me know.

Strange Connections

If you enjoy great wine, delicious food, and talking about faceted search, FIND'08 is the place for you. I visited Torino a few years ago and loved it!

Alison Head is leading a new research initiative called Project Information Literacy. I've agreed to serve as an advisor. It's an important and timely topic!

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Scroogling the Future

In Scroogled, Cory Doctorow asks the question: What if Google were evil?


It's a funny, brilliant, unsettling story. I recommend it highly! But, be sure to dim your lights and turn off Google Desktop before following the link.

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Real World Search Engines

I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about Real World Search Engines and how gadgets like the Loc8tor do (and don't) help you find lost possessions:

It won't surprise you that this idea -- that you should be able easily to find stuff around you -- has a name: ambient findability. The man who coined it, Michigan-based information architecture consultant and writer Peter Morville, has focused mainly on the idea of being able to find information, but believes we're only a few years away from being able to tag and track all objects so that, as he says, "it gets harder to lose anything."

The author, Jeremy Wagstaff of Loose Wire, concludes we're not there yet, but still, it's nice to see ambient findability swimming deeper into the mainstream.

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A Garden of Forking Paths

Stacy Surla recently reminded me of an article I wrote almost a year ago entitled A Garden of Forking Paths. It's one of my strangest literary creations, right up there with UFOs. It's also one of my favorites. It sure was fun to let the metaphors run wild. Anyway, today I noticed my article makes the Top 10 on a Google search for garden of forking paths. I love the idea of Jorge Luis Borges scholars and students serendipitously searching their way into my little garden.

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I just pre-ordered my copy of Everyware by Adam Greenfield. This is one book I can't wait to read. When I was writing Ambient Findability, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace was truly a source of inspiration.

I haven't found many others who are writing intelligently about the intersection of user experience and ubiquitous computing. I read Mike Kuniavsky's Orange Cone and everything Bruce Sterling writes about blobjects and spime.

So, while we're waiting for Everyware, what else should we be reading?

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