This past spring I gave a short presentation by this same title in a pre-conference workshop at the 13th annual Information Architecture Summit in Baltimore, Maryland. The session was thrilling to be a part of, and its ringleader Andrea Resmini is compiling a book to commemorate the event. Here is the first half of the chapter I’m submitting for the publication:
Landing Clean is a new write-up of a story I’ve told a few times but never before thought to capture in any particular words.
I rewrite this every time I teach it..
SI658 – Information Architecture, University of Michigan School of Information
Everything is complex. Distinctions between physical and digital space are dissolving. Profound events in human culture unfold in places made of and from information. The architecture of information for a Bay Area startup’s new iOS app, or for a municipal government’s sharepoint portal, or up in the cloud of an “omnichannel” enterprise is rarely somebody’s specific job. In this class you’ll engage in a peculiar and spirited examination of arguments for why it ought to be. You’ll learn how to apply architectural thinking and practices in complex information spaces, and how to design structures that make the complex clear.
- Appreciate the progression of IA theory and practice over five decades and across diverse contexts.
- Leverage the unique (and as yet un- or under-published) perspectives on and teachings of information architecture derived from instructor’s 5+ years of research into the life and work of IA pioneer Richard Saul Wurman.
- Expand students’ familiarity with architecture, architects, and architectural and critical theory.
- Use the time we’re together in class effectively and minimize or eliminate the need for groups to convene outside of regular class meetings.
- Inspire the next generation of information architects and information architecture advocates.
Expected Learning Outcomes:
- Broad familiarity with key movements within IA theory and practice since 1960.
- Fluency in differentiating between architecture and design.
- Ability to analyze complex information architectures using Klyn’s model of ontology, taxonomy and choreography.
- Hands-on experience developing systematic analysis and representation of what “good” means.
- Hands-on experience shaping semantic and architectonic structures toward specific goals.
No prerequisites. No prior SI coursework assumed or required.
Methods of Instruction
Lecture, discussion, small team project work.
An excerpt from a workshop I gave at The Understanding Group in Ann Arbor on March 7, 2013.
I had the opportunity to chat with steadfast IA Institute supporter and good friend Melissa Weaver about the upcoming InfoCamp in Seattle, and to tease some of the casino material I”ll be sharing in my talk there. Depending on your device, you may be able to click and listen. And if not: here”s a download link.
Re-introducing: The Architecture of Information
An idea that failed to become a Big Deal in the AIA in 1976, its roots in the workshop of Louis Kahn, and why it matters now more than ever.
In 1977, Richard Saul Wurman shuttered his failing architecture practice and moved to Los Angeles. By the mid 80s, he’d invented the TED conference series, redesigned the PacBell Yellow Pages and was publisher of a revolutionary series of travel guidebooks. These innovation were based quite specifically on the concepts he learned from Lou Kahn in the 1960s and which he introduced as “information architecture” as chairman of the AIA national meeting in 1976.
In 60 richly-illustrated minutes, Wurman scholar and practicing information architect Dan Klyn shares the story of the 1976 AIA national meeting, the invention of information architecture, and the ways that the work of Wurman and fellow Kahnian Robert Venturi continue to demonstrate the extraordinary power of architecture to create and shape the meaning of place and space.
As quoted in Brownlee and De Long, Louis I Kahn, 177.
I think architects should be composers and not designers. They should be composers of elements. The elements are things that are entities in themselves”
Architecture and design are not the same thing. It’s been my cause célèbre of late, perhaps to a fault. This differentiation and its impact on how we might go about doing information architecture work is part of a talk I’ve been giving called “Establishing What ‘Good’ Means.” It’s also been featured in a blog posting for TUG, the information architecture consulting practice I co-founded last year. The lot of it is inspired by a brilliant lecture by Peter Eisenman entitled Architecture or Design: Wither the Discipline. A preposterously curt paraphrase of that lecture is as follows:
Architecture is not design: it’s a different discourse. Architecture is an analytical process of identifying exceptions. Design is a synthetic process for solving problems.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that the dias at the front of a lecture hall lends itself especially well to the rhetorical device of the sweeping generalization. Particularly when the words used in generalizing aren’t projected on screen behind the lecturer as the rhetorical blanket is being spread across the room. Mr. Eisenman is seated during this lecture and appears to be reading from written notes – no slides – so instead of watching the video I just listened to the words and let my imagination develop whatever images it liked. The picture that developed in my mind’s eye as Eisenman delineated between architecture and design was that of a great expanse of cloth. And as I considered the image of the expanse of cloth, its aptness as a metaphor for differentiating between architecture and design convicted me.
Think of a big project you worked on last week. That project in its entirety is the great expanse of cloth. Architecture is where the cuts go; defining what the parts of the project are and how they’ll inter-relate. Architects operate the scissors. Designers work with the resulting parts and shape each part to be the best part it can be, solving the problems defined in the act of saying and then indicating in an incisive way “this part is not that part.”
Architecture happens, to misuse Mies, because of reasons. In his words it begins “with the careful placement of two bricks,” and continues, in my reading of Eisenman, through an analytical process whereby the available permutations with those two bricks are explored before an ideal system for placement is developed.
Design begins, for Eisenman at least, after the matter of the placement(s) of the bricks has been settled. After, in the terms of the metaphor of the cloth, the cuts have been made.
Oftentimes, the synthetic process of making a part be the best part it can be will reveal an exception that the architect missed. The problem one was given to solve with design turns out to be impervious to the workings of the designer because the architecture is wrong. Back to the metaphor of the fabric, it is to be expected and appreciated that designers will sometimes find their piece of the overall fabric of the project needs to be sewn back into its formerly-adjoining pieces and then re-cut. In this way, the relationship between design and architecture is less a binary zero-sum game than it is a mobius strip:
Your project is a piece of cloth. Architecture is where the cuts go; architects hold the scissors.
Design is making the resulting parts be the best parts they can be, solving the problems defined in the act of cutting.