Architecture As Rhetoric for Spaces

For the second time in as many semesters, Andy Fitzgerald was kind enough to remotely give a rendition of Taxonomy for App Makers for my students in SI658 at U-M, a piece of work he originally presented at the Information Architecture Summit in 2013.

There is no limit to the number of times I will delight in hearing this bundle of teachings, and the only limit to the number of times I will go back to the well of images and words in Mr. Fitzgerald’s deck would come from be me no longer wanting or having to explain the concept of information architecture.

There are plenty of ways to explain information architecture, but each of them depends on an understanding of what’s meant by the word “architecture.”

And even while I’ve been preparing myself for more than five years now to understand and talk about the architecture of buildings in ways that help explain the architecture of information, what Fitzgerald does here is provide a way to understand and explain all architectures, irrespective of the prefix:


Architecture is rhetoric for spaces.

Let that one work on you for a while: rhetoric for spaces. An argument for how things ought to be set up in space. Few of us have worked on the teams that make buildings, but all of us have made arguments. And all of us have arranged things in a space or across spaces because of reasons.

That’s as good of a way to set up a conversation about information architecture and taxonomy as any I’ve yet seen or tried.

Architecture = the argument.

Taxonomy = arrangement of things because of reasons given in or by the argument.

Fitzgerald’s framing of taxonomy relative to architecture provides an equally excellent set-up for talking about the inter-relatedness of and distinctions between architecture and design.

Architecture = the argument.

Design = an instance-articulation of the argument.

We might say that when designed things are good, that’s because they’ve been made as an instance-articulation of an over-arching argument that we find persuasive, if not agreeable.

The interplay of architecture and rhetoric goes back at least as far as Vitruvius, and I’m eager to see what Fitzgerald has to say at this year’s IA Summit.

23. February 2014 by dan
Categories: Information Architecture Strategy, Teaching Information Architecture | 1 comment

Form Follows Forces (with Abby Covert)

21. February 2014 by dan
Categories: Information Architecture Design, Information Architecture Strategy, Teaching Information Architecture, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Short Nonfiction: Landing Clean

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.

29. October 2013 by dan
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Video From My DUMB Talk at UX Week

14. October 2013 by dan
Categories: speaking | Leave a comment

Poster for Information Architecture Summit 2013

06. April 2013 by dan
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Course Description for SI658, Fall 2013

Update: here’s what’s actually being taught


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.

Course Objectives:

  • 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.

11. March 2013 by dan
Categories: Teaching Information Architecture, Uncategorized | 2 comments

A Model for Understanding Information Architecture: Ontology, Taxonomy and Choreography

An excerpt from a workshop I gave at The Understanding Group in Ann Arbor on March 7, 2013.

10. March 2013 by dan
Categories: Teaching Information Architecture | 1 comment

InfoCamp Seattle 2012 – Interview with Melissa Weaver

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.



21. September 2012 by dan
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 comment

Keynote for AIA Michigan Annual Meeting

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.

Video I captured from the podium (audio is a little iffy)

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.

20. September 2012 by dan
Categories: Regular Old Architecture, speaking, Teaching Information Architecture | Leave a comment

Lou Kahn: Architects Not Designers

As quoted in Brownlee and De Long, Louis I Kahn, 177.

The Fisher House, Lou Kahn

I think architects should be composers and not designers. They should be composers of elements. The elements are things that are entities in themselves”

03. September 2012 by dan
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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