Michael Adcock

Creative Problem Solver

IA Community – InfoCamp Seattle, Fall 2012

This is the presentation I gave at InfoCamp Seattle on the IA community. It’s nearly identical to the slides I used at the UW iSchool this summer. There are a few updates, some additional book links and resources, and a couple of extra slides that describe IA (borrowed from Abby and Dan.) There’s also no audio this time.

I recommend using this newer version for exploring the linked resources. There is also at least one easter egg… (HINT: Practically everything is a link.)

Download the PowerPoint here.

IA Community – INFX 598, Summer 2012

Here’s a link to the presentation I gave today on the IA community which featured the concept of a PLN, as well as lots (!) of links to books, blogs, events, and people.

This was for the summer, week-long intensive IA course taught by Samantha Starmer at the University of Washington Information School. (Not to be confused with the Information Architecture Institute, although I hope some students consider becoming members of that organization too!)

IA Community (Summer 2012)
Download the PowerPoint here.

Upcoming Seattle events (July 12th – 13th)

Stephen Anderson will be speaking on The Art & Science of Seductive Interactions at IXDA Seattle on Monday July 12th at 7pm. Although his slides are online, you can experience the presentation for free. Don’t miss it!

The monthly Seattle Information Architecture & User Experience Meetup is on Tuesday, July 13th at 7pm. There will be free pizza and beer, along with lots of local IA/UX peeps!

This Meetup is sponsored by the UIE Web App Masters Tour. Even if you can’t afford to go to that event on Monday and Tuesday (promo code: SEATTLEUX will knock the price down to $795 before July 8th!), there’s a chance some of the folks on the Tour will appear at the Meetup. Also, don’t miss the free resource library available on the Web App Masters Tour site.

More details on these events are available at the links above. Hope to see you around!

Richard Saul Wurman – IA as understanding

About three months ago, at the IA Summit in Phoenix, Nick Finck hosted an open discussion among Information Architects. The slides and audio are available on slideshare, but I found the comments near the end made by Richard Saul Wurman had the most impact on me. Sadly, the audio quality for that particular part was very poor, so I made an effort to boost the volume and clean it up.

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Download the .mp3

The following is my attempt to transcribe Richard Saul Wurman’s comments, but I recommend listening to the 6 minute recording to get the full effect:

I don’t understand everything that people say. I had to ask what a wireframe was. I don’t know what a wireframe is because I don’t think in terms of wireframes… I don’t think in terms of information architecture; I think in terms of understanding. I’m interested in understanding things that interest me. And I’m interested in the rigor, a systemic rigor, of being able to explain…

Ultimately it’s not the modality, it’s not the wireframe or computer. The first books I did were in 1962 when I did maps of 50 cities in the world to the same scale. I thought that was information architecture — it had a rigor about explaining something. Computers weren’t around then…

With what just came out now, the iPad, you’re not going to be doing “screens”. Everything is going to be, on that machine, is going to be a movie. It’s going to be a continuum of flying through understanding. The old Muriel Cooper flying through information idea that was presented at TED. TED was another thing that I was involved in…

Don’t you want to just try to figure out, at any moment in history, how to explain something to somebody else, to another human being, with whatever tools happen to be around then? But don’t invest in the tool. Invest in your curiosity, and the rigor of your curiosity, and the rigor of your explanation, and being able to explain it to another human being which would be quite different in five years or ten years…

I think the best thing we do is have conversations with each other. I think the best thing I can do is just have a conversation with one other person. Now is that information architecture? Well, if they understand something, and I understand something, and I have rigor to my language, clarity to my language… I don’t say “I go” instead of “I said”. I don’t say “ya know”. I don’t say any of the language that makes us not as clear as we can be. If we’re clear about our language and our imagery, and about the ordering of that, and we give examples that allow each thing that we say to be understood relative to something else… So we make little baby steps from understanding to understanding…

Most of you have heard a very old question I ask people is, “How big is an acre?” And somebody remembers, oh from their junior high school days, it was 43,560 square feet. But then it doesn’t mean anything to somebody else because you can’t understand what 43,560 of anything is! So in context of having a conversation, and you say an acre, you say it’s about the size of an American football field without the endzones. And even if you don’t like football, or play football, you’ve seen in your high school or someplace, a football field, so you now all know what an acre is. It’s about the size of an American football field. That’s information architecture too, because you thought of a rigorous way of explaining something to somebody else. It’s not always the facts that explain something to somebody else…

Bhopal, India: if you say it’s the largest city in central India, which in 1984 they had a terrible, terrible accident with a spill of all the chemicals. If you say it’s the largest city in central India, most people will think it looks like a village because that’s what the photos look like. So the photos lied. And saying it’s the largest city in central India is the truth. But then you think from that statement, because you don’t know another city in central India, that it has millions and millions of people and it only has 600,000. So what I’m interested in is communicating with another person, and I say, Bhopal, which is not only the largest city in central India, but about the size of San Francisco or Boston…

I’m interested in communicating with another human being, whether it’s in a conversation (which is all I can do with a microphone, I can’t do it with these wireframe things, and I don’t have a computer), and I can only do what I can do with this. And this is my modality, my mouth, my voicebox, and this. And I’m communicating to the people in this room. And I’m doing it with rigor and with responsibility. And that’s what information architecture is. Not the modality. Not the particular technology. Not a wireframe. Not an iPad. Not a computer. Not color. Not no color. Millions of colors. Certainly not pie charts. It’s just making yourself understandable, which is what we do as human beings, with memory, which it seems that other animals don’t…

Richard Saul Wurman, IA Summit 2010

IA Community – INFX 598, Summer 2010

I’ll post my thoughts and experience with this class later, but I wanted to share a link to the presentation I gave yesterday on the IA community which featured the concept of a PLN, as well as lots of links to books, blogs, events, and people.

Note that this was the summer, week-long intensive IA course taught by Samantha Starmer at the University of Washington Information School. (Not to be confused with the Information Architecture Institute, although I sincerely hope some students consider becoming members of that organization too!)

Reflecting on the IA Summit (2010)

I think the conference planners did a phenomenal job in selecting all three keynotes, and although the last two were controversial, I think that was a good thing. For me at least, Dan Roam’s presentation was an excellent intellectual keynote. Whitney’s was an amazing emotional keynote. And Richard Saul Wurman’s was a confusing, yet entertaining mix of the two — he’s our Dr. House, focusing only on solving the interesting challenges and seemingly not giving a damn about people, even though he’s probably a caring guy. I’d hope that we all have some balance of intellectual curiosity, emotional attachment, and need to solve problems that each of the speakers embodied, and it’s up to us personally to figure out how much we want (or need) to focus on each. Of the past three years, this Summit taught me more about what being an IA is (as a human being), than the other two. And I know I still have lots of my own personal stuff to sort out…

It disturbed me a little when I heard people make snide comments about Wurman’s talk and Whitney’s talk. I didn’t agree with everything either of them said. But I also don’t go to sessions expecting to have my own ideas reinforced! I want to learn new ideas, see new perspectives, and have my own world poked, prodded, and turned upside down. I even want to be offended sometimes.

While I think the “how-to” sessions are valuable for learning about a certain skill, method, or technique (I heard several people say that this or that session was exactly what they needed for a current project at work), I personally find good speakers fascinating no matter what their topic. This year I mostly went to sessions given by people on my own list of favorite presenters and I wasn’t disappointed. I also discovered a few new favorites to look for next time. It’s worth noting that my definition of “good” goes beyond presentation skills. I won’t drop names, but these are the folks that do thoughtful research on a topic (perhaps only indirectly related to IA) and then present their findings in a clear and interesting way. They experiment and take risks, yet consistently inform and entertain. They see patterns that the rest of us may have missed, and help us see them too. In short, they are information architects. They share their understanding.

I was sad to hear that several of my friends won’t be coming back, but I guess that is inevitable. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now, but I still believe I can learn a lot from you guys and fully intend to be at the Summit in Denver. I’ll also try to contribute more energy to its success.