How to Make IA Good

March 13, 2014 by UX-RADIO


How can you make Information Architecture “good”? Dan Kyln and Bob Royce of The Understanding Group, share insights and strategies for creating meaningful, relevant, and clear IA. We highlighted some cool quotes, captured a transcript, summarized the resources and would love to hear what you think!     


  • 6:52 Bob tries – unsuccessfully – to recruit Dan.
  • 12:42 Why IA is essential.
  • 13:13 Categorization as placemaking.
  • 18:14 We can’t be either findable or serendipitous – It’s the conjunctive yet.
  • 24:03 Tying structure to meaning with ducks and decorated sheds.
  • 26:42 We’re not just architecting a web page but often an ecosystem of sites that live within much more complex systems.
  • 29:20 Some print designers believe it’s easier to change the image on the surface than to change some sort of deep, meaningful structure.
  • 36:04 We are at minute one of day one of a new era.


What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the author? What inspired you from this episode? What did you learn? What resources were most helpful? Please add a comment and share your thoughts with us!


Today I’m talking with Dan Klyn and Bob Royce who are both friends and co-founders of The Understanding Group —– an information architecture consulting practice they launched in 2011. They started TUG with a goal of re-invigorating the practice of IA while having fun and doing good.

Dan is an IA and Bob is an entrepreneur, which makes them a great team. But what is an information architect? Let’s hear from Dan.

Dan: We were just reviewing Richard Saul Wurman’s talk at the IA Summit in Phoenix in 2010 and he talked about calling himself an information architect.

And unlike almost every other information architect that has talked about their title, he said he picked that because it was an opportunity to explain it to somebody; that if he called himself something else then he wouldn’t have had the chance to have a conversation, and that was what he was interested in.

So if you’re doing some work that you think is fascinating but that just doesn’t lend itself, if you’re not interested in people just nodding and saying, oh yeah, you’re a plumber; great. Information architect can…it has to be a door opener because people don’t think it could just be what those words mean, one plus one, but now they kind of do. It’s information and it’s like the architecture of…

But it’s still a conversation, at least right now it’s always a conversation unless somebody has dug into it and they think they know it well.

Dan:  The things they’re going to need us to do with them are a lot harder than a two-syllable three-syllable Greek-rooted word that is in the dictionary and is easy to know what it means.

So if they can’t go with us into what Ontology is, how are they ever going to go with us into the complexity and contradiction of all their broken junk.

Lara: It’s a little bit of an intellectual discovery phase.

Dan: Yeah, well because maybe we are afraid that we’re making people feel less smart than they ought to be.

And maybe that’s where the sense of, we shouldn’t be using big words like that. It’s interesting to me I’m pretty sure Richard saw women would not…I don’t know; I was about to say I’m pretty sure Richard saw women wouldn’t be okay with using ontology and taxonomy to describe this stuff, because my sense is that he prefers simpler language.

And he also thinks it’s important if not essential to speak up if you don’t understand something; and a lot of people, if they don’t know what those words mean they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking you more about it.

Maybe there’s an argument to not use those words if people don’t think that they have the permission to engage with you to explain it more; like they’re supposed to already know these things. Because no; it’s okay to not know things.

Lara: I think it’s how do you make them comfortable to open up for the discussion and say let’s all talk about this, and what does this really mean; and invite them to be vulnerable.

Dan: Maybe it’s more you shouldn’t start with that word as the first one out of your mouth, in order to have some sort of a rapport where you could be vulnerable perhaps enough to admit that you don’t yet understands some of this terminology and some of these concepts. Who knows?

Lara: Bob, maybe you can share what instigated the passion to begin TUG.

Bob: Well, I’ve had an interest in information architecture since the early 90s and I was trying to figure out what to do to go back to school; I had been a teacher and a graphic designer, and taught desktop publishing; and here was this digital library program started at the University of Michigan in 1993.

And it seemed to be the kind of combination of computing education and visual arts that I was looking for. And got there and saw my friend Lou Rosenfeld was there, and took classes around that, took classes from Joe James, and he and Lou then started Argus a couple of years later, and Peter was in that mix, I knew Peter as well.

And so I was very…I liked information architecture. I’d done graphic design and done some layout types of stuff, edited my Year Book in High School, so kind of could relate the need to take what a librarian knew how to do and put it on this large amount of information. We get a lot of information. It’s hard. And at the same time I was working for a software company that did custom software development that used object technology and object oriented methods to do that.

So I was kind of looking at it through the lens of objects and object modeling. And it was clear at the time that computer scientists didn’t understand the value that librarians brought to it.

The internet came out and the general sense from computer scientists was, well, this is easy; put a relational database on it and you’re done; why do you need all this other stuff. And then people started bringing out the papers from IBM about when you have over a million records it doesn’t work. You do a search you get 30,000 results that are all equally valid, it’s not very helpful to you. And so all these techniques and tools.

So I followed that but I left it and dropped out of that program and stayed with the software company throughout the rest of the 90s. And so saw Lou and he built this thing and it looked great and thought it was a great concept, was always very interested in it, used it in building websites and stuff.

And so then fast forward to 2006 and I meet Dan and he’s this information architect and the company I was consulting for asked me to recruit him. And he turned me down; went to Grand Rapids to pursue a different path but we stayed friends.

Dan: It should be noted that Bob advised me to turn him down. When I told Bob about the opportunity that I had in Grand Rapids, as I have observed and I love about how he’s put together the best argument wins, when he assessed what he had been asked to offer me relative to his sense of what this other thing was, against his own interest he had to point out this.

And that stuck with me so even though we weren’t all that deeply acquainted at that point and I was moving to the other side of the State, I was still teaching in Ann Arbor once a week and to and fro and because we are connected in the world now in so many ways, a text here, a tweet here, an email — “Hey Bob I’m going to be in town, do you want to go to The Heidelberg after class with me and my students and hang out.”

From doing that over the course of 1.5 years, he started putting bugs in my ear of starting a company. And my first response was, “I know this other guy who..” Like I had always worked for people and had no sense of it.

But as we continued this conversation it increasingly made more and more sense that we have such complimentary skill-sets and we have such a delight and passion for this information architecture thing.

Plus he had a selective set of it I would say at the time and wasn’t as aware as he would soon become of the UX.. The hand wringing about defining the damn thing and the sort of squabbles..

He had seen it for a long time and was seeing the parts of it that were closest to what I loved and cared about. And so after forming our partnership and starting a company, the first thing we really did together was go to Denver to the IA Summit.

That was a surprising … After that experience going to that summit, Bob had to voice to me a little bit of, “Hey are we doing the wrong thing here?” And you can pick up the story but Jess McMullen, who was one of the conference chairs that year.. Was it a flex track session?

Bob: It was the planning session. Planning for next year’s summit. I thought I’d go and check that out.

And I walk in right as Jess is saying, “Maybe we should change the name to the UX Summit. And then there was this kind of passion back and forth, and nobody was saying, Oh no, IA is a thing and we need to keep it. The argument that won the day was, well there’s already too much UX stuff out there; the name is your differentiator. I’m like, wow. What happened to information architecture.

Dan: Oh yeah, about that. I was going to tell you.

Lara: It’s not as popular. It’s like less trendy somehow.

Bob: Oh the pendulum swung. When Lou and Peter and Joe were doing their thing it was pretty obvious. A lot of information, you want to get it to this screen, somebody needs to order it, librarians have thousands of years of history of how you structure information; we have something to say. Great.

Today people are trying to do so many things that – some of which don’t need as much information architecture as others, depending on what you’re trying to do and depending on where the core problems are. And so my contention is that starting around 2000 and for that whole decade, the core issues around the web and what was happening was, how do I turn it into software.

And Lou and Peter’s first book made it very clear; information architecture is not software; it’s not graphic design. And so there was this fine line. They had basically opted without realizing it perhaps, opted themselves out of what was going to be the next bit wave on the web, which is, I want to do software on the web. And it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that you would.

Just like in 1996 – 7, when we started getting courted by this company I was with, by this guy who wanted to do e-commerce, wanted to do e-commerce end to end. It was not obvious then that e-commerce was going to succeed. Amazon, okay, maybe for books; but nobody would buy a car, or a washing machine or a house..

Dan: Or plaid pants.

Bob: Right, or clothing over the web? There’s no way. That was a pretty firm belief. And likewise a people started trying to use this http protocol for software, it was so hamstrung that it was easy to see that no, this isn’t a medium for software. Well of course it became a medium for software and kind of merged in with everything and mobile phones; and so all of that is very important, so all the interaction design and the user experience things around enabling this tool to be used as software, are essential.

But it doesn’t mean that you don’t have information, a lot of it, that you want to convey. And in fact as the software got more powerful you had more and more information that you wanted to actually shove to the screen; and so information architecture is becoming I think incredibly much more important than it was when it started, because people have more information, it’s more complex, and they want to provide it to more people, a much wider variety of people.

It’s not just researchers, it’s not just brochure-ware; it’s everybody within your value chain you would love to simplify and give them the means to a-synchronously communicate with your work, synchronously or whatever. The range of uses that get overloaded on this beg for better structure and organization.

Lara: I wonder because you get a lot of clients who just say, re-design our site. But when you step back and look at what is the purpose, like, why do you have this site to begin with. And then you guys talk about the what before the how. When you’re looking at all the different information they have on there, and if you’re naturally kind of good at categorizing information, how do you explain to someone how information architecture takes that further than just categorizing information.

Dan: Well one of things would be to try to get the word ‘just’ out of there, because categorization is one of the most powerful technologies that we have as human beings.

So to elevate the conversation as Andy Fitzgerald did today at the I Summit about categorization and taxonomy as placemaking..

Bob: Rhetoric.

Dan: And yes, you’re making arguments about the thing, and if you want to provide cohesion to – one of the first truly cross-channel experiences that I had with software and technology is with Bank of America – I drew the short straw and the Treasurer of the IA Institute, and so that caused me to have to use a business banking portal from Bank of America, that’s what the Institute uses, and that system, if I only have my computer, that system doesn’t work.

They’ve now made it so – it can be single channel now; the hand-held devices are powerful and ubiquitous enough now, but two-and-a-half years ago I started to try to do the things you need to do as a Treasurer – make sure that the checks aren’t bouncing, make sure vendors are being paid; and when I would authorize an electronic payment it would verify that by sending a text message to my phone. And if I didn’t have the phone, if the phone battery was dead, if I couldn’t find the phone, it wouldn’t work.

And the way that complexity now is, and to borrow from Andrea’s [Resmini] presentation this morning, the idea that information is smeared across these contexts, it’s not clean.

So the conversation about just categorization could be flipped, and say, in the post represented last night I used the visualization of a set of gears; and the littlest gear is the one that does the most work. And the littlest gear is the one that decides in a lot of ways what all the other gears can be; and if the little gear is right you can have all manner of other gears.

And categorization, the particular meaning, which is categorization, that’s the little wheel; and a lot of people may not see the little wheel, but if the little wheel is wrong the rest of it will break.

So analogies, metaphors, bringing a bicycle to a client, there may be ways that we can try to…

Maybe you’ve had this in your work. I’ve heard people say hey, can you do the navigation today for the website redesign?

Because that’s the information architecture part, just doing the navigation and picking some words; or even worse – I heard a presenter say, we figured out the navigation kind of, but then marketing might weigh in during implementation and change some of these categories to fit what they’re doing in marketing. And, no. No.

Bob: They don’t realize what they’re saying is, hey, can you please explain to the hundred thousand people who are coming to our site where to go today?

So all 100,000 of them, just come up with the right labels so that all of them will be able to figure it out.

Dan: We are going to spend 8 weeks on this project and this afternoon you are going to figure that piece out.

Lara: Well their motivation is different, right? Marketing wants you to buy it and the information architect wants you to find it.

Dan: I would even push back on that and say, if the business has been systematic with what it wants, what buying means, the special kind of buying that is appropriate for Trader Joe’s buying is different than REI, is different at Lumber Liquidators.

So if we could get the business to get specific about what it expects out of the project, then the information architects can work with that and findability is always a concern but it can’t be the only one. And you could put findability on one end of a continuum and serendipity on the other end of the continuum, if you mean by findability the ability, if I’m looking for plaid pants that I could laser beam my way to plaid pants. But what if I came looking for a tie and serendipity led me to the pants?

And our world is complex to the point where we can’t just have one; we can’t be either findable or serendipitous; it must be – I talk about this, I borrow a term from Robert Venturion, Denise Sott-Brown, they talk about the conjunctive yet; that it is about findability yet it allows for serendipity and navigating that, having the business be able to come to consensus on that continuum, where does this App, website, Sharepoint thing, whatever, where does it, what’s it pointing at?

Bob: And our job is to align with our customer, the marketer in this case; so if findability is the way that the marketer achieves their goal yes, the IAs job is to help findability.

That may not always be the case; I mean, narrowing selection for audiences sometimes improves purchase right, so Trader Joe’s is kind of famous as having a very limited – there’s no more than three varieties of any given thing in Trader Joe’s, because they found that too much choice actually quells, squashes people’s purchase impulse sometimes.

And so there may be situations where the marketer is like, okay, if we structure the site well then a given person of the audience may be taken to a particular place where the job isn’t to make them find everything that they have but to actually present them the selection that the marketer wants them to choose from. You can create structures to guide all of that.

Dan: I’ve not looked, because Grand Rapids is not fortunate to have a Trader Joe’s, but if I had to guess I would say that Trader Joe’s website is not as Trader Joe-sy as it ought to be, based on the business decisions that it makes about assortment. I suspect they use an e-commerce platform that has a series of standard interfaces which are built for sifting through lists and..

Bob’s looking at his phone right now – I’d love to be wrong about this; I would love to know that there is – because what I’m interested in, what I think, one of the things I’m really excited about with this field is, the tighter, tightening the connections between architectural form and the sense of place or meaning of what is being offered.

Bob: At least they are mobile.

Dan: Good job Trader Joe’s. Products.. what’s new..

But the key is designing the structure to facilitate the relationship. One of the things we talk about as a difference between .. IA is a little piece of user experience versus IA as a counter-part to user experience is we see there are users, and the audience has a need and you need to create a good experience for them but there is the business that wants to have the relationship with those users on the other side of it.

So part of an information architect’s job is to figure out what is that relationship you want to have and what are the information structures that you have that will feed into that relationship and how do I expose those in a way that your customers will actually relate to and understand and get to.

Because your organization is way more complex than they have time to understand. So you have to filter it and translate it between that.

I really liked listening to Andrew Hinton’s talk and Jorge’s [Arango] talk as well — the concept of meaning. And Reframe IA, a big part of what we are trying to do is structure meaning or facilitate meaning because I think Jorge is right, we don’t create meaning, we facilitate things that people will derive meaning from. And everybody is going to come and get different meaning from the site.

But that’s a very difficult task, it’s the essence of human communication and with computers, you don’t really have a dialogue. You want to try to create a dialogue but it’s not the same. If I use a word with you and you don’t know what it means, often because it is in the midst of a dialogue, either infer meaning to it from different things or simply ask me “What did you mean?”

When I go to a website and I get to a word or a label and I don’t know what it means, I can try using the search perhaps but my means of dialogue are way limited. So you have to talk in much simpler sentences on websites.

Dan: Jorge’s statement was pretty bold today, which is information architecture is the only field that is focused on the structural integrity of meaning.

I Tweeted that out and somebody replied, “I’m not sure I agree with that but I like it.” That’s a pretty awesome idea.

Bob: Whether we are the only ones that do it or not, it’s clearly something that we need to do. And we are the discipline that tries to do that in the space of facilitating digital communication.

Dan: So back to Trader Joe’s, I notice that they don’t do e-commerce; they let you make a shopping list but they don’t sell products online.

And so the question, if you’re listening Trader Joe’s, if you want to make an e-commerce site, if you want to sell stuff, give us a call. That site seems like, in a ten second heuristic analysis, it seems like it’s pretty good for making shopping lists but that is a different activity than shopping.

And the idea that structural form can have a tighter or looser relationship with what the business is about.

Those same architects I referred to earlier, Robert Venturi and his wife Denise Scott-Brown, in 1972 they wrote a book called Learning From Las Vegas, and in that book they present the range of what’s possible for tying structure to meaning; and at one end of the range they call – Denise actually – people always just say Venturi, they leave her out; they are a team, and she said if you must know I came up with Ducks and Decorated Sheds.robert-venturi-duck-vs-decorated-shed

But they co-authored this; but anyway, at one end of the range is ducks; they have a picture of a building that is shaped like a duck that sells duck eggs; and then at the other end of the range they call it a Decorated Shed, which is a really general, or even a vernacular thrown together structure where the structure doesn’t mean anything but it can be decorated out of surfaces and enriched with interesting kinds of meanings on the surface.

But their argument was, as architects we ought not be making ducks much at all because these buildings, because their sense of architecture which not all contemporary architects share, is that one of the properties of architecture is permanence, or at least durability, and that you would be doing a disservice to your client even if they’re selling duck eggs, because their business may need to change over time.

They may, like most people, die someday; there are all these things where the building could continue to be adapted forward. And so what I think is fascinating but that we don’t know yet, is – and the physics of that when we’re talking about atoms it makes sense; but we’re not talking about atoms.

And the structures that we make are not as expensive necessarily – and that could be a whole podcast of itself, but long story short, I am curious to know if the Duck and Decorated Shed thing in the built environment is not necessarily, or even actually true in digital environments; and if we can go tighter and tighter and tighter with structures, tying them ever more tightly to meaning, we could make things be even better, if the situation is one where we have command of what we mean.

Bob: Making part of it architectural decisions are making decisions within the systems. And so one of the things Jorge brought up this morning that I thought was so useful is to remind us that we’re not just architecting a web page, or even a website, but often an ecosystem of sites that live within much more complex systems. And some of those ought to perhaps be ducks at certain levels, certain rooms, certain areas; and some ought to decorated sheds because we know that will change and be reused.

And so making those decisions is challenging; it’s not just a surface kind of thing, it is a structural strategic type of thing that you need to really understand the business and really understand the users before you an figure out what are the structures that are going to facilitate those kinds of relationships.

Dan: We are a two year old company, and because information architecture isn’t widely understood we try to bring it as much as we can to as many different contacts as we can because we’re scrappy and we have cash flow and we have employees and things. And so we work through agencies sometimes; even in less than ideal set ups.

TUG-Year3Cake-smmed_animatedSo once or twice perhaps…there was at least once let’s say, there was a time working with an agency where we had no direct access to the client; they didn’t have the resources to get the IA done, which we could also talk about that turn of phrase, so they hired us.

And I took what little they had for me to understand everything about this really quick project, and I showed them sketches of structurally how I would address what they had said was going on to do the IA.

And the wireframe and sketch and blob diagram review that I did with them to explain these are the structures that I think address what you’re trying to accomplish, their critique of that review, the things they asked me to change, were the places where I was most deeply baking meaning into the structure, into the…

I was making ducks at key points in that experience, and I think this is really important what Bob said, one thing can have ducks and sheds inside of it but there were points in this where I thought I could make it be really good, and those were the things the designers wanted to take up.

And I have a theory about this, which is that many of those designers in this particular case have also worked in print, have worked in atoms, and they might believe that it’s more expensive, it’s more risky to put meaning in the structure, because it has to change later; it’s easier to change the image on the surface than to change some sort of deep, meaningful structure.

Or, even if they were purely digital designers, the way that they understand the making of meaning is through images, and images have a different mechanics to them when you’re making meaning with images than with language; and so it was the places where I was building semantic structures that were baking the meaning deeply into the thing, they’re backing off.

And what they said was, we will address that later in design. And so if you think of the requirements that they expressed in that scenario, and one of them was a basketball and one of them was a golf ball and one of them was a tennis ball, and one of them was a whale, a blue whale, what they were asking me to do is make a table that all of those things could sit on. If you think of requirements having a weight and our structures have to support weight, they said make a generalized structure, they said make a shed, not even a decorated shed, make a shed and then we’ll decorate it.

And what they didn’t realize, or they didn’t want me to do, was to build them a structure that was really strong under the whale part and appropriately light and manipulable with the smaller objects.

And they wanted a table, not a weird Rube Goldberg machine that addresses all these different kinds of meanings really specifically. And I would love to know why that, is it because of the atoms that we think structure, putting meaning in structure is too risky and too expensive, because what if we had to change it. Or is it because designers make meanings with pictures, and they are less comfortable having the meaning made with language. I don’t know.


Lara: It’s a good question.

Dan: What do you think?

Lara: I think that, I wonder if the structures are going to be easier and easier to change in the future; I mean, even with WYSIWYG, WordPress or whatever, maybe the fear of changing the structure will reduce, and then risk will be perceived differently.

Dan: I hope you’re right. I hope you’re right and I think the object technology that Bob’s company was doing at that time, where you could have meaning described in such a robust way that you actually could change things significantly because what we mean by – we did some work for a big travel company – what do we mean by package; what do we mean by ticket; what do we mean by lodging?

Once that is systematic you can build all kinds of structures to express it, but you’re not changing that ontology back to the word that must not be named.

Once you’ve got that systematized, I think that it might not be as scary or as expensive to do wonderful feats of structural design to make things really meaningful and good; and that doesn’t have to be just hitting things with a pretty stick to get it to what it’s kind of supposed to mean.

Lara: And so how do you build a solid foundation and allow the flexibility of changing it?

Dan: You spend more money than you ever thought you would on something you heard before, which is ontology, taxonomy, information architecture, object modeling.

Bob: Well in fact part of the reason to invest in doing it is so that – because it will change; it’s not a matter of it’s not going to change, it will change. The question is do you have to throw it all out and start again or are you modifying and tweaking it, and if you get the structures, if you plan them out and do the work to understand the organization and to map it out, then when a new thing comes along you figure out where it fits in; you don’t have to just throw it all out again and start from scratch, and get the structures right, or at least supportable.

Dan: We just don’t have – Lou Rosenfeld at World IA Day in New York this year said – and actually it’s very similar to something Mr. Wurman said in Phoenix – we’re at minute one of day one of a new era.

And so our – we don’t have any familiarity with the types of order and the types of structure that we need to have to address this complexity and contradiction of these products and services that we’re making. But that’s okay because this is minute one of day one of year one of a new time; and the idea of a conjunctive order that allows some of it to be nailed down, some of it to be a mess, some of it to be about customer acquisition yet some of it is really about customer retention, to be able to do contradictory, complex things.

Librarians – I sometimes laugh when I go to the library and I have such a frustrating time find anything in a library, and I’m a trained librarian, the types of orders that librarians had, in my generation at least – I was in library school in 1996 in Detroit, at Wayne State University – the types of order that they trained us to utilize and to be masters of, were brittle orders based on atoms that were about where you put a thing, and it couldn’t be in two places; ultimately there was a thing where it went.

And libraries worked great for librarians; those brittle systems of exactly where everything goes. Every time I ask a librarian they can find it because they’ve mastered this one way, but for people to use these things there have to be ways; and ways and ways and ways.

And not just any old way. Andreas’ critique of modernism is my way and then post modernism is screw ways — what’s a way, does it matter?

I differ from him a little bit. He wants this to be the pseudo-modern approach as he calls it, where there are places that would be good to put things. There are orders that would be good. And there is meaning.

I like, instead of inventing something, I like to just retrieve what Venturi and Scott-Brown called the conjunctive order of yet. Modernism is must. Post modernism is meh. What we need now is yet — an order that allows for a yet.

Lara: So where do you guys see Tug going in the next few years?

Bob: We will continue to build out a place for information architecture and figure out what that means. And how that carves out and where the boundaries are.

We see it as.. if you look at a continuum of.. We are part of a value chain of creating things. Part of the challenge of running TUG is we aren’t the beginning or the end of the value chain; we are in the middle.

So somewhere people have strategy and they come up with strategy and so we need to beef up our interface to that strategy aspect of it. And then they get to implementation. And then even within the implementation, there is where the industry seems to be today which is butt up against user experience and how the interactions occur. And this debate between interaction design and so forth.

But I would – and we don’t do design, we don’t manage pixels and do visual design at all – but we have talked about getting into information design, infographics; creating meaning visually, right, as a precursor to the systems of interaction around that.

And then on the other end I think information architects have a lot to offer into the whole computer science software development space. It’s even harder because whereas the visual designers and the user experience people don’t want to talk about ontology and big words, the computer scientists are all actually quite smart in that type of thing; they’re not smart creative artistic, they are smart algorithms, computation.

A lot of them know what ontologies are and they’ve tried to program them and they’ve done semantic webs and all this kind of stuff; yet they come out of a discipline in which at the root of information science is, Claude Shannon in his statement that meaning is irrelevant, meaning and information don’t correlate in traditional information science; it’s simply a difference between two communications is what makes information, regardless of what it means.

And you see that in the software space; they treat meaning, I won’t say trivially, but they often think, just like the issue of…  The computer science area and software developers often commonly underestimate the complexity of language and meaning. And so you get Alan Cooper writing Inmates Running the Asylum, because computer scientists are very intelligent people but they’re not good proxies for users; not that users aren’t intelligent, but they’re just not the same.

They’re intelligent in different ways; they come out with different things. And so they need the translation; they need people that are willing to figure out how to translate between the business systems that they’re understanding in excruciating detail and coming up with all the process flows and all the things that make the guts of a piece of software work, and then translate that.

Well we talked about information design. On the computational side of things, maybe a better way to say it than I said before is, the complexity of software systems that people are writing, and the amount of information that corporations are gathering, all the – went to Avi’s talk on adaptive things based on sensors, right, you get sensing around what’s in the world, your software knows whether it’s light, whether it’s dark.

Well corporations have thousands and thousands of sensors now in their value chain, whether it’s all the manufacturing data that they’re getting or the logistics, or what’s happening within their processors as we digitized everything, our ability to sense all of that has increased.

All of that needs to be distilled and managed and create meaning out of that, sometimes so you can go all the way through to the customer, which is actually one of the hardest things to do; but even for all the people that work for the companies, all the information systems that are in there, are increasingly complex.

And I think there’s a big place for information architects to help them do that in a way that enables their employees to be more productive and then pass that all the way through to their customers. And the more information they create the more information there needs to be architected.

And so I see us moving more into that; not to the point where we actually write code but to where we’re doing modeling. We already do for customers, we have an analyst that comes in and helps map business processes and figures out what is implicit to help make it explicit so that we can figure out how you then translate that to somebody on a web interface.

Lara: Well thank you so much for your time today. I wish we had more time to talk.

Dan began practicing IA in 1997 and developed information architecture, e-commerce strategy and design for well-know brands such as American Girl, Harley-Davidson and Herman Miller. Dan balances IA practice with teaching graduate students information architecture at the University of Michigan. He is also serves on the board of the Information Architecture Institute.

Bob started his career as an educator and graphic designer and later moved into business and management roles. He witnessed the birth of IA as a graduate student in the first digital library program along with Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. As an educator, executive, and consultant for the past 25 years, Bob has enjoys solving business problems by leveraging information technology.

The Understanding Group (TUG) is an information architecture consulting practice based in Ann Arbor, MI with an office in Grand Rapids and information architects in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The goal of the company is to use information architecture to “make things be good.”

They do this today by helping companies create delightful user experiences by bringing order to complex information spaces. From websites to enterprise data stores: TUG helps people find what they are looking for and accomplish their goals by architecting intuitive information structures.

The idea of service is at the heart of TUG.


Dan began practicing IA in 1997 and developed information architecture, e-commerce strategy and design for well-know brands such as American Girl, Harley-Davidson and Herman Miller. Dan balances IA practice with teaching graduate students information architecture at the University of Michigan. He is also serves on the board of the Information Architecture Institute.

Bob started his career as an educator and graphic designer and later moved into business and management roles. He witnessed the birth of IA as a graduate student in the first digital library program along with Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville. As an educator, executive, and consultant for the past 25 years, Bob has enjoys solving business problems by leveraging information technology.

Connect with Dan and Bob here:


The Understanding Group (TUG) is an information architecture consulting practice based in Ann Arbor, MI with an office in Grand Rapids and information architects in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The goal of the company is to use information architecture to “make things be good.”

They do this today by helping companies create delightful user experiences by bringing order to complex information spaces. From websites to enterprise data stores: TUG helps people find what they are looking for and accomplish their goals by architecting intuitive information structures.

The idea of service is at the heart of TUG.