teaching information architecture tangibly

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When I was offered an opportunity to teach User Experience to industry professionals, I knew Information Architecture was going to be a key part of the curriculum. It would be easy to justify to students that it should be covered, as Jesse James Garrett’s model of UX was well known IA had a secure place in his model nestled tightly next to its more popular brother Interaction Design. As well I felt I had to teach IA. I was growing increasingly concerned about my industry’s fading interest in it. Where I live, in the Silicon Valley, the title has almost completely disappeared, unfortunately taking with it the skills and knowledge IA’s posses. Workshops and lectures with Information Architecture in the title are poorly attended, despite the knowledge they’d impart would radically improve the bottom line of the companies that eschewed it. IA was deader than God in the software industry. I had to convince students of its relevance, rather than let them think of it as some quaint holdover from the dot-com era, like the single-pixel gif hack. I did that Upworthy-style, with humor, storytelling and sharing. Beyond caring, I wanted them to retain the knowledge i imparted. If they did not internalize the knowledge, they would not keep it. So how could I help them understand the power of a taxonomy when often I had only 4-8 hours of class time to cover all of IA? In five minutes, I will take the room though my model of teaching, which is stories/making/reflection. I will cover the stories that resonated most deeply with the students, from Netflix's race to find a better algorithm to the catholic reclassifying Cabybaras are fish so people could have protein on a Friday. I'll discuss my fun "bouncy ball" exercise, where students make four different classification systems for a ball store as they giggle over inappropriate puns. And we'll discuss the power of reflection through discussion, diarying and presenting. When we learn skills with our hands and our hearts, we keep them into all the aspects of our lives. What other point is there for teaching?


  • I teach unicorns Teaching Tangibly on Rodents and Religion Christina Wodtke | eleganthack.com | cwodtke
  • I teach unicorns THIS PRESENTATION IS ANNOTATED. THAT WHAT THESE BIG GREY BOXES ARE! I dont teach future information architects, I raise unicorns. But I care about IA as part of that equation.
  • We are in the middle of the second information tsunami. This one is made of personal data. We need IA.
  • THE DEFINITION PROBLEM 1. The structural design of shared information environments. 2. The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability. 3. An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape. The practice of deciding the order in which the pieces of a whole should be arranged to uphold the integrity of the meaning that is intended by the maker. Unfortunately this is not helping me. IA needs to know what it is and why it matters, and how to explain that. Can we get behind one of these?
  • IA is boring This simple reality is students find IA boring. Which is sad, because it really isnt.
  • reflection instruction practiceHow I teach
  • Sorting candy, then making the homepage creates the first cognitive shift I start with ACTION: This is the bouncy ball exercise (also done with candy) First students sort candy as they see fit. Then the make a store for the candy. This is the first time they realize they have to resort the candy
  • Find a after dinner mint Find a candies for a upcoming party for a 57 year old Make users aware some candies are on sale Find again a good choice for that party that you saw earlier I then teach them Donna Maurs Four Modes of Information Seeking (INSTRUCTION), and have them alter their org again based on tasks. http://boxesandarrows.com/four-modes-of-seeking-
  • METADATA FACETS I teach them about metadata, and we work with that. We make facets. They redo their organization.
  • They do, learn and redo. I teach them about associative terms, and how it can sell or repulse. Instruction (lecture) Reflection (discussion) Action (studio)
  • This preso from Upworthy gave me insight on how to motivate.
  • 12 China cap = chinois = strainer This is the pragmatic reason: so I can sell more stuff.
  • This is the personal reason: as students, they know these sites suck.
  • Classification is Contextual Students laugh that the capybara is a fish. They get upset at inherit culture patriarchy of dewey.
  • This I never need to comment on.
  • MetadataINTRINSIC, ADMINISTRATIVE, DESCRIPTIVE I teach all the most boringest stuff! And have fun!
  • Intrinsic is useless, tagging too much work 17 How can I teach intrinsic? By showing how even smart ppl cant be bothers, and machines dont know much. +cute dogs.
  • Handcrafted FTW Add pic of netflix 18 I show how radical innovation comes form descriptive metadata.
  • And I show how administrative metadata can help protect kids. I tell a personal story about how a guy was bookmarking semi-nude kids on Flickr, and how metadata helped me reset permissions.
  • DRAW YOUR WEEK I finally talked about how reflection can be more than just diaries and papers, but drawing.
  • Which is sometimes a therapeutic necessity.
  • THE FUTURE MUST GIVE A DAMN Thank you @cwodtke