The Understanding Bee

Information architecture is the practice of making the complex clear. But is information architecture clear? We collected attendees’ deepest questions and greatest doubts considering the practice and results of information architecture work and thought. And in the Understanding Bee, we are ready to do some ‘splainin.

Inspired by the dramatic arc of an elementary school spelling bee, Peter Morville, Abby Covert and Dan Klyn are asked to answer questions one at a time, at random. Marsha Haverty served as moderator.

What We Mean by Meaning: New Structural Properties of IA

We know we can’t design meaning directly, but as IAs we can certainly facilitate it. This session delves into theory to uncover the nature of meaning so that we may recognize new structural properties of information that not just facilitate the emergence of meaning, but maintain its evolving thread in networks, cross-channel ecosystems, the Internet of Things, and other complex contexts.

Embodied cognition – the notion that meaning is not a clean, logical process inside the brain, but emerges as we act with information (physical and digital) in the environment – is offered by many IA thinkers to inform our work. But, we haven’t yet fully characterized the nature of meaning. We’ll do that in this session. We’ll visualize the way meaning emerges and evolves as an information-behavior coupling, and how this implies that meaning is not a static recognition, but a flow. Flows have properties like texture, viscosity, permeability. As IA practitioners, we may use structure to modify these properties. We’ll see that the phase-space of IA affects viscosity, facets of linguistic and perceptual information affect texture, and understanding factors affect permeability.

Recognizing these properties of meaning, and the IA structures that stand to modify them, we may make deliberate design choices in our projects.
Session Takeaways
* Visual breakdown of the nature of meaning as a flow.
* How to recognize new structural properties of IA that help us facilitate the flow of meaning: the phase-space of IA to modify viscosity, facets of linguistic and perceptual information to modify texture, and understanding factors to modify permeability.
* How to use these new structural properties as design tools in our projects.