Hosting a workshop in a video game environment, plus Dorian Taylor on Christopher Alexander & other things worth your attention.
INFORMA(C)TION — April 17, 2022
Hosting a workshop in a video game environment, plus Dorian Taylor on Christopher Alexander & other things worth your attention.
Hello! I'm Jorge Arango and this is INFORMA(C)TION: a biweekly dose of ideas at the intersection of information, cognition, and design. If you like this email, please forward it to a friend. And if you're not subscribed, sign up here. Thanks for reading!
Black and white photograph of marshmallows roasting around a fire.
Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash

Gathering online

Tomorrow starts the twenty-second IA Conference (née IA Summit.) This will be the third consecutive one held entirely online. I’d lie if I said I don’t miss in-person conferences. For me, much of the value in attending such events comes from catching up with friends over dinner, on walks, in hallway conversations, etc.

This year, IAC’s organizers opted to hold the conference on Gather, a platform that promises to restore some of the impromptu social interactions afforded by real-world venues. Gather offers a 2D representation of a conference venue with meeting rooms, gardens, common areas, etc.

When you first log in, you design an avatar to represent you in this world. You walk around using the arrow keys, and you can interact with other avatars and things in the environment, much like you would in a game. The aesthetics are 8-bit camp.

Screenshot of the Gather user interface, showing Jorge's avatar in the middle of an empty conference room.

At first, I thought this was all somewhat gimmicky. But Gather has a neat trick: it uses location and proximity to determine what you hear and who you interact with.

For example, if you see a group of avatars huddled around a table, you can move towards them. As you get closer, you start hearing their conversation — at first faintly, but more loudly the closer you are. Then you can join the conversation and other participants can see and hear you through a video feed.

There are also spaces designed to host presentations — i.e., only people next to microphones can address the room. It’s in one of these spaces that Karl Fast and I will facilitate our workshop, Building a Personal Knowledge Garden.

We spent some time with the organizers thinking about the best layout for this room. Participants will “sit” at six tables around the space so they can talk among themselves while Karl or I address the whole group. But we’ve also requested that microphones be placed close to these tables so any participant who wants to address the room can do so.

I expect the mechanics of interacting in these spaces will take some getting used to. Because ours is one of the first workshops of the conference, we’ve set aside some time to help folks get acclimated. Even so, I expect some tasks — such as having participants present to the whole room — might take longer than using more familiar tools such as Zoom.

Still, I’m excited. I expect that the inconvenience of learning new ways of interacting will be offset by the possibility of richer interactions. Frankly, it also looks fun.

Even though it’s once again happening fully online, I can’t wait to see friends and colleagues at this year’s IA Conference. Hopefully, I’ll see you there too! (Alas, our workshop is now sold out — but you can still register for the conference.)

A tweet from Carrie Hane that reads: 'Current challenge: information architecture. Not menus, not hierarchy, not classification, but how to present information in a way that makes sense to the user. Not looking for answers. Sharing because we tend to call everything like this 'UX design' when sometimes it is IA.'

What I’ve been up to

A Shortcut to Create a Markdown Link from Safari in macOS
Wherein I share a quick way to get the name and URL of the frontmost web page on your Mac as a Markdown-format link.

Upcoming workshops

Building a Personal Knowledge Garden 🌱
April 18, 2022 — IA Conference (online)

Strategic Information Architecture 🎯
May 24, 2022 — UXLx (Lisbon)

Also worth your attention

Exploiting analogies
Roger Martin on the challenges of using analogies to discuss strategic concerns with stakeholders who take things literally.

How to make writing less hard
Three tips for making writing easier. I’m obviously partial to the third one, but also intrigued by the other two. (H/t John August)

NYC Digital Playbook
Principles and strategies for designing cohesive experiences that serve the needs of New York City’s residents, businesses, and visitors. More of this, please. (H/t Laura Yarrow)

A monument to long-term thinking
Vincent Ialenti on current perceptions about the Long Now Foundation’s project to build the 10,000-year Clock of the Long Now.

Andy Budd on crypto
I’m glad Andy wrote this, so I don't have to; his post mirrors my feelings on this subject almost exactly.

Horrible music edge cases
If you've ever had to design a structure to accommodate a large information set, you'll appreciate this list. (H/t Benedict Evans)

The return of Darwin's notebooks
Missing for two decades, Darwin’s notebooks mysteriously reappeared in early March.

An addictive word game you play once a day. Not the one you’re thinking of; this one’s based on semantic similarities between words. (H/t Jonathan Hoffberg)

Super Mario Bros. level 1-1
YouTube video that explains the design decisions that went into the onboarding experience of one of the most popular video games ever. (H/t Jared Spool)

A tweet from Simon Kuestenmacher that shows an infographic on the estimated amount of data created on the internet in one minute during 2021

The Informed Life with Dorian Taylor

Episode 85 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with “consulting designer” Dorian Taylor. Dorian is a student of the work of architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander. In this conversation, we discussed Alexander’s influence on architecture and software design.

The Informed Life episode 85: Dorian Taylor

Parting thought

In order to succeed at the increasingly complex thinking modern life demands, we will find ourselves needing to translate abstractions back into the corporeal, spatial, and social forms from which they sprang — forms with which the brain is still most at ease.

— Annie Murphy Paul

Thanks for reading! 🙏
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