Information architecture in the time of design systems, plus Kat King on notes for learning & other things worth your attention.
INFORMA(C)TION — June 12, 2022
Information architecture in the time of design systems, plus Kat King on notes for learning & 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!
Photo by Ivan Henao on Unsplash

Information architecture doesn’t come up as often as it used to in discussions about UX design. When it does, designers speak of IA as something that mattered in the past but isn’t that important anymore. And yet, when I see the work folks are sharing, I see clear signs of IA thinking — even if they don’t call it that.

Case in point: Apple’s redesigned Home app.

Last week was WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference. The event usually starts with a keynote presentation highlighting the changes coming to Apple’s operating systems (iOS, iPadOS, macOS, etc.) and applications that come bundled with the OS, such as Mail.

The Home app is one of these: it lets you control smart home devices such as lightbulbs and doorknobs from your phone. Not a major app like Mail, but an important one nevertheless. Apple dedicated a portion of this year’s presentation to an upcoming redesign of this app.

As I heard the presenter explain the main changes, a thought struck me: even though it’s being framed as a “redesign,” this is really a re-architecting of how the app presents information.

It shouldn’t be surprising since a redesign of such an app won’t likely be a significant departure in terms of look and feel. After all, it uses the same design system as the rest of Apple’s apps. With a mature set of UI parts, most gains are to be had in improving how the information they convey is organized.

In other words, information architecture.

While the presenter didn’t utter the phrase, that’s clearly what she was talking about. (This post goes into more detail about the rearchitecting of the Home app.)

As organizations move toward standardizing UIs (via design systems and such), design becomes more about structuring experiences than tweaking their visual presentation. With a solid kit of parts in place, how the parts come together becomes more important.

As a result, many teams are practicing IA more — even if they don’t think of their work in those terms. Yet they should; there’s a body of knowledge going back decades that offers useful conceptual frameworks, processes, best practices, and more.

Knowing IA will help teams design better products and websites — especially in cases where look-and-feel isn’t the main attraction.

New workshop tier

Speaking of learning about information architecture, several folks asked for a lower-priced option for my upcoming IA workshop. So, I decided to offer a second, more accessible tier.

If you were considering the workshop but hesitated because of the price, have another look.

IA:WTF? Information Architecture: What’re the Foundations? Online workshop July 26 - August 30, 2022
Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Upcoming public workshops and presentations

IA: WTF? (workshop) 🧭
Jul 26, 2022 - Sep 1, 2022 (online)

From my blog

TAOI: Apple Home App Redesign
More details about the new Home app's IA-centered overhaul.

Also worth your attention

Better call-to-action labels
Oldie but goodie: WYLTIWLT, a test to check whether your calls to action “work” from a linguistics perspective. (H/t Scott Kubie)

Dunning-Kruger explainer
An engaging YouTube video that clearly explains this pervasive cognitive bias.

Taxonomist community
A new Discord-based community of folks who are into taxonomies. Drop by and say hi!

Books for game designers
There’s much UX designers can learn from game design. In this list, Jesse Schell recommends books game designers should read. (Schell’s book is on there — and with good reason, it’s one of the best I’ve read on the subject.) (H/t Kevin Kelly)

How to future
Speaking of Kevin Kelly, in this essay he argues that being a good futurist entails understanding the past, the present, and the future. “It turns out that the present is very hard to see.” 👀

No such thing as data
Benedict Evans argues that concerns about data are overblown — that data “isn’t worth anything, and it doesn’t really belong to you anyway.”

Hand mnemonics
For centuries, people have used their hands and fingers as extensions of their memories. Early digital devices, if you will. (H/t Tyler Cowen) ✋

The Informed Life with Kat King

Episode 89 of the Informed Life podcast features a conversation with information architect Kat King. Kat replied to one of my Twitter threads about note-taking, and I was intrigued by her approach. I also saw her give a thoughtful presentation at this year's IA Conference and wanted to find out how she uses notes to learn and teach. So, our conversation focused on note-taking as a means of learning. I found myself grinning in recognition throughout. Check it out!

The Informed Life episode 89: Kat King

Parting thought

Structural order alone would not be sufficient for molecular evolution to proceed along the pathway to life. We need another important element, the phenomenon we have called emergence – the arising of novel properties at various levels of increasing structural complexity, where “novel” means that these properties were not present in the single parts or components.

— Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, The Systems View of Life

Thanks for reading! 🙏
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