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Differences between IA and personal knowledge management, plus Austin Govella on the IA of note-taking & other things worth your attention.
INFORMA(C)TION — May 15, 2022
Differences between IA and personal knowledge management, plus Austin Govella on the IA of note-taking & 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!
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Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Organizing for future you

At its core, information architecture is quite simple: it’s about organizing stuff to make it easier to find and understand. Organizing stuff is something we do all the time; IA just asks that we do it for other people.

Before I started work on Duly Noted, I’d assumed this was a key difference between IA and personal knowledge management: IA is organizing stuff for other people, but PKM is about organizing our own stuff.

This assessment is wrong. In PKM, you’re also organizing stuff for another person — it just happens to be a future version of you.

Of course, that argument won’t fly with the tax authorities. Technically, you’re the same person you were five years ago. But you underwent many changes over that time. You likely have a different job and focus on other projects. You deal with different people. The context is different.

Your needs and focus will be different five years from now. You’ll have forgotten some things that are important to you now and learned new ones.

You can count on two things remaining the same: future you will still have too much information to deal with, and future you will still need to get things done. So, how do you organize stuff so this other person can find and understand it?

There are two aspects to this question. The first is deciding what’s worth keeping and organizing. Not everything will be relevant, and the more you include, the harder it’ll be to find the stuff you need. It’s a classic signal-to-noise problem.

The second aspect is categorizing the stuff that’s worth keeping. This entails understanding the user’s mental models so you can establish sets and distinctions that map to how they see the world.

While you can’t know exactly how you’ll see things five years from now, you have a better shot of predicting it for yourself than you do for other people.

In this sense, PKM is easier than IA. In IA, we must establish categories that work for lots of people. But in PKM, we’re only concerned with organizing things for one person. It’s okay — and perhaps preferable — to use tags and folder names that only make sense to you.

The question is, will they stand the test of time? Will these categories allow you to find stuff now and five years from now? Will you easily sift the relevant stuff from the noise?

From personal experience, there’s much that IA can teach us to help us manage our personal information better. I’m excited to share what I’m learning with you.

New IA workshop!

IA: WTF? (Information Architecture: What're the Fundamentals?)

Speaking of teaching and IA, I’m thrilled to share with you my new online workshop: IA: WTF?

Some people are aware of information architecture and suspect it might help them design better digital products. This cohort-based workshop is aimed at UX designers, product managers, and stakeholders who need to know about IA — practically, without jargon.

I’m on a mission to generate coherence in the world. Teaching more folks about IA is a crucial way of furthering that mission. If you know anyone who needs to know the fundamentals of IA, I’d appreciate it if you shared the link with them: ia.wtf. Thanks!


LinkedIn post from Erika Hall that says: 'Information architecture is a critical part of any strategy process because it entails taking inventory of what exists and the relationships among those things, then deciding how to represent those structural, symbolic, or context-dependent relationships so that they're meaningful in the minds of disparate audiences. It seems like some organizations are forgetting this step these days and relying on historical perspectives, blindly copycatting, or crudely reacting during a period of great change, just working with flawed or obsolete mental maps of a chaotic landscape.'

Upcoming workshops and presentations

Information Architecture for Design Leaders (workshop) 🎯
May 24, 2022 — UXLx (Lisbon)

Building a Personal Knowledge Garden (presentation) 🌱
May 27, 2022 – UXLx (Lisbon)

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

Also worth your attention

Paradox of choice + information age
An overview of opportunities and challenges (especially the regulatory challenges) inherent in using technology to reduce paradox of choice for consumers.

The Leadership Ceiling
Two frameworks from Tim Kieschnick, who established the UX design practice at healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente, that help leaders understand the limits of what they can achieve within an organization — and what they can do about them. Also check out the podcast where Peter Merholz and Jesse James Garrett interview Kieschnick about the concept

Bot-based UIs
Matt Webb's speculations about future systems where non-human agents act bring forth interesting connections between information items without user prompting. (H/t Chuck Moore)

Polyhierarchies
Heather Hedden on the use of polyhierarchies in taxonomies.

Building kindness into tech
Tim Gorichanaz: “Digital technology is not generally conducive to reflection. But that does not need to be the case.” Can binary-based technologies help us escape binary thinking?

Andy Matuschak interview
Podcast: Devon Zuegel interviews Andy Matuschak on physically-informed digital interface design. 🎧💯

Daily Notes Pages
“Sometimes we need to capture ideas and then let them sit for a while. Before we shift to organising and synthesising them. They need to hang out in limbo, uncategorised, in a place we can still find and revisit them.” Maggie Appleton on the common daily notes page pattern as a parking place for uncategorized thoughts. (H/t Anne Laure LeCunff)

Boutique search engines
Sari Azout writing at A16Z: “thus far, the conversation around curation has been too focused on the content and not enough on the structure.” They suggest a possible alternative to Google, which is becoming less useful as people learn to exploit its relevancy algorithms.

Scouts, stagehands, and gardeners
Three possible roles for designers looking to skillfully address the discontinuous future.

Mechanical watch
An astonishing interactive article from Bartosz Ciechanowski that explains how a mechanical watch works. This is what the web could be. (H/t John Gruber)

The Informed Life with Austin Govella

Episode 87 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with Austin Govella. Austin is UX design lead at Avanade, a global professional services company. He’s also the author of Collaborative Product Design and co-author of the second edition of Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web.[^1]

Austin is also a dedicated note-taker, as I am. So, I was curious to hear about his approach to note-taking. I wasn’t disappointed. His approach is informed by his background in information architecture; he takes and triages notes methodically, looking not just to capture ideas but also to structure them for later retrieval. I was excited to hear about Austin’s approach — I hope you get as much value from our conversation as I did.


The Informed Life episode 87: Austin Govella

Parting thought

Three rules of work: out of clutter find simplicity, from discord find harmony, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

— Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading! 🙏
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