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Jorge Arango's

No. 19
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Designing for difference

The theme for next year’s World Information Architecture Day is “Design for Difference.” I’ll be delivering the closing keynote at World IA Day Switzerland (Zurich February 22-23, sign up here), so I’m thinking a lot about differences.

Information architecture is about creating distinctions: separating things into groups and naming those groups. This requires that information architects understand the differences between concepts. But it also requires that we understand differences in people: How we see things, ideas, and ourselves—and how these understandings are informed by differences in our capabilities, access to information, knowledge, self-identity, power, and so on.

It’s important for information architects to acknowledge and accommodate these differences so individuals can "find their personal paths to knowledge." But bringing some things together requires setting them apart from others. Structural distinctions have great power (they’re on a slower-moving pace layer); driving differences too hard can lead to social fragmentation over time.

Information architects aren’t impartial observers in this process; we set contexts that frame people’s understanding. Those frames are informed by the degree to which we think of ourselves as separate from others. Given the influence of digital information environments in our societies, these frames have become immensely powerful.

Where do we draw the lines? Do we know our own biases and how they affect our work? What are the ethical responsibilities of professional distinction-makers in a world in which the effects of our work have more impact than ever before? How might information architecture lead to healthier societies in the long-term? These questions keep me up at night. I hope to have good answers come World IA Day. ;)

Is there something I should focus on as I delve into this complex subject? What should I be reading? Please reply to this email with your thoughts. Thanks!

Being digital without losing your mind

I love lists that offer useful rules-of-thumb in actionable terms. Here are three that have made my computing life better:

A good book about business strategy

I’ve written before about A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin’s Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. It’s the clearest, most actionable book I’ve read on business strategy.

True to its roots in warfare, the authors cast strategy in zero-sum terms: as the set of choices that allow an organization to win in the market. They highlight five key choices that organizations need to make to win:

  • a winning aspiration (i.e., what they aspire to win),
  • where to play,
  • how to win,
  • what their core capabilities are, and
  • what management systems will support them.

The book examines these choices one chapter at a time, using real-world case studies. At the core is something user-centered designers can relate to: a deep understanding of the people who will be purchasing the company’s products or services, and how the strategy serves them.

Highly recommended; read my book notes or buy it on

Other things I've been thinking about...


About Living in Information

Living in Information book coverThe book's description and table of contents are on its web page. If you want a succinct overview, my presentation at UX Week 2018 is a good introduction. You can buy the book from... 

... and other fine purveyors of the printed word.

“Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.”

— Leo Burnett

Thanks for reading!

-- Jorge

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Jorge Arango
P.O. Box 29002
Oakland, CA 94604

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