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!