Dan Klyn: It’s so good to see all of you here and to think about the thou­sands of oth­er peo­ple all over the world today who decid­ed that instead of being out­doors in the sun­shine and spend­ing time with our fam­i­lies that we would spend the day to talk about infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture togeth­er. And let’s have a big round of applause, and it’s the end of the day. Why don’t we stand up and applaud the orga­niz­ers of today. You’ve done such a spec­tac­u­lar job. Thank you! Thank you. Thank you.

So let’s see if my com­put­er will behave. I’m sure you don’t want to look at Pink Floyd. Okay. So, before we begin I would like to make a shame­less tiny bit of self-promotion. My com­pa­ny is called The Understanding Group, and we’ve been a spon­sor of World IA Day since the begin­ning. And three of you have received a copy of Richard Saul Wurman’s book Understanding Understanding com­pli­ments of Mr. Wurman and The Understanding Group, so thank you for play­ing along and look­ing under your seats. And if you have any ques­tions about how to redeem your book, just ask me a question. 

Okay. So, I’m from a state in the United States called Michigan. Has any­body here been to the state of Michigan? A cou­ple of you. And that’s my son Garrett, so he’s been there too. The state of Michigan looks like a mit­ten, and so when we tell peo­ple where we’re from, we point on the hand and say where are we from. So I’m from here, Hudsonville, Michigan. And I get to teach here, in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the University of Michigan School of Information. 

And this School of Information is part of the his­to­ry of our field. I’m curi­ous if any of you have seen or used a book with a polar bear on the cov­er. Some of you have, yes. So Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld—and I think it’s true that Peter Morville was a speak­er at your very first World IA Day here in Switzerland—these two gen­tle­men were study­ing Library and Information Science at a school that had just changed its name from the School of Library Science to the School of Information and Library Science. And at the time that they were study­ing, the World Wide Web became impor­tant. And it became so impor­tant that the oth­er­wise low­ly pro­fes­sion of librar­i­an sud­den­ly was aggran­dized as the impor­tant pro­fes­sion of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. So it’s a strange trip from the library to the World Wide Web, and the idea was that if librar­i­ans know how to orga­nize infor­ma­tion in a library, per­haps those are the peo­ple who should orga­nize infor­ma­tion on the Internet. In ret­ro­spect I’m not sure that was the best idea but that’s what hap­pened. And so the arc of the his­to­ry of this field is con­nect­ed to the place that I get to teach and to peo­ple that I know and love and that’s pret­ty fun. 

And some peo­ple trace the need for infor­ma­tion archi­tects and the exis­tence of infor­ma­tion archi­tects to the growth of com­plex­i­ty in infor­ma­tion, in data. And here are all kinds of—from Gretchen Harris’ love­ly Medium post about the his­to­ry of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. I think this graph is from the Polar Bear Book. I’m not quite sure; I should’ve looked that up. And inter­est­ing­ly to me, my dad is a his­to­ry teacher and I’m very inter­est­ed in history… 

There it is. 1994, Information Architects Arrive.” 

That’s not true. In 1976 Richard Saul Wurman invent­ed infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture at a con­fer­ence for archi­tects. And Richard Saul Wurman’s sen­si­bil­i­ty around infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is that it’s…architecture. It’s part of how we under­stand and shape the built environment. 

So that was in 1976 that he was talk­ing to archi­tects about infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. They did not find it inter­est­ing or com­pelling. Nobody real­ly did any­thing with it. Until, per the pre­vi­ous slide, in 1994 or so librar­i­ans took this word infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture” and ran with it. 

So in about the same time as the Polar Bear Book came out, Richard brought this book out, Information Architects. And this was an anthol­o­gy show­ing many dif­fer­ent design­ers’ imple­men­ta­tions of the idea of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. Which for Richard at the time that this book came out, the short­hand for infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture would be mak­ing the com­plex clear.” Yes. Andrea kind­ly brought a copy of some of the books that I’ll be refer­ring to today. 

So the arc of the his­to­ry of this field… There’s the arc of librar­i­an­ship, and the growth of the com­plex­i­ty of infor­ma­tion that librar­i­ans can respond to. There’s the arc of archi­tec­ture, at least in the United States in the built envi­ron­ment in the 70s. And in the Bay Area of the United States, where one of Richard’s busi­ness­es was locat­ed. In the 1980s and 90s, talk­ing about infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture more like we talk about it today. But as some of you know, at the time that this book came out, just before the Polar Bear Book came out, almost no con­ver­sa­tion between these two dif­fer­ent ways of talk­ing about, think­ing about, and prac­tic­ing infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. So, the arcs don’t touch. They are a lit­tle bit separate. 

If we keep going, if we keep ask­ing the ques­tion of the emer­gence of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, how did this hap­pen, why is it a thing? And inspired by Richard’s cre­ation of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture inside of the field of archi­tec­ture, I’ve been look­ing for oth­er sources, oth­er provo­ca­tions and cul­ture that made infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture have to be a thing. And one of the more inter­est­ing crit­ics of archi­tec­ture, Kenneth Frampton, talked about how real­ly some of where all of this begins is with the Industrial Revolution. And in par­tic­u­lar a World’s Fair in London in 1851 that was called the Crystal Palace. And that’s a pic­ture of the Crystal Palace. It was an amaz­ing phe­nom­e­non. This was the begin­ning of World’s Fairs as an event, as some­thing that peo­ple do. 

And you were there. The World’s fair was pre­sent­ed in 1851 as The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of the Nations of the World. And so in the Swiss Pavilion there were all sorts of prod­ucts that were exam­ples of indus­try and progress. 

And what Frampton says that I’m inter­est­ed in is the idea that one with this explo­sion of indus­tri­al­iza­tion, with the explo­sion of the means of production…and as we know, these means of pro­duc­tion word most­ly held close­ly by wealth and pow­er, that there’s some­thing about the Crystal Palace and the phe­nom­e­non of a World’s Fair that is meant to engage the pub­lic. And the basis of this engage­ment with the pub­lic was a cel­e­bra­tion, a fes­ti­val of how you would do things. And for Frampton he thinks that this is an impor­tant time in human his­to­ry. Because for the first time there was a sur­plus of means over ends. And the ques­tion of all of the things we know how to do now became more impor­tant and was pushed into the pub­lic sphere over top of the ques­tion of what. What have we done? What is this thing? That ques­tion was pushed down as the cel­e­bra­tion of how and the sur­plus of means was pre­sent­ed to the public. 

And again, the own­er­ship of these means was pri­mar­i­ly the peo­ple who already had pow­er and wealth. And so, the pub­lic was engaged in order to pro­tect pow­er and wealth through the beguil­ing of the pub­lic with this dis­play of the awe­some works of the indus­tries of the nations of the world. And they need­ed us to be beguiled by all of the sur­plus of means so that we would­n’t seize the means of the ends, perhaps. 

So, engag­ing the pub­lic on the ques­tion of what we care about, what are we focused on? We’re focused on how over a focus on what. And so with this sur­plus of means over ends, with this new part­ner­ship between art and archi­tec­ture join­ing forces to bring the pub­lic into a new time, a time when what things are and what things seem like can be split apart.

This is an illus­tra­tion that Google cre­at­ed to help sell the idea of a con­nect­ed city in Toronto. And I think what’s going on in this pic­ture is that a cou­ple who had a small apart­ment are now more suc­cess­ful and wealthy because they have embraced this new world. And they have been able to knock a wall out of their apart­ment and move into the adja­cent space. And because they liked the wood grain of the beams on the ceil­ing in their old space, they can just hire some­body to paint the door frame, just paint on that wood sur­face to make it seem like it’s part of every­thing else. Nothing has to be or remain as it is or as it appears to be. 

So this fas­ci­na­tion with how over what, part of it is to be freed from the con­straints of what things are. With the sur­plus of means, with the sur­plus of how, we can change what things seem to be to more suit our lik­ing. And we’re per­haps more attract­ed to that. 

When Richard Saul Wurman, the inven­tor of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, was a 5‑year-old boy…or 4, I’m not sure, the first mem­o­ry that he has as a child was hold­ing his father’s hand and going up an esca­la­tor at the 1939 World’s Fair. 

And the orga­niz­ers of this World’s Fair in 1939 were inter­est­ed in help­ing the coun­try recov­er from what we call in the United States the Great Depression. And so stag­ing this amaz­ing yet anoth­er instance of a World’s Fair, in some ways a con­tin­u­a­tion of what hap­pened with that first World’s Fair in 1851, the agen­da of the peo­ple who were pro­mot­ing the fair became even more explic­it. And so the quote here is from one of the orga­niz­ers of the World’s Fair in New York talk­ing about we can exhib­it all of these won­ders that tech­nol­o­gy brings in such a way that it will estab­lish a pat­tern that the peo­ple can then fol­low. That they won’t have to think for them­selves. That we can think on their behalf because we know bet­ter. There’s a bet­ter way to live, and we know how that way is. 

And that’s the pat­tern that has pre­vailed ever since. And maybe all the way back to 1851 to that first World’s Fair. A super­lin­ear growth curve that just keeps going up steep­er and steep­er, faster and faster. This is the growth pat­tern that I am expect­ed to deliv­er for my clients, and I think that most of you all are expect­ed to make this pat­tern work for your clients. 

And I don’t know for sure but I think this could have been the lit­tle esca­la­tor that lit­tle Ricky went up with his dad to go see…it’s a lit­tle unclear in the pic­ture. This is Westinghouse, the elec­tron­ic con­sumer goods man­u­fac­tur­er, show­ing a pro­gres­sion from gad­gets that help you with cook­ing back when we wore bon­nets, to the inven­tion of refrig­er­a­tion, and now our cloth­ing style’s a lit­tle bit more mod­ern. Now we’ve got all sorts of devices and machines for clean­ing, and kitchen work. And it leads to a lib­er­at­ed woman wear­ing a suit coat now, not a clean­ing smock. And her chil­dren are her accom­plices, not her shack­les. All through the won­der of this tech­nol­o­gy, all as we ride this growth curve up and up to a bet­ter world. 

There’s an American physi­cist named Geoffrey West. This is one of two Mr. Wests that I will invoke today, both Americans. Geoffrey West, as a physi­cist work­ing at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico in the United States, start­ed using his math­e­mat­i­cal knowl­edge as a physi­cist to look at what are peo­ple doing in the world, what are the pat­terns of human activ­i­ty. And he also used those pat­terns to study the nat­ur­al world. And what he found out, or what his work seems to prove is that the works of men, the works of mankind, fol­low­ing that super­lin­ear unbound­ed growth pat­tern have built into them, fun­da­men­tal­ly, unavoid­ably, always, a total sys­tem col­lapse. That this pat­tern is not of nature. This pat­tern of super­lin­ear growth is noth­ing that our universe…does. This is some­thing that peo­ple do. And this is one of the rea­sons why we can’t have nice things. 

And it gets worse. So, to fore­stall the col­lapse, we have to inno­vate. And the pur­pose of an innovation—and I think infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is one such inno­va­tion, and I think we are co-responsible, we are…this is us, we’re part of this. What is infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture? Why is it a thing? Why are thou­sands of peo­ple spend­ing a Saturday talk­ing about it instead of doing some­thing else? This inno­va­tion push­es the col­lapse fur­ther for­ward in time. The use of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture to help man­age com­plex­i­ty which is a prod­uct of that inap­pro­pri­ate, insane growth pat­tern, what that does is it push­es the dis­as­ter far­ther into the future. 

And that’s good. And thank you infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture and infor­ma­tion archi­tects for doing that. But there’s a nasty secret here. Which is that the inter­val for the next innovation…because it’s still gonna col­lapse because we’re still fol­low­ing that pat­tern. Each time that you apply an inno­va­tion to push the event hori­zon of doom fur­ther into the future, the inter­val with­in which your next inno­va­tion must sur­face becomes short­er. So, we don’t have an unlim­it­ed num­ber of inno­va­tions to keep push­ing the hock­ey stick shape of growth for­ward. Each time we inno­vate and we push the end fur­ther ahead in time, it short­ens the amount of time in total that we have to address com­plex­i­ty and prob­lems. So this is…this is not good. I’m just gonna say it, this is not good. 

An exam­ple of this super­lin­ear growth and the col­lapse, and back to the ques­tion of what is the arc of the his­to­ry of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture. David [Weinberger] in his book…Everything is Miscellaneous I believe is the name of the book, he talks about how an American man­ag­er named Daniel McCallum invent­ed the org chart in response to a dis­as­ter. The New York and Erie rail­roads had merged, and nei­ther of those rail­roads had had dis­as­ters at a large scale pri­or to the merg­er. And short­ly after they merge these orga­ni­za­tions, two dif­fer­ent trains col­lid­ed head on. And I don’t know if you have this expres­sion in your lan­guage, train­wreck,” as a way of talk­ing about a big prob­lem? This was per­haps the ori­gin of that. A lit­er­al train­wreck caused by a hyper lin­ear growth pat­tern of a pri­vate com­pa­ny. And then the devel­op­ment of the inno­va­tion of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture to man­age that new com­plex­i­ty, to help make there be no more trainwrecks. 

The dia­gram is pret­ty famous. And those of us who do a lot of work with stake­hold­ers, I think this dia­gram has got a fas­ci­nat­ing… How about spearhold­ers? How about pointy-thing-with-power hold­ers? And what this dia­gram shows is that all of the pow­er of the stake­hold­ers can be man­aged and flow up through the orga­ni­za­tion. Because it got so big that nobody knew what all of the parts of it were any­more. And what infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture did here was make it pos­si­ble for that to con­tin­ue to be the case. 

So rather than using an inno­va­tion to help the orga­ni­za­tion under­stand its growth, or to dis­sem­i­nate more infor­ma­tion across the orga­ni­za­tion, this was a mech­a­nism to make sure that the infor­ma­tion still did­n’t have to be known by every­body. Because again, these are the peo­ple who have the pow­er. The infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tur­al inno­va­tion here is sim­ply to sup­port the split­ting off of the knowl­edge of the whole sys­tem into iso­lat­ed bits of knowl­edge about parts of the sys­tem, in a way that would allow the thing to keep grow­ing, keep grow­ing, on a con­ti­nent that was being con­quered incre­men­tal­ly through railroads. 

And as this is the age of indus­tri­al­iza­tion, what’s real­ly hap­pen­ing here is not only the split­ting off of the knowl­edge of the whole from each of the parts. We’ve also start­ed to do things like split­ting off the job of ren­der­ing a dia­gram from the job of know­ing what the dia­gram should be. As Hannah Arendt might say, the sep­a­ra­tion of work and labor. Which again I don’t think is work­ing in our favor. 

But it is work­ing to sup­port this pat­tern. And I believe that the fun­da­men­tal inno­va­tion of this kind of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture was to help this phe­nom­e­non to con­tin­ue to be the mode. To split off what our human nature, our human under­stand­ing, clear­ly knows is wrong from what busi­ness says is right. So we need to split per­cep­tion from the human body. We need to numb the par­tic­i­pants in this pat­tern. Because we all know it’s wrong. And we’ve col­lud­ed in this project to allow our­selves to be numbed from the effects of this ter­ri­ble pattern. 

The University of Michigan is respon­si­ble for this in some ways. Claude Shannon, the father of infor­ma­tion sci­ence, is a Michigan man. And you might know the famous say­ing of Claude Shannon in invent­ing bina­ry as the means for mov­ing infor­ma­tion around in the world, Claude Shannon said that con­text is irrel­e­vant to the prob­lem that he was solv­ing, which was mak­ing infor­ma­tion be dig­i­tized and easy to trans­mit. So fork­ing off…just like we fork off human per­cep­tion from human bod­ies, we’re also fork­ing infor­ma­tion away from its con­text, sep­a­rat­ing it—again, to my inter­pre­ta­tion. Because if infor­ma­tion were in con­text, we might under­stand that we’re doing it wrong. 

I feel like what Claude Shannon did is the supreme real­iza­tion of the avant garde phi­los­o­phy of the 17th cen­tu­ry, the per­fect imple­men­ta­tion of Cartesian think­ing, that you can split up the world into lit­tle box­es and then study each box sep­a­rate­ly, and then once you under­stand what each lit­tle box is, you can some­how then know what the whole is. And of the prob­lem with this—there’s lots of prob­lems with this. What’s being observed here by Kent Bloomer and Charles Moore, two American archi­tects, is that with Cartesianism, the rela­tion­ship can seem more pre­cise because we’ve got them cap­tured in the dia­gram. But what we lose is qual­i­ty of loca­tion. Because the loca­tion does­n’t mat­ter any­more. Claude Shannon freed us from the need of infor­ma­tion trav­el­ing with its con­text. And the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture inno­va­tion freed orga­ni­za­tions from hav­ing to know every­thing about themselves. 

The prac­tice in philosophy…Edmund Husserl called this brack­et­ing. And a dirty joke is what do you call a col­lec­tive of UX design­ers? An it depends.” So we don’t have to real­ly know what’s in the brack­ets. We can just brack­et it, and what­ev­er goes in the brack­ets is what­ev­er goes in the brack­ets. This is lorem ipsum, this is a lot of the things that you and I do every day. 

And this is how the places made of infor­ma­tion that we all live and work in every day are pri­mar­i­ly con­sti­tut­ed. A Cartesian grid, with lots of rec­tan­gles, that can be pop­u­lat­ed by…it depends. 

And it’s only going to get worse. And back to the ques­tion of what is real­i­ty… Is real­i­ty here? [points at the palm of his hand] Or is real­i­ty here? [moves his arms to indi­cate the space around him­self] The answer…in about a minute. Here’s a squished graph­ic show­ing the growth curve of the sale of consumer-grade vir­tu­al real­i­ty tech­nolo­gies like head­sets and gloves and such. It’s about to be the world. We’re almost there. 

And if Cartesianism is our only way of doing this, we’re in trou­ble. We’re already in trou­ble, we know this, but we’re in for more. There’s an American farmer/philosopher named Wendell Berry who said it very pow­er­ful­ly, Field = for­est = park­ing lot.” It depends. Any one thing that can be ser­vice­abil­i­ty swapped out for any oth­er thing is equal­ly fine. 

What Geoffrey West found out, or at least his work claims that this is true, and one of the expla­na­tions for why are the works of mankind is so obsessed with deliv­er­ing on this pat­tern, is that every time that you dou­ble an orga­ni­za­tion that is fol­low­ing this pat­tern, every time that you can get it to dou­ble in size, you get 20% prof­it, auto­mat­i­cal­ly. All you have to do…if some­thing is grow­ing at this rate, in this way, your job as the man­ag­er is to make it dou­ble. And once you make it dou­ble, you will have profit. 

Ted Nelson, one of the inno­va­tors of com­put­ing, start­ed one of his books on com­put­ing by say­ing, Any nitwit can under­stand com­put­ing, and many do”. What this pat­tern says is that any nitwit can be a suc­cess­ful busi­nessper­son, and many are. 

All you have to do is keep mak­ing some­thing grow more, and keep the peo­ple involved numb enough to keep doing it for you, and you can be a suc­cess­ful operator. 

This is a screen­shot that I took sev­er­al years ago. I teach at a uni­ver­si­ty and so nat­u­ral­ly I reuse pic­tures all the time. And I think it’s about time to retire this one because this is now. I used to use this a cou­ple years ago to shake up the class, to get us think­ing about oh my god what kind of a world are we liv­ing in. This is now. And I think the rea­son why what is it, 57,000 new things being added to…and these things have IP address­es. Think of all the oth­er things. 57,000 new things with IP address­es being added to the Internet every sec­ond is because some­body needs to dou­ble their busi­ness. So they can keep grow­ing, and they can look successful. 

Which takes me back to Richard Saul Wurman. The book that came before the Information Architects book, but it came after he invent­ed the idea of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is Information Anxiety. And I’m curi­ous if you have had the same expe­ri­ence that I have had, which is that anx­i­ety isn’t some­thing up in my head. Anxiety is some­thing that’s in my whole body. It’s some­thing I feel. And it might even be a gift to feel anxiety. 

But it’s a gift that too many of us Americans have. I don’t know about you all, but we are feel­ing anx­i­ety or we are expe­ri­enc­ing dis­or­dered life because of anx­i­ety at a rate that is alarming. 

And as the philoso­pher Martin Heidegger observed, when we are depressed, when we’re feel­ing anx­i­ety, we start to lose our prop­er con­nec­tion with the world, of things. So 57,000 new things being added to the Internet every sec­ond, the onset of infor­ma­tion anx­i­ety, too much infor­ma­tion, too much com­plex­i­ty to take in because of this growth pat­tern, con­se­quent­ly we are los­ing our abil­i­ty to relate to things in the world in a fruit­ful, prop­er way. 

And so what we do? We have to shut down the anx­i­ety. We have to stop feel­ing this in order to keep going. The American poet Cowper said it this way, 

Tis pleas­ant, through the
loop­holes of retreat,
To Peep at such a world,
to see the stir of
the great Babel;
and not feel the crowd. 

And I love this illus­tra­tion. This is from an issue of the mag­a­zine Progressive Architecture in 1961. The first time that Richard Saul Wurman’s work as an archi­tect was pub­lished. This is a lit­tle car­toon. It was­n’t attached to any­thing he was doing in there. Just a lit­tle artifact. 

So through the peep­holes. Managing so we don’t have to actu­al­ly feel, or hear, or be in the crowd. Governing it through the lit­tle rec­tan­gle. That…is only gonna last for so long. And so what do we do? Back to that pair­ing of…I’ll use the props. What do we do about infor­ma­tion anx­i­ety? [holds up a copy of Information Anxiety] And back to what hap­pened to the United States with the train­wreck. An archi­tec­ture. [holds up a copy of Information Architectures That an archi­tec­ture can be one response to anxiety. 

And anoth­er American chap named West I think is a ter­rif­ic archi­tect, inno­va­tor. And what he does has a lot to do with what I think Richard is talk­ing about. So I’m going to show you a lit­tle video here and then I’ll talk about what I think is going on. 

[record­ing omits clip]

Kanye West very pub­licly strug­gles with men­tal health issues and anx­i­ety. He end­ed up can­cel­ing this tour about halfway through. But I think what he was doing was an amaz­ing act of archi­tec­ture in response to the anx­i­ety of how do I relate to things in my world now that this world has become the way that it is? And Kanye’s answer here is to not reuse the how of every oth­er con­cert I’ve ever been to. We had crap­py seats for this con­cert. I was expect­ing the stage to be at the front of the room the way that the stage is always at the front of the room. 

And what I see Kanye West doing here—I haven’t been able to talk with him about this yet. But he changed the sit­u­at­ed­ness of the things in the space to change his rela­tion­ship with the audi­ence, to change his rela­tion­ship with his music. It trans­formed what were going to be pret­ty crap­py seats on one side of the audi­to­ri­um— This com­plete­ly amaz­ing inno­va­tion that he came up with, a new way to per­form for peo­ple in an audi­to­ri­um. Every fif­teen min­utes or so we had ter­rif­ic seats. And all those peo­ple down on the floor, he was right there. It was amaz­ing to watch the stage move back and forth, to watch the peo­ple mov­ing back and forth. And at the end of the show, it tilt­ed down and he just walked out of the audi­to­ri­um. It’s com­plete­ly amaz­ing. It blew my mind. I was so glad that my fam­i­ly and I were able to expe­ri­ence this. 

And so what is…what’s going on here? This archi­tects from the United States Michael Speaks talks about archi­tec­ture and con­tem­po­rary archi­tects work­ing in dis­pos­able media. Architectures that are vir­tu­al. Architectures that are tem­po­rary. And the prob­lem that some peo­ple have with well that’s not archi­tec­ture, archi­tec­ture is sol­id things that last.” And what this chap is say­ing is maybe what archi­tec­ture does—and back to the pair­ing of infor­ma­tion anx­i­ety and infor­ma­tion architecture…architecture is chang­ing the rela­tion­ships of things in space to cre­ate cer­tain kinds of affects in how we feel. And I think Kanye chang­ing the rela­tion­ship between the per­former and the audi­ence is one of those acts of archi­tec­ture that is cre­at­ing emo­tions, cre­at­ing affect. Changing his affect per­haps as a per­former, and chang­ing the expe­ri­ence of the audience. 

So, I’m going to say that the pur­pose of any archi­tec­ture is to ensure that the world­ness of the world is sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly rein­forced in the rela­tion­ships which gov­ern the thing­ness of things. This is a real­ly bad trans­la­tion of Heidegger. But this is what I think. 

There was a dif­fer­ent world than the typ­i­cal world of audi­ence and per­former that Mr West did­n’t want to live in any­more. So he invoked a new kind of world in that audi­to­ri­um through chang­ing the rela­tion­ships of the things in the room. It man­i­fest­ed the kind of world that—a kind of world I would love to go back to. If there was a but­ton right here, I would go— Sorry I would go right now. It was elec­tri­fy­ing. So the sit­u­at­ed­ness of things in space as a means of con­cretiz­ing the kind of world that we want to live in. 

Those of you who know the prop­er way to set the table may become uncom­fort­able right now on the basis of this pic­ture but it’s anoth­er way of illus­trat­ing the point I hope to make. This is a pic­ture of prop­er pro­to­col and eti­quette in the peri­od between World Wars I and II. So at a state din­ner where French and German peo­ple were din­ing togeth­er, the offi­cial eti­quette was changed because it was too soon for Germans and French peo­ple to have knives in their right hands. For real. The sit­u­at­ed­ness of things in space con­cretizes a world. And the world that French and German peo­ple want­ed to live in was not a world of war. They stopped for a minute there. It was a bet­ter world. 

And Mr. Heidegger explains this for us quite well. In as much as any enti­ty within-the-world is like­wise in space its spa­tial­i­ty will have onto­log­i­cal con­nec­tion with the world.” Here’s the ontol­ogy part. Richard Saul Wurman said the cre­ative orga­ni­za­tion of infor­ma­tion changes the mean­ing of infor­ma­tion. Situating the things on the table changes the mean­ing of the meeting. 

Andrea Resmini and I have devel­oped these ideas into a the­o­ry about infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture where ontol­ogy, what things are— The def­i­n­i­tion that we like is the sci­ence of being. So on what basis are things? There is the onto­log­i­cal basis. Maybe the anoth­er word for that would be such­ness.” If we were talk­ing about bananas, the onto­log­i­cal real­i­ty of bananas is long yel­low fruits, per­haps. The topol­o­gy is the sit­u­at­ed­ness of those long yel­low fruits. And if the long yel­low fruits appear in the pro­duce part of the store, then the com­bi­na­tion of the ontol­ogy and the topol­o­gy, mean­ing on the basis of loca­tion in space, mean­ing on the basis of attrib­ut­es, both of those things are com­bin­ing to make mean­ing. And then the human ele­ment is the chore­og­ra­phy. How we inter­act, how we engage with the prop­er­ties of things. How we intu­it or under­stand the sit­u­at­ed­ness of things. That this all comes togeth­er into…this is what the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is being gen­er­at­ed by, ulti­mate­ly, is our the­o­ry, is the inter­play of what things are, how things are sit­u­at­ed in space, and what peo­ple do. 

Richard Saul Wurman is not well-liked by a lot of peo­ple. He says things like this, and that’s maybe one of the rea­sons why some peo­ple don’t like him all that much. That the clas­sic per­va­sive seduc­tion to designers—and he chose very specif­i­cal­ly to not call what he does infor­ma­tion design.” And this is one of the rea­sons why. That design­ers, and this was observed ear­li­er today, the obses­sion with problem-solving some­times gets in the way of ask­ing what’s true. 

The local favorite archi­tect, Le Corbusier, ear­ly in his career worked in a mode that is not dis­sim­i­lar to this. He posit­ed this as a gener­ic struc­ture that you could do any­thing with any­where. And solv­ing the problem—this is a solu­tion look­ing for a prob­lem. This is basi­cal­ly what start­ed to hap­pen gen­er­al­ly for all of us with the Industrial Revolution, with the Crystal Palace of 1851, that sur­plus of means over ends. Solution before the problem. 

And the dif­fer­ent pos­ture that Mr. Wurman prefers to take is to go back­wards from the prob­lem. And raise your hand if your clients or boss­es are inter­est­ed in you going back­ward from the prob­lem, ever. Some of you might work in a good place. Andrea, I’m pleased for you. Anyone else feel like they have per­mis­sion to go back­ward? Thank you. thank you. 

But going back­ward from the prob­lem I’ve loved watch­ing all of your pre­sen­ta­tions today. And the infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture tools and meth­ods that we’ve seen today, many of them are backward-facing. And the bor­ing part. The part that many peo­ple don’t want to do. The audit­ing of all of the things that we’ve already done. The what have we done” ques­tion that is cer­tain­ly going to make it hard­er for us to deliv­er on that growth pat­tern that we’re expect­ed to deliv­er on if we are look­ing back­ward and first mak­ing sure that our stake­hold­ers are aligned. That we do an audit of all of the things. Nobody wants to— None of the clients I’ve worked with have ever had a com­pre­hen­sive under­stand­ing let alone map or mod­el of the as-is envi­ron­ment. In the orga­ni­za­tion, typ­i­cal­ly the atti­tude is What we’ve got, it sucks. We need to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. What we need is in the future, and here we are in the present with all this garbage so why are you going to spend all this time and mon­ey fig­ur­ing out what have we done? Can’t we just fast-forward to a bet­ter future of the sort that we would all prefer?”

And the prob­lem of work­ing in terms of pref­er­ence is that it’s always a small­er set of objec­tives than would be good. I think. So in our work with stake­hold­ers, in our strug­gle as a lit­tle infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture con­sul­tan­cy to win the per­mis­sion from clients to go back­ward from the prob­lem, we do a lot of work with stake­hold­ers in order to get them to hold their spe­cif­ic pref­er­ences a lit­tle more loose­ly and instead to focus on their aims. And can’t we expand the zone of what is per­mis­si­ble, of what we will tol­er­ate. That is one mech­a­nism that we have found very use­ful to shift the focus of the stake­hold­er work from What is your pref­er­ence for a future that isn’t here yet?” to Given your many often seemingly-contradictory aims, how can we expand the range of tol­er­ance for when we do get to the solu­tion some­day where all of those aims can be balanced—they’re not all going to win—but that we can serve many aims through a broad­ened zone of tolerance.”

So what I’ve been guilty of in the past and that I want to leave behind is the tak­ing of sides around this. So there are things that are help­ful in the look­ing back, and there are nec­es­sary coun­ter­parts on the side of the look­ing for­ward. And I think we pre­fer Helvetica as design­ers, gen­er­al­ly. And I think if we had to pick sides, who’s going to win? Well if we’re push­ing that growth pat­tern, if that’s what we have to do, then only one side of this pic­ture real­ly needs to happen. 

But I don’t think that that’s what we should do. I think what we need is fric­tion. I love this quote, and this where I got the title for this talk. And it’s occur­rence right now in the sequence of my remarks should be an indi­ca­tor to you that I’m almost done. Perhaps it would be bet­ter to look for once in awe at what’s already here. Not with great learned­ness, but with warm under­stand­ing. And I think the warmth would be gen­er­at­ed by the fric­tion that we cre­ate when archi­tects and design­ers work togeth­er. When we resist the modal­i­ty of the hand-off. Because then we would­n’t touch, we would­n’t get warm. I think in order to do it right…because we don’t have very many of those inno­va­tion inter­vals left. With cli­mate change, with the rise of fas­cism. We’re almost done as a species. And so why don’t we look with awe at what we’ve got. Let’s opti­mize for balance. 

And the good news, if there is a lit­tle bit of good news—there is—is there is a dif­fer­ent pat­tern. I don’t think the bal­anced pat­tern will deliv­er the growth of the super­lin­ear pat­tern. But in his work, again using the math­e­mat­ics of physics to under­stand the world of biol­o­gy, what Geoffrey West found is that when nature builds…

You can’t see it there because it’s so small—that a mouse. And at the top end of that range is a whale. And nature can make mam­mals at every point along this growth curve. Because every time that nature makes some­thing twice as big, it uses 25% less. Geoffrey West found that a mouse has the same num­ber of heart­beats in its life­time as a whale. And the way that nature does this is through lim­it­ed growth. Sublinear growth. And as a pat­tern to posit instead of super­lin­ear growth, this is a provoca­tive and well-proven phe­nom­e­non in nature. That there is a way to keep grow­ing. That there is a way to make a whale, to be whale. But unlike all of the whales of the works of mankind so far, these whales would be more effi­cient than the ele­phants, which are in turn more effi­cient than the hors­es, which are in turn more effi­cient than the cats, which are in turn more effi­cient— Every time you make some­thing big­ger in this pat­tern, you can have a reserve. 

One of my favorite archi­tects is Denise Scott Brown. She’s an AIA gold medal­ist in my coun­try. And what she says—and she says we” because she works with her hus­band Robert Venturi, who passed away a year or two ago. But when she says we” that’s what she’s say­ing, is she and her hus­band, and their prac­tice. We believe in grow­ing the ought’ care­ful­ly from the is.’ ”

So I think this is what we need to do, is to rub up against each oth­er. The fric­tion between what design­ers want, a bet­ter future, and what archi­tects want, which is to under­stand the past. That togeth­er, we can have a right now that won’t kill us. Thank you. 


And I think I have time for a ques­tion or two. The first per­son who asks me a ques­tion will get a shrink-wrapped, never-been-used paper­back copy of Information Anxiety. But it’s not the hand that goes up first, it’s the per­son with the micro­phone who will ulti­mate­ly decide who wins. Okay so it is the per­son with the hand up first. 

Audience 1: Thank you for your talk. You talked about the sub­lin­ear growth. As infor­ma­tion archi­tects or UX design­ers, aren’t we involved too late in projects where actu­al­ly we sort of just help mate­ri­al­ize this growth? Because actu­al­ly we would have to help them under­stand the con­cept of sub­lin­ear growth. What is your take on that?

Dan Klyn: Thank you for the ques­tion. I think… I don’t think it’s too late. And I think when we’re asked—when we… If the train has already left the station…that’s a turn of phrase in English, I don’t know if that works here. So if the train has already left the sta­tion, and if it’s on the super­lin­ear growth track, then are we left with­out options. Is that a fair way of restat­ing your question? 

Audience 1: Inaudible.

Klyn: Well one thing that I will invite you to think about the next time you’re in one of those predica­ments is this. [rubs the knuck­les of his fists togeth­er to sug­gest fric­tion] So, I am pret­ty conflict-averse by my per­son­al­i­ty. And when the train is already on its way, if we don’t do this it can just keep going. And so there are lots of small ways as design­ers that we can intro­duce some fric­tion that will slow the thing down, at a min­i­mum, if not cause it to change tracks. And one very sim­ple way of boost­ing that fric­tion to slow down the train that is head­ed for the train­wreck is to ask that ques­tion of what. What have we done? Look back­ward, bring the past into the right now. Because my sense is that our encour­age­ment is to dis­card the right now and to help the orga­ni­za­tion real­ize some­thing that isn’t here yet. So I think it’s like what Mr. Schwarz said. Helping the orga­ni­za­tion to look in awe, to appre­ci­ate what it is doing right now. And maybe that would have some effect. 

Thanks for the question. 

I usu­al­ly ask my stu­dents for objec­tions. Is any­body made uncom­fort­able by the things that I’ve said? Any objec­tions? If you devel­op them, I’m easy to find on the Internet, so please let me know. And thank you for coming.


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