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Understanding Context - CoverAfter several years of proposing, writing, revising, and production, Understanding Context is finally a real book. For obvious reasons, I’ve not been especially prolific here at Inkblurt, since every spare moment was mostly used to get the book done.

And it’s still not really done … like the old saying goes, a work of writing is never finished, only abandoned. As I say in the Preface (now online), the book is definitely an act of understanding that is in progress. It’s an invitation to readers to come along on the journey and keep it moving in their own ways, from their own perspectives.
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The 2013 World IA Day was a huge success. Only its 2nd year in existence, and it had big crowds in 20+ locations (15 official). Congratulations to everyone involved in organizing the day, and to the intrepid board members of the IA Institute who decided to risk transforming the more US-based IDEA conference into this terrific, global, community-driven event.

I was fortunate to be asked to speak at the event in Ann Arbor, MI, where I talked about how information shapes context — the topic I’ve been writing a book about for a while now. I’ll probably continue having new permutations of this talk for quite some time, but here’s a snapshot at least, describing some central ideas I’m fleshing out in the book. I’m calling this “beta 2” — since it has somewhat different and/or updated content vs the one I did for CHI Atlanta back in the fall of 2012.

Video and Slides-with-notes embedded below. Enjoy!



I’ve been writing a book on designing context for about a year now. It’s been possibly the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.

I’m starting to see the end of the draft. It’s just beyond my carpal-tunnel-throbbing clutches. Of course, there are still many weeks of revision, review, and the rest still to go.

When I proposed the book to O’Reilly Media, I included an outline, as required. But I knew better than to post that outline anywhere, since I figured it would likely change as I wrote. It turns out, I was more right than I knew. So many of the hunches that nudged me into doing this work turned out to be a lot more complicated, but mostly in a good way.

One major discovery for me was how important the science around “embodied cognition” would be to sorting all this out; also, how little I actually knew about the subject. Now, I find myself fully won over by what some call the “Radical Embodied Cognition” school of thought. An overview of the main ideas can be found in a post at the Psych Science Notes blog, written by a couple of wonderful folks in the UK, from whom I’ve learned a great deal. (They also tweet via @PsychScientists)

At this point, I think the book has a fairly stable structure that’s emerged through writing it. There are 5 chapters; I have about 1/3 of the 4th chapter, and the 5th chapter, to go. (These shouldn’t take me nearly as long as the earlier stuff, for which I had to do a lot more research and learning.)

Partly to help explain this structure to myself, I came up with a diagram that shows how the points covered early on are revisited and built upon, layer by layer. (Touch/click to see full size in separate window)



Admittedly, the topics listed here don’t sound like a typical O’Reilly book; some might look at it and say “this is too theoretical, it’s not practical enough for me.” But, as I mention in the (still in draft) Preface, “there’s nothing more practical than understanding the properties of the materials you work with, and the principles behind how people live with the things you make.”

There will be “practical examples” of course, though perhaps not every 2-3 pages like in many UX-related books. (Nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s just not as appropriate for this subject matter.)

However — I’m still in the thick of writing, so who knows what could change? Now back to the manuscript. *typetypetypetype*





Andrea Resmini and co-organizers of the upcoming workshop on Architectures of Meaning (part of the Pervasive Computing conference at Newcastle University in the UK) asked me to participate this year. I’m not able to be there in person, unfortunately, but plan to join remotely. What follows is the “paper” I’m presenting. It’s not a fully fledged academic piece of writing — more like a practitioner-theorist missive.

I’m sharing it here because others may be curious, and it’s also the best summary I’ve done to date of the ideas in the book I’m writing on IA and designing context.

This is a straight dump from MS Word (with a few tweaks). Caveat emptor.


Information Architecture and the Composition of Context

Andrew Hinton

Final Draft for Architectures of Meaning Workshop

June 18, 2012



We lack fully articulated models for context, yet information architecture is especially significant in how context is created, changed or communicated in digital-based information environments. This thesis proposes some principles, models and foundational theories for the beginnings of a framework of context and proposes composition as a rubric for tying these ideas together into IA practice.

The thesis follows a line of reasoning thus:

Context is constructed.

There’s a deep and wide intellectual history around the topic of context. Suffice it to say that there are many layers and threads in the ongoing conversation among experts on the subject. Even though all those threads don’t agree on every point, they add up to some generally accepted ideas, such as:

  • Context is both internal and external. Our minds and bodies determine and influence how we perceive reality, and that internal experience is affected by external objects and interactions. Both affect one another to the point where the distinction between “inner” and “outer” is almost entirely academic.
  • Context has both stable and fluid characteristics. Certainly there are some elements of our lives that are stable enough to be considered “persistent.” But our interactions with (and understanding of) those elements still can make them mean something very different to us from moment to moment. Context exists along an undulating spectrum between those poles.
  • Context is social. Our experience of context emerges from a cognitive history as social beings, with mental models, languages, customs — really pretty much everything — originating from our interactions with others of our kind.

Context is not so simple as “object A is in surrounding circumstance X” — the roles are interchangeable and interdependent. This is why context is so hard to get our hands around as a topic.

(In particular, I’m leaning on the work of Paul Dourish, Bonnie Nardi, Jean Lave, Marcia Bates and Lucy Suchman.)

Context is about understanding.

This phenomenological & post-modern frame for context necessarily complicates the topic — not to point out these complexities would keep us from getting at a real comprehension of how context works.

Still, it can be helpful to have a simple model to use as a compass in this Escher-like landscape.  Hence, the following:

Context is conventionally defined as the interplay between several elements:

  • Situation: the circumstances that comprise the setting (place, time, surroundings, actions, etc.). The concept of “place” figures very heavily here.
  • Subject (Event/Person/Statement/Idea): the thing that is in the situation, and that is the subject of the attempted understanding.
  • Understanding: an apprehension of the true nature of the subject, through awareness and/or comprehension of the surrounding situation.
  • Agent: the individual who is trying to understand the subject and situation (this element is implied in most definitions, rather than called out explicitly).

Context, then, is principally about understanding. There is no need for discussion of context unless someone (agent) is trying to understand a subject in a given situation. That is, context does not exist out in the world as a thing in itself. It emerges from the act of seeking to understand.

This also forms a useful, simple model for talking about context and parsing the elements in a given scenario. However, it gets more complicated due to the ideas, mentioned above, about how context is constructed. Just a few of the wrinkles that come to light:

  • There can be multiple subjects, even if we understand them by focusing on (or foregrounding) one at a time.
  • The subject is also always part of the situation, and any of the circumstances could easily be one or more subjects.
  • In fact, in order to understand the situation, it has to be focused on as a subject in its own right.
  • All of these elements affect one another.
  • Importantly, the subject may be the agent. And there can be multiple agents, where another observer-agent may be able to understand the situation better than the subject-agent, because the subject-agent “can’t see the forest for the trees.” In design for a “user” this is an especially important point, because the user is both agent and subject — a person trying to understand and even control his or her own context.

As you can see, what looks like a simple grammar of what makes context can actually expose a lot of complexity. But this simple model of elements helps us at least start to have a framework for picking apart scenarios to figure out who is perceiving what, which elements are affecting others, and where understanding is and isn’t happening.

In order to unravel this massive tapestry, we have to grab a thread; a good one to grab is what we mean by “understanding.”

And that means we have to understand cognition, which is the engine we use for understanding much of anything.

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Context Book


A Book about Environment, Language, and Information Architecture.

Understanding Context book cover

Why does software so easily confound our perception and scramble meaning? And how can we make context make sense for our users?

By starting with the foundation of how people perceive the world around them, Understanding Context shows how users touch, navigate, and comprehend environments made of language and pixels, and how we can make those places better.

Understanding Context is ideal for information architects, user experience professionals, and designers of websites and applications of any scope. If what you design connects one context to another, you need this book.

For the latest information, please visit



Earlier Content about the Book

When I started writing in 2012, I created this page as a placeholder “home” I could use to explain the project. Much of what I wrote below still holds true, but some has changed. Rather than updating it again, I’m leaving it as-is, because how ideas evolve is interesting, no?

A Book on Designing Context

I am currently writing a book on how designing context. What do I mean by that?

Well, there’s a lot of writing and talk these days about context. Especially now that mobile computing and pervasive information networks have become an everyday reality, it’s more important than ever to understand how to design for existing places and situations that users move through in their daily activities.

This book, however, is focusing on a more overlooked topic: how we design context itself. It’s the other side of the context coin, so to speak.

Many of us and the people we design for spend most of their lives in software. Mobility means I now have a window into cyberspace with me at all times. I have multiple conversations happening in many platforms, some in real time and others asynchronously (a distinction that’s becoming less relevant). While the world around me might be getting smarter and more contextually aware about physical geography, there’s a kind of interior geography that we’ve been creating for years — the places we inhabit online. These places are realities unto themselves, with most if not all of the same significance and consequences of our “real life” places. But their rules don’t follow the rules we evolved to comprehend, and most aren’t designed with much consideration of that problem.

And, more and more, these information-dimension places are changing how we comprehend and live in our physical places as well.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem space I’m writing the book about.

Some of the specific topics I’ll be covering: 

  • Some background on what happened … how we disrupted context to begin with.
  • Cognition and information environments, especially “embodied cognition” and embodiment generally.
  • Place-making, how it functions beyond physical boundaries. How “maps” really work, and what it means when the map is experienced as the territory.
  • Information as a material for inhabited space, and some fundamentals on about language & semiotics.
  • Rule frameworks as an element for conditionally structured context (getting lost in the Escher/Hogwarts nature of the information dimension).
  • Architecture for social interaction and “conversation,” and how identity works in a the contextually disrupted information dimension. How we are now the avatars of our online selves more than the other way around.
  • What the methods we are already used to can do for us in this new frame. Some new models for analyzing & designing context as well.
  • The importance of “context management” as a capability we need to bake into software.
  • What we can learn from game design, and how the information dimension is, inherently, a “game” space.
  • Stories that help illustrate how context works and how it can be created and disrupted, covering some case studies of work I’ve done, some conventional well-known web & tech platforms like Facebook or SMS, and some fun stuff like Dada, Dungeons & Dragons, and game spaces.
  • “Composing” context: How “composition” is an effective way to think about designing context; how we can learn from story & narrative, rhetoric and composition theory, and comparing/contrasting this sort of design with what composition means in other art & design practices.

It sounds awfully geeky, and I guess it is, but one of the challenges I’m giving myself is to make the subject matter as accessible as possible. I’m not an academic (I just had enough grad school to make everything more complicated than it possibly should be ;-), but I think there are some key concepts that help us get a better grasp of the problem space.

I’ve been getting some questions about the project, so here are some pre-fab answers:

Do you have a title yet? Nope, but it’ll probably have something along the lines of “designing context” in there somewhere.

When is it coming out? When it’s ready … but I hope by end of 2014.

Is this the same as “Contextual Design?” No. Though it certainly owes a lot to that design approach, which has meant a lot to me through my career. But Contextual Design is an ethnographically informed methodology for understanding the existing processes, systems and behaviors of users and user groups, and how to design new systems that are informed by the existing landscape. The book is focused, instead, on how we create whole new landscapes out of information. Definitely related, but not the same.

Is the book about user-interface design?  Not especially; the book is more about information environments than user interfaces. If it’s not entirely clear what the difference is, that’s part of why I think the message of the book is necessary. In an information environment is an iceberg, the UI is the visible tip (to use one of my favorite metaphors); and as anyone who’s seen Titanic knows, it wasn’t the visible tip of the iceberg that sank the ship. Understanding how UI instantiates the environment will be an important topic to cover, but there are deeper issues around information and cognition that are often overlooked in our UI-focused design culture. Hence one mission of writing the book to begin with.

Is this an information architecture book? In a sense, yes. I believe IA is at the heart of how we solve the problems caused by disruptive contextual complexity. Information — language, semantics, semiotics and the rest — is a powerful material for designing the places we inhabit, and I contend that one key to doing it well is to understand how context works, and how we experience and shape it.

So it’s not an interaction design book? Ah, that’s a more complex question than “is it about UI.” Interaction design (IxD) is about a lot more than user interfaces; and I suspect there’s a lot of bad IxD going on that owes its badness to the over-focus on the physicality and aesthetics of UI. A big part of IxD is that “instantiation” issue I mentioned above;  IxD holds much of the responsibility of “making visible” the invisible stuff under the surface. IxD gives function & flesh to the semantics and rules that drive the information-based places we inhabit. So we’ll undoubtedly be touching on examples involving IxD.

Will this be a comprehensive/definitive guide of all the best knowledge and research on Context? I hope someone writes that book, but this one isn’t it. This book will be a relatively modest-sized, essay-style exploration of one slice of the giant layer-cake that is the topic of context. It’s a slice that I think is largely overlooked, so much of the book will be dedicated to presenting an effective narrative for grokking the ideas. I’m doing my best to make sure I’m acknowledging the existing knowledge that’s out there, but it’s the opposite of a dissertation or academic book.

Oh you’re writing about that? You should read [insert fantastic book, article, slide deck, author]! Please do share whatever other resources you think I may learn from. I’ll do my best to follow up. But I’m now in a position where I’m having to spend more time writing than reading. And like I said above, there’s a point at which I just need to get a handful of key ideas explained well rather than trying to incorporate every exciting concept and point of view out there in the world. (I have to tell myself this every day, by the way — I really love reading more great stuff from other people, but if I keep doing that I’ll never finish this thing.)

Do you have anything you’ve written about this already? (ok I haven’t heard that question yet, but it’s my blog post…) Why yes, I’m happy you asked … here’s a smattering of stuff I’ve posted or written or spoken on over the last 5-6 years on the topic.

The Contexts We Make
Context Management
Let’s Get Something Straight about IA
The Machineries of Context
The Function of Context for IA
Context and “Choice Architectures”

Keep in mind that my thinking has changed a lot over time, so please see these earlier bits as steps along the way. (Inevitably, as soon as I deliver a final manuscript, I’ll already be rethinking most of what I’ve written there too, but alas … )

Thanks for reading this, if you did. Please do give me any feedback, encouragement, enlightening criticism or motivating chastisement you might feel compelled to offer. But most of all, please wish me luck :-)

Thanks for checking out the post, however …

I’ve moved the information about the book over to its own page.


As I hinted in a post a couple of weeks ago, I’m writing a book. The topic: Designing Context.
If the phrase sounds a little awkward, that’s on purpose. It’s not something we’re used to talking about yet. But I believe “context” to be a medium of sorts, that we’ve been shaping for years without coming to grips with the full implications of our work.
Although I have written many things, some of them pretty long, I have never written anything this long before. I’m a little freaked out.
But I have to keep reminding myself that the job of this book isn’t to definitively and comprehensively cover everything having to do with its subject. I just want to do a good job getting some fascinating, helpful ideas about this topic into the hands of the community in a nice, readable format that gives me the room to tell the story well.
This isn’t a how-to book, more of a “let’s look at things this way and see what happens” book. It’s also not an academic book–I’m not an academic and still have a 50+ hour a week job, so there’s no way I’ll ever have time to read & reference every related/relevant work on the topic, even though that seems to be what I’m trying to do in spite of myself.
And I’m going to be very honest about the fact that it’s largely a book on information architecture: how information shapes & creates context for humans.
Thanks to O’Reilly Media for working with me on getting this thing going, and to Peter Morville for the prodding & encouragement.
Now … time to write.

PS for a better idea of what I’m getting at, here are some previous writings:

I’ve been presenting on this topic for quite a while. It’s officially an obsession. And I’m happy to say there’s actually a lot of attention being paid to context lately, and that is a good thing. But it’s mainly from the perspective of designing for existing contexts in the world, and accommodating or responding appropriately to them.

For example, the ubicomp community has been researching this issue for many years — if computing is no longer tied to a few discrete devices and is essentially happening everywhere, in all sorts of parts of our environment, how can we make sure it responds in relevant, even considerate ways to its users?

Likewise, the mobile community has been abuzz about the context of particular devices, and how to design code and UI that shapes the experience based on the device’s form factor, and how to balance the strengths of native apps vs web apps.

And the Content Strategy practitioner community has been adroitly handling the challenges of writing for the existing audience, situational & media contexts that content may be published or syndicated into.

All of these are worthy subjects for our attention, and very complex challenges for us to figure out. I’m on board with any and all of these efforts.

But I genuinely think there’s a related, but different issue that is still a blind spot: we don’t only have to worry about designing for existing contexts, we also have to understand that we are often designing context itself.

In essence, we’ve created a new dimension, an information dimension that we walk around in simultaneously with the one where we evolved as a species; and this dimension can significantly change the meaning of our actions and interactions, with the change of a software rule, a link name or a label. There are no longer clear boundaries between “here” and “there” and reality is increasingly getting bent into disorienting shapes by this pervasive layer of language & soft-machinery.

My thinking on this central point has evolved over the last four to five years, since I first started presenting on the topic publicly. I’ve since been including a discussion of context design in almost every talk or article I’ve written.

I’m posting below my 10-minute “punchy idea” version developed for the WebVisions conference (iterations of this were given in Portland, Atlanta & New York City).

I’m also working on a book manuscript on the topic, but more on that later as it takes more shape (and as the publisher details are ironed out).

I’m really looking forward to delving into the topic with the attention and breadth it needs for the book project (with trepidation & anxiety, but mostly the positive kind ;-).

Of course, any and all suggestions, thoughts, conversations or critiques are welcome.

PS: as I was finishing up this post, John Seely Brown (whom I consider a patron saint) tweeted this bit: “context is something we constantly underplay… with today’s tools we can now create context almost as easily as content.” Synchronicity? More likely just a result of his writing soaking into my subconscious over the last 12-13 years. But quite validating to read, regardless :-)

I’m pasting the SlideShare-extracted notes below for reference.
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Earlier I shared a post about designing context management, and wanted to add an example I’d seen. I knew I’d made this screenshot, but then couldn’t remember where; luckily I found it today hiding in a folder.

This little widget from Plaxo is the only example I’ve noticed where an online platform allows you to view information from different contextual points of view (other than very simple examples like “your public profile” and “preview before publish”).

Plaxo’s function actually allows you to see what you’re sharing with various categories of users with a basic drop-down menu. It’s not rocket science, but it goes miles further than most platforms for this kind of functionality.

If anybody knows of others, let me know?

Context Management

Note: a while back, Christian Crumlish & Erin Malone asked me to write a sidebar for a book they were working on … an ambitious tome of design patterns for social software. The book, (Designing Social Interfaces) was published last year, and it’s excellent. I’m proud to be part of it. Christian encouraged contributors to publish their portions online … I’m finally getting around to doing so.

In addition to what I’ve posted below, I’ll point out that there have been several infamous screw-ups with context management since I wrote this … including Google Buzz and Facebook’s Groups, Places and other services.

Also to add: I don’t think we need a new discipline for context management. To my mind, it’s just good information architecture.


There was a time when we could be fairly certain where we were at any given time. Just looking at one’s surroundings would let us know if we were in a public park or a quiet library, a dance hall or a funeral parlor. And our actions and conversations could easily adapt to these contexts: in a library, we’d know not to yell “heads up” and toss a football, and we’d know to avoid doing the hustle during someone’s eulogy.

But as more and more of our lives are lived via the web, and the contexts we inhabit are increasingly made of digits rather than atoms, our long-held assumptions about reality are dissolving under our typing-and-texting fingertips.

A pre-web example of this problem is something most people have experienced: accidentally emailing with “reply all” rather than “reply.”  Most email applications make it brutally easy to click Reply All by accident. In the physical world in which we evolved, the difference between a private conversation and a public one required more physical effort and provided more sensory clues. But in an email application, there’s almost no difference:  the buttons are usually identical and only a few pixels apart.

You’d think we would have learned something from our embarrassments with email, but newer applications aren’t much of an improvement. Twitter, for example, allows basically the same mistake if you use “@” instead of “d.” Not only that, but you have to put a space after the “d.”

Twitter users, by the time of this writing, are used to seeing at least a few of these errors made by their friends every week, usually followed by another tweet explaining that was a “mis-tweet” or cursing the d vs @ convention.

At least with those applications, it’s basically a binary choice for a single piece of data: one message goes either to one or multiple recipients: the contexts are straightforward, and relatively transparent. But on many popular social nework platforms, the problem becomes exponentially more complicated.

Because of its history, Facebook is an especially good example. Facebook started as a social web application with a built-in context: undergraduates at Harvard. Soon it expanded to other colleges and universities, but its contextual architecture continued to be based on school affiliation. The power of designing for a shared real-world context allowed Facebook’s structure to assume a lot about its users: they would have a lot in common, including their ages, their college culture, and circles of friends.

Facebook’s context provided a safe haven for college students to express themselves with their peers in all their immature, formative glory; for the first time a generation of late-teens unwittingly documented their transition to adulthood in a published format. But it was OK, because anybody on Facebook with them was “there” only because they were already “there” at their college, at that time.

But then, in 2006 when Facebook opened its virtual doors to anyone 13 or over with an email address, everything changed.  Graduates who were now starting their careers found their middle-aged coworkers asking to be friends on Facebook. I recall some of my younger office friends reeling at the thought that their cube-mates and managers might see their photos or read their embarrassing teenage rants “out of context.”

The Facebook example serves a discussion of context well because it’s probably the largest virtual place to have ever so suddenly unhinged itself from its physical place. Its inhabitants, who could previously afford an assumed mental model of “this web place corresponds to the physical place where I spent my college years,” found themselves in a radically different place. A contextual shift that would have required massive physical effort in the physical world was accomplished with a few lines of code and the flip of a switch.

Not that there wasn’t warning. The folks who run Facebook had announced the change was coming. So why weren’t more people ready? In part because such a reality shift doesn’t have much precedent; few people were used to thinking about the implications of such a change. But also because the platform didn’t provide any tools for managing the context conversion.

This lack of tools for managing multiple contexts is behind some of the biggest complaints about Facebook and social network platforms (such as MySpace and LinkedIn). For Facebook, long-time residents realized they would like to still keep up their immature and embarrassing memories from college to share just with their college friends, just like before — they wanted to preserve that context in its own space. But Facebook provided no capabilities for segmenting the experience. It was all or nothing, for every “friend” you added. And then, when Facebook launched its News feed — showing all your activities to your friends, and those of your friends to you — users rebelled in part because they hadn’t been given adequate tools for managing the contexts where their information might appear. This is to say nothing of the disastrous launch of Facebook’s “Beacon” service, where all users were opted in by default to share information about their purchases on other affiliated sites.

On MySpace, the early bugbear was the threat of predator activity and the lack of privacy. Again, the platform was built with the assumption that users were fine with collapsing their contexts into one space, where everything was viewable by every “friend” added. And on LinkedIn, users have often complained the platform doesn’t allow them to keep legitimate peer connections separate from others such as recruiters.

Not all platforms have made these mistakes. The Flickr photo site has long distinguished between Family and Friends, Private and Public. LiveJournal, a pioneering social platform, has provided robust permissions controls to its users for years, allowing creation of many different user-and-group combinations.

However, there’s still an important missing feature, one which should be considered for all social platforms even as they add new context-creation abilities. It’s either impossible or difficult for users to review their profiles and posts from others’ point of view.

Giving users the ability to create new contexts is a great step, but they also need the ability to easily simulate each user-category’s experience of their space. If a user creates a “co-workers” group and tries to carefully expose only their professional information, there’s no straightforward way to view their own space using that filter. With the Reply All problem described earlier, we at least get a chance to proof-read our message before hitting the button. But most social platforms don’t even give us that ability.

This function — perhaps call it “View as Different User Type” — is just one example of a whole class of design patterns we still need for managing the mind-bending complexity we’ve created for ourselves on the web. There are certainly others waiting to be explored. For example, what if we had more than just one way to say “no thank you” to an invitation or request, depending on type of person requesting? Or a way to send a friendly explanatory note with your refusal, thereby adding context to an otherwise cold interaction? Or what about the option to simply turn off whole portions of site functionality for some groups and not others? Maybe I’d love to get zombie-throwing-game invitations from my relatives, but not from people I haven’t seen since middle school?

In the rush to allow everyone to do everything online, designers often forget that some of the limitations of physical life are actually helpful, comforting, and even necessary. We’re a social species, but we’re also a nesting species, given to having our little nook in the tribal cave. Maybe we should take a step back and think of these patterns not unlike their originator, Mr Alexander, did — how have people lived and interacted successfully over many generations? What can we learn from the best of those structures, even in the structureless clouds of cyberspace? Ideally, the result would be the best of both worlds: architectures that fit our ingrained assumptions about the world, while giving us the magical ability to link across divides that were impossible to cross before.

Congratulations to Andrea Resmini and all the hardworking, brilliant people who just launched the Journal of Information Architecture.

I’m not saying this just because I’m fortunate enough to have an article in it, either. In fact, I hope my tortured prose can live up to the standard set by the other writers.

Link to contents page for Journal of IA Volume 1, Issue 1

About my article, “The Machineries of Context” [PDF]. In the article, I try explaining why I think Information Architecture is kind of a big deal — how linking and creating semantic structures in digital space is an increasingly challenging, important practice in the greater world of design. In essence, re-framing IA to help us see what it has been all along.

Update: The Information Architecture Institute was kind enough to publish an Italian translation of the article.

Here’s the presentation I did for A Summit 2009 in Memphis, TN. It’s an update of what I did for IDEA 2008; it’s not hugely different, but I think it pulls the ideas together a little better. The PDF is downloadable from SlideShare. The notes are legible only at full-screen or on the PDF.

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