2011 Main Conference Talk
Like building architects before them, information architects are creating the spaces in which people meet, transact, communicate, and learn. The spaces that IAs design are where many people will be spending a considerable part of their lives. A heady role!
This session will explore relationship between information and architecture, taking seriously the phrase “the design of information spaces”. You’ll learn how place-making works as a design methodology, the importance of context on the design of an information space, and how to explain the value of IA in architectural terms that clients and colleagues can understand more clearly.
About the speaker(s)
An architect, teacher, and researcher, Andrea Resmini is the author of Pervasive Information Architecture and Reframing Information Architecture, and a two-times past president of the Information Architecture Institute. He co-founded the Journal of Information Architecture, Architecta, the Italian Society for Information Architecture, the Academic / Practitioner Roundtable, and World IA Day.
Andrea is a compulsive reader of WWII submarine warfare trivia, Tolkien drafts, and Jack the Ripper case studies. He is also one of the regular hosts of Acoustic Jam Night!
Andrew Hinton is Senior Manager of Product Design at Honeywell Connected Enterprise, in Atlanta. For more than twenty years, he has led teams and organizations in creating great places, products, and services for humans. Andrew is also the author of Understanding Context from O’Reilly Media, and keeps a home on the web at andrewhinton.com.
Jorge Arango is an information architecture and strategic designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s the author of Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places (Two Waves Publishing, 2018) and co-author of Information Architecture: For the Web and Beyond (O’Reilly, 2015). In addition to his consulting practice, he also teaches in the interaction design program at the California College of the Arts.
Moderator: So, thank you guys all for coming. This is a panel discussion on making places with information more than a metaphor. And we have our distinguished panelists here this morning. I’m going to start with Jorge. Jorge Arango is…You guys, it’s in your program, you can read it. These guys are really smart and they know their stuff, and they’re here to share some of it with you.
Jorge Arango: Hi, thanks for joining us this morning. Before we get started, we wanted to tell you a bit about the structure about how this is going to work, because when we originally proposed the panel, we thought we had 90 minutes to work with, and we actually have 45.
So what we’re going to do is, instead of having a traditional panel, there’s going to be three very brief presentations. Each of us is going to do one, and then we’re going to open it up to questions OK? So hopefully it’ll be useful. And we’ll get started with Andrea.
Andrea Resmini: Thank you, what an honor.
Andrea: I hope you don’t mind if I just walk around, because it feels very bad to be over there and don’t see anything on the big screen. So I hope that the clicker works.
So as Jorge said, we’re going to give you three short presentations on three different aspects of information architecture, and architecture as things which are related. It’s going to be kind of a journey, so let’s start the journey at the very basics.
I’m going to start with a short story. A few years ago on Slashdot, which is a website for nerds, news about computing and doing stuff, which I of course I’m a frequenter, there was a discussion about whether Keanu Reeves was the good choice for the new Superman. And at a certain point, one of the readers over there just said, oh, no, I mean, Keanu Reeves is Hawaiian. He cannot do Superman. Superman is white. So of course, the point is — this is also slightly racist, if you want, it’s pretty dumb — but the point is, Superman is not white. Superman is an alien.
Andrea: I mean, as another reader pointed out, we are so lucky, he is bilaterally symmetrical, he is like us. And this is very interesting. Because it seems like a stupid thing. It was like a starfish, can you think about Superman like a starfish, like a radial being? It has huge consequences in the way that Superman can actually help us and protect our cities, or whatever.
The thing is, we are physical beings. And Superman is a physical being like us, so he actually perceives things the way we do. There’s a reason why we use things like saying, the future is in front of us, the past is back. I’m deep into a depression, I’m at the top, or you think backwards, that sort of stuff. That’s because we have a body. That’s because we are physical beings, just like Superman.
And the point is, this shapes the way we think and also the way we perceive things. The point is, this is related to the way we experience space as well. Space is not Euclidian measures. It’s not geometry. That’s not the way we’re feeling. That’s not the way we actually move around.
I don’t think that you just go around the Hyatt over here just holding something to measure angles, or something to measure the length of the halls so you know how many meters you’ve been walking. You move around differently. So the perception we have has nothing to do with real geometry. So what does it have to do with?
In ’63 — it was not the first, but it was actually one of the best at putting out things. — a German philosopher by the name of Bollnow wrote a book which is called Mensch und Raum — and if there’s any Germans around, sorry — which means Men in Space, which has not been translated in English so far. So that explains why you don’t know about it, probably.
But he had this very interesting thing over there. He said that space is an anthropological concept. Space is not geometry. Space is like something different. It’s a place which has to do with the way we experience things, and that man is at the center of this.
What did he mean? Well, he said space had three characteristics. The first thing he said is that space is a thorough genius. It’s different. Space is not something which is equal all over. It means basically that we perceive things in different ways. Space is different.
If you see this picture, this is a desert. If you are not one of the blue people, or if you have not been traveling in these locations, this means nothing to you. It’s like a vast expanse of nothing. This is very different for the people who live there, and their idea of how the space works out is connected to the idea that they knew places which are connected. Over there, there’s an oasis, or whatever.
So it’s a space of relationship between points. Where we live, where we’re going. Our house, the place we know, and the place we don’t know. If I go out of the Hyatt, I don’t know Denver, I might get mugged in 500 meters, because I’m simply just walking in the wrong direction possibly, I don’t know. And this is the first characteristic.
The second one is that space is hodological. Big words, but in the end, it means that space is the space of paths. It comes from the Greek, so it’s like hodos means path. So the way we do move around is by connecting points. I do not care about here and what’s between me and coffee. Here, coffee. That’s what I do. I just try to go there. I don’t care about what’s in between, and this is what we do most of the time.
And the third characteristic is that it’s very important to consider the fact that space has evolved. When we say space, we actually mean a number of very different spaces. This is a Roman city. We don’t do cities the way Romans did now. We don’t call in for, let’s call them magicians or priests, to kind of say, oh, do the roads like this there, because the birds have told me that this is the right place to do that.
You can do that if you want. I mean, space has evolved, but some people still think that maybe not. So, this is the website for the Flat Earth Society. And you can see they just are arguing the fact that you cannot stand up on the Earth. If it’s round, you’re falling down. So I mean, you’re free to do whatever you like with ideospace. It’s 2011, you can still just have a website. And this is real.
It’s a perfectly reasonable point of view. You cannot stay on top of the Earth if it’s round. You’re falling down, it’s a sphere. And they still do believe this. This lives together with our idea that actually, you can stay on the Earth even if it’s round.
This led a number of people, among them an architect from Norway by the name of Christian Nobel Schütz to actually come up with something that put together all of these things into a different perspective. He had this idea what he called existential space, which is basically a place which brings everything that Bollnow was saying into one general idea. That is, that the space that we perceive around us is made up of a number of very personal and egocentric views and ideas, and a number of stabler archetypes like perimeter.
So at this point this was a very long preamble, but that was my role. So you might wonder, what exactly does this have to do with the idea of space or what you do, and then the web, and digital information spaces? Well, there’s one very important thing. I put that picture there because I think it’s very much like the essential archetype of what I’m trying to tell you.
I think you all know the movie, this is The Matrix. And can you tell me where they are?
[inaudible audience response]
Yes, they’re in the Matrix. There’s nothing around them. But can you kind of imagine something from the setting over there, two chairs, a television? Doesn’t it look like they are a cantriple image of 50s America or something like that with your sitting room, and the TV, and the two chairs, and everything?
So the point is, that has nothing to do with space. Again, there’s no space over there. Everything is white. But the point is, this is actually existential as Christian Nobel Shütz was saying. It’s a space which is mostly semantics, and it’s built with connections and with the way we perceived those connections. So this is what we’re bringing into cyberspace. We’re bringing not physical limitations, because of course they are not there most of the time, but they are very, very deeply embedded into our recognition.
If you think about the way we just move around — and this is something I actually stole from Andrew, and I hope he doesn’t mind — but he’s been very keen on saying that the map is the territory. When we build information spaces, the way we build things is the semantics links that we create across those different areas, items, concepts that we connect. Those actually build the map and build the territory with it, very much like that they use from The Matrix.
This is a picture from a report of Sans Frontières. And it’s basically the Internet. And the places which are black in the map are the places where the Internet is not allowed into, or heavily filtered or censored. And the final point that I want to make about this thing is that when we build these things, keep it in mind that we are using our cognitions and not in a way our physical senses. But this cognition comes from our embodied self.
We’re always going for what is called the path of least effort. As much as we do in physical space, we do in cognitive space. We’re not looking for ways to go around stuff. We go straight to the point, move straight over there. This is something that works as well as in physical space. The principle of least effort is something that really, really builds its map in a very specific way, and that we use all the time. It’s necessary to bring that into cyberspace as well.
So this was basically my point. I just wanted to cue you so the guys over here could actually take the conversation a little bit further. I think I’m done.
Jorge: Thank you, Andrea.
So the challenges at the beginning of projects, I usually find myself sitting across a table from these stakeholders who always seem to come to the relationship with a set of expectations, and they come in two groups. The first group thinks of me as some kind of web developer. And they have this vague idea that I’m going to help them implement some kind of thing in the Web, some kind of technology thing in the Web. And the second group thinks of me more as a marketing/visual design type that is going to help them.
While all three of these concepts are very important to the final product, marketing, visual design, development, these expectations are actually way off the mark of where I would like them to be.
The way that I want them to see me as a contributor to the project is that I am there to help them bring into balance various forces that pull the project in different directions. So things like business goals, user goals, the opportunities and challenges offered by the technology, the context of the thing, deadlines, legal issues, budgetary issues, all these things need to be brought into balance for the project to actually be successful. The way that I see it, I am there to have a broad understanding of how they all fit together to help the client discover the ideal balance for their unique project.
Once we’ve arrived to that kind of design vision that guides what the project is going to be like, the role shifts and it becomes about setting boundaries about that so that we can negotiate the inevitable changes that come up with you actually implement it. In a way, I become more of a defender of the vision as opposed to a definer of the vision at that point.
And then, finally that vision and its implications need to be put in a form that can be communicated to decision makers and to the people that actually are going to build it, and that’s where deliverables come in. So, that’s clearly a part of what we’re doing. This is how I would like the stake holders to pursue us, and the question to me is how can I do this quickly and easily without having to explicitly state these things right up the front when you want to be talking about the project and not about me.
In the spirit of Mr. Wehrman, he says that you can only understand something relative to something that you already know. I cast about to look for something that stake holders know about that can be used as a lever to get them thinking in this way, and you won’t be surprised to learn that I think that architecture is a pretty good model to get stake holders to think about our role in projects. Architects have been doing exactly this for hundreds of years, and they develop tools, methodologies and business practices to do this efficiently. The labels change and some of the forces.
For example, architects don’t talk about usability. They talk about human factors and ergonomics and stuff like that. Obviously, they mean something very different when they talk about structure than when we talk about structure, but this idea of having a broad vision, defining it and then turning it into something that someone can go off and build is something that they have been doing for a long time and which people understand, even lay people understand that this is what they do.
People understand that architects are not builders. I don’t know if you can read that from here, but this is a drawing from 1910 or thereabouts from a set that tried to predict life in the year 2000. The thing I like about it is not so much the robots that have replaced construction workers, but the fact that the architect is set apart as this important but separate entity that is kind of setting the information that the robots go off and build.
I think that people also understand that architects are not marketers, and while some buildings have clear image making as a primary goal, they must still stand up and shelter us from the elements and provide basic functions and do things like have doors that human beings can walk through and stuff like that.
This is the Denver Art Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind, and this is, I think, an image driven project. Whoever hired Daniel Libeskind knew that they were getting something kind of like this, and I’ve heard the roof leaks. Yeah, in buildings like this.
The bottom line is that I have started presenting myself to stake holders as a digital place maker, and when I start engagements I explicitly say that I am there to do for their digital properties what architects do for their physical property. So, what they do for their offices, for their stores, and I make that explicit..
I also more subtly have been integrated architectural language and methodologies into the way that I engage with them, and I have found it a very effective way of framing our contributions to the projects. It not only helps them understand, but I’ve also found that it gives them a different idea about the time frames and investment that goes into these things.
When you are making a building, you have a different understanding of what the lifetime support of that building is going to have to be. If you start talking to them about their online properties as things that have an impact on people, like their physical stores do, they start making those analogies mentally.
The question for me really is I think there are a lot of similarities and I think it’s a very valuable model, and the question for me has always been, well, why, if this is such an obviously similar thing, why don’t we talk about it more in conferences like this one? I think the answer is that, or part of the answer, is that what I call the myth of the lone genius, which a lot of us really are allergic to.
I was talking to Eric last night. At one point he said, “I hate architects.” He shouted it. My eyes popped open because I’m going to be talking about architecture in the morning, right? And I asked him to clarify. Inevitably, the name of the character on the left came up. For those of you who don’t know, that’s Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.
Part of the problem is that the people that you read about, the people that you study when you look at architects, the famous architects and stuff, are outliers. These people are almost closer to artists in that they have this very agenda driven approach to the sign that perhaps places user needs at a lower level than some others do. But these are the people that you end up reading about because A, they kind of change the game for other architects and B, they were very effective self-promoters and very self-consciously did so. They were like, they were very keenly aware of what their place in history was going to be. And they, kind of, molded that and were very self-conscious about it.
The definitive portrait of this character is Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s novel, “The Fountainhead.” And for those of you who haven’t read “The Fountainhead,” Howard Roark is an architect who blows up a building that he designed, because other architects had been allowed to tamper with it after the fact.
And I feel like this kind of caricature of what the architect does has, unfortunately, gained currency in our culture. And I think, perhaps, that’s part of the reason that we are kind of antsy about talking about it here. But this is actually very different from how most architects work. Because if you refer back to the forces diagram, there are groups of people behind each of these forces that also have goals and objectives that they care about, and which will make the project better, if taken into consideration.
And people with huge egos don’t get much traction when dealing with lots of other people in this way. So, I found that, more than other design professionals, architects need great leadership skills in order to do their job effectively, if they are to bring coherence to projects.
Most of the built environment is not the product of ego driven design. I’m wondering how many of you came through Denver International Airport on your way here. So, I don’t know if you went right through, I think most people just go right through. But if you spend a moment, when you’re leaving, perhaps, if you spend a moment in this space, and just kind of examine it, and think about all of the stuff that goes into this.
It has this magnificent, enormous roof, held up by this structural system. This glazing around it to keep you warm and dry inside. And then, all the activity that happens at ground level. There are hundreds of people involved in making something like this happen, but someone needs to be at the center of coordinating all that activity.
And Denver International actually is the design of an architect called Curtis Fentress. His office is based here in Denver, and he does these huge public projects. And he’s known for bringing in projects that are buildable, on time, and on budget. And one of his design mantras is, “Restrain the ego.” And I think he is a good model for our work.
And I also think that he is representative of most of the architects, at least most of the architects that I’ve met. A lot of the spaces that we inhabit, I mean, this space right here was designed by people. This is not ego driven design, genius driven design, it’s beautiful. It’s functional. It’s hosting us here. And getting something like this done is very complex, and there’s lots we can learn from these folks.
So, unfortunately, I don’t have time to go into specific methodologies, but I am going to refer you to this book, “How Firms Succeed,” by James B. Carter and Scott Simpson. It’s explicitly about how successful architecture firms are structured and managed. And I highly recommend it.
Andrew Hinton: Thanks. So, I’m Andrew. And, unlike these gentlemen, I’m not a trained architect, and I do not have a cool accent. So, I hope you can put up with that. I have a little bit of an accent. It’s coming back, now that I’m living in the South again.
So, I just have a few thoughts that I hope to tie up some of these wonderful things that these gentlemen have said. But just to quickly sum, what I’m taking away from Andrea’s message is that he’s doing some really amazing work with some of his colleagues in establishing theoretical framework for information architecture that we’ve been needing for years. So, that’s awesome. And Jorge is showing us how there are better models than the ones we tend to think of who are doing the work of an architect.
You may ask yourself, though, why are you comparing somebody like this guy who built this airport to somebody who figures out where the tab should say on a website. Hopefully, it’s dawned on you by now that we don’t think that’s what information architecture is only about. But I’ll touch on that in a moment.
So, another thing about this panel is that we’re all dudes. So, I wanted to bring someone of another gender into the conversation. So, this is Julia Morgan. Anybody every heard of Julia Morgan? OK. But when you think of super famous architects, typically, we’re not thinking of Julia Morgan. Some of us do, because you’re in the know, right?
So, it was the early 1900s and Julia Morgan was already an established architect on the West Coast. She designed banks, schools, hospitals, homes, lots of stuff. She did a lot of private residences, but she was especially sought after for public buildings.
The Fairmont Hotel, the historic Fairmont Hotel, after it burned down in 1906, she redesigned that. She had a client who you may have heard of, named William Randolph Hearst, who kept her very busy for many years with all of his eccentric weird stuff he was trying to do to his gigantic castle, out in California. She even designed a number of buildings for the Young Women’s Christian Association, or the YWCA. And was basically the official architect for the western United States YWCA.
So, an interesting thing to note about these examples is, her style sort of go across the board, isn’t really even representative of all the different styles she worked in. She didn’t really have an ideology, other than, I’m going to do good work for my clients and I want the people who use the buildings that I designed to be fulfilled in them, to have a good experience in them, for them to do what they’re supposed to do really well.
So, she didn’t force a certain style on people. She was actually kind of eschewed of the context that she was working in. And I’ll get to that in a second. But, in 1913, a woman from the Hearst family asked her to design a conference center out on some land that she had donated near Monterrey, California.
Now, back to Jorge’s point about the culture of architecture. This was the community of practice that Ms. Morgan had to work within, right? The gentlemen to the left were sort of immediately before her, if you’re familiar with Frederick Law Olmstead and Burnham, sort of, big time American architects who sort of established American architecture as a big deal, Frank Lloyd Wright, on and on.
These were the lone genius architects who sort of established modern architecture and American architecture as a force in the culture. But they didn’t actually build that much stuff compared to all the other architects, including Julia Morgan. But she actually kind of eschewed this whole thing. She was like, I’m not a talking architect, I don’t like to talk about all this stuff. I want my buildings to speak for themselves.
Another part of the context she was working in was, some of the templates that maybe she could have borrowed from were the YMCA. The YMCA architecture had an established approached for the way that it did architecture for its buildings. In fact there’s a book on the subject called “Manhood Factories,” and that’s really how they were seen. They were machines for processing the Christian American manhood.
There was this efficient linear industrial approach that really fitted an inherited nineteenth century worldview of how people should be processed through a cultural creation machine. Every room had a purpose, and it was designed for processing a particular aspect of manly Christian American character.
Well, Julia, when she got this project, said, “Oh, let me go check out the landscape, this 30 acres.” So she went out and she walked around the dunes. She thought about what the conference center was supposed to be for, for refection, for spiritual renewal, for community gathering and for building new communal connections, for reflection and meditation.
She sketched some thoughts about how the space could be shaped to support all of those things, and she was convinced that really the natural setting by itself was already wonderful. It did that job by itself. All you needed was some shelter and some other supporting mechanisms for people to be comfortable and live in.
So she decided to make it up of multiple lodge buildings set among the low sandy rises because the setting itself was so meditative and inspirational already. You’ll notice that unlike a lot of layouts from the early twentieth century, late nineteenth century this is not symmetrical especially because she didn’t say, “No, bulldoze that hill. Bulldoze that dune.”
She said, “No, this is beautiful. Let’s just make the paths go where I think people are probably going to want to walk, and let’s put this thing here and this thing here.” It’s just a lovely, pleasant, organic shape from above.
She designed the building so they would accommodate and enhance natural patterns of human community in such a setting, but this is a generation at least before Christopher Alexander by the way. These are constructed largely of redwood and native stone. She used arts and crafts, which was a thing at that time.
The arts and crafts style was a thing, but she picked it specifically because it fit the landscape here, right? She wasn’t such an arts and crafts fanatic that she would have crammed this into… She built city YWCA’s, but they were more traditional and she didn’t necessarily use that style.
The center ends up being very flexible, organic, and open, but it also nudges residents toward communal cloister and gathering together without forcing the issue on them, without trying to program them. It gives people the room to be people, to have private moments and public ones, and to understand which is which and why. It establishes appropriate contexts for the varieties of human behavior that this was created to accommodate.
So why do I bring up this example? Well, I have a personal reason, and one little reason is that it has a history with this community. This is where the IA Institute was hatched nine years ago now, right? It was originally called “The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture” because the group that was there was so inspired by this experience of the setting.
It felt like a beautiful international-feeling word. Nothing against the name change that happened a few years later, but I’m just doing a little callback to say this place has some residence with the community.
But the main reason I’m bringing it up is to say that I think that the things we’re looking at here are especially important and appropriate for how we design what we make. It’s a great example of a design that does not engineer the behavior of its inhabitants. It encourages and accommodates their behavior.
It’s a very important distinction, but an engineering document? If she had taken an engineering document that said, “The system shall process the resident this way. The system shall process the resident this way” and then she had gone and just literally translated that into a blueprint, it would have been a completely different experience.
So she didn’t design the experience. She designed the conditions within which people can have their own experiences within which they can make their own meaning.
So Morgan was a pioneer. She prefigured later architectural thinkers like Alexander and other strains of design, the way you’d think about design, that came later. She especially is important I think in terms of designing for the natural patterns of human behavior, at least in this particular example. But from what I’ve read, there are other examples, too.
She took the time to understand the context within which work is done and within which people live and how that context and what she was making can be symbiotic and synergistic. She raised the importance of remembering that people have to live within the thing she’s designing. Inhabitance was very important.
This is especially important for us in terms of what Andrea was talking about about embodiment. Embodiment, this idea that we live within information, that information is physical, that information is a material, that information is experienced physically and spatially, is something that we tend to not talk about enough I think because first of all, people say, “Oh, you’re trying to define the damn thing, so don’t talk about that.”
Second of all just because it feels like a flaky, weird thing to talk about, but it’s true. In the last 10 years or so, especially neuroscience and all this other stuff that’s coming out to show us that, wow! Yeah, we really do process things this way. So the semantic structures that we create, it’s very important that we understand that they’re just as powerful and just as architectural as everything I just showed you.
Now just very quickly, one reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve been doing this for a pretty good while. I’m seeing younger people who are being called “IAs” or “UX Architects” or whatever that I’m running into in the industry who are literally being either bullied or choosing to take a requirements document and literally translate it straight into wire frame.
They go straight into a wireframe. I can’t imagine doing that, taking something and just going straight to a wire frame. The idea of taking and sketching the landscape and figuring out what is the context within which all this is working? What’s the mental model and all that other work? It gets skipped time and time again.
This community has got to do a better job of getting our practitioners to stand up for doing the really hard beginning work that’s under the surface because the wire frame is just this tiny little bit at the end that you’re supposed to be working on.
It’s a very practical concern that I’m bringing up in this context, but the point is bigger, which is that as a community we just need to, I think, take it very seriously that these semantic structures we create are dwellings. They’re places where people live, they talk, they learn, they fall in love, they do their work.
So, the question I want to leave us all with is what sort of places are we making and what places will we make and how will we learn from the people who have been figuring out these sorts of things in the physical world for generations. And that’s it. Thanks. Time for questions.
Audience Member: These days we all or a lot of us live in agile streams, and you just said we should spend more time sketching. How do we push back, like against the schedule?
Andrew: I don’t have an easy answer for that, and I’m in the same place you are. I think that one thing we need, actually as a community is to build up a body of knowledge or a body of evidence in case studies for pointing out all the huge disasters that happen when you don’t do that work. I didn’t have time today to do that, but I have a list of three or four of the most popular platforms on the planet, like Facebook and Google and BaseCamp, for God’s sake and SharePoint for devil’s sake, that are horrible experiences. And corporations, especially with SharePoint, are just burning through money on this free platform because the information architecture is abominable. I mean, it’s evil.
But the body of knowledge isn’t there to kind of say, here’s what’s wrong. Maybe, that would help to be able to kind of pull up and say, look, if you really want to waste this much time and money, give me a little time, I’m going to work through these things. Even within a certain client setting or if you’re an internal designer in their setting, pay attention to when those things go wrong.
And then, rather than just kind of rolling your eyes and going, yeah, there it goes again, like document, go and do some of that analysis on your own time, if you figure out what happened and then have that in your back pocket. I’ve had a little bit of success with that here and there.
Audience Member: Andrea, I had a question for you. I’m wondering in terms of embodied cognition and metaphor, things like the desktop metaphor springs to mind and it’s obviously physically embodied, we all understand our desktops. What do you think is the relation between something like the idea of apps where there’s no necessary physical relation to the world? Do you think that’s a poor metaphor? Do you think it’s unethical at some level to make users learn something that doesn’t come from an embodied perspective? What are your thoughts on that?
Andrea: The simple answer is that no, I don’t think that’s something necessarily evil. The idea about the embodiment, that’s a very, very basic structure that we have, so it’s very much like part of the primitive part of the brain which is kicking in. So, it doesn’t have to do with even high level metaphors like desktops or rooms or something.
What I would say is that personally, and maybe this is not an answer but it’s more like telling you what I am looking for is actually what we have been witnessing in the [indecipherable] . I think that the metrics is the perfect example for that. That’s the closure. That’s the apex of what we thought was going to be cyber space in the ’90s, if you will. That’s where it ends, that second life. We’re not getting there. This is not what we want the way it is now, but something else is happening, and the information is getting everywhere.
So, we’re getting information all over the place. If you think about it, think about the metrics and then let me ask you if you think you are connected into the metrics every day. The point is we are, Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, whatever. Everyone has preferred things. We have also been here and in some other place. So, I think we are kind of tilting the table. The basic structures that we have tell us that we need to be in a place, that we have to feel at home in a way, feel at home.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to use physical representations of that. It’s semantic. I think Andrew perfectly nailed it when he said that semantic structures are blanks. That’s perfect. That’s the way it is. OK?
Audience Member: It’s a quick one. I want to speak to… Are you Andrew on the left?
Audience Member: So, this was all very nice. I want to speak to your point about inhabitants, and correct me if I’m wrong. But what I think you were saying is observe behavior and then build around that natural behavior because presumably that’s what people will enjoy the most and derive the most satisfaction from or something in that direction, in a nutshell?
Audience Member: OK, ish.
Andrew: Because sometimes the way that people are naturally moving is actually kind of crappy, so you have to help them because we’re designers, but anyway, go ahead.
Audience Member: So, that’s the point I wanted to get to because it seems to me that particularly if you have revenue responsibility on the website and transactional flows that need to drive higher revenue and more cycles and all this sort of stuff, how do you balance that tension?
Andrew: The business is a user, too, simple as that.
Audience Member: Ah, gotcha. Very good.
Andrew: Once I got that perspective in my head, I was like, oh OK. I have to balance that with everything else. And one other quick thing just to make sure that this does not go un-understood. I just want to make sure that the community gets this point that when Andrea is talking about embodiment, absolutely he is talking about the fact that we evolved with brains that process things physically and spatially. And so, we use that same machinery in our head to understand all this other newer stuff that we’ve done in this little sliver of human history.
And so, that’s what we’re getting at, and that’s why this stuff affects people emotionally. It affects their identity, and the problem is that the things that we’ve made, the Internet, it doesn’t fit the old rules of the physical world. And so, people are getting tricked all the time, and they’re getting screwed up, and they’re making mistakes, and money’s getting lost, and people are getting outed and all these other awful things are happening, but we need to structure things better. I just wanted to make sure that that got out there.