Chicken Run: Summit Closing: Sunday

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ASIST IA Summit Summary
Sunday, March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day)

One of several chickens seen in the crowd.
One of several chickens seen in the crowd.
(photo Erin Malone)

Sunday morning found 240 tired IAs eagerly grabbing breakfast and pondering the chickens that had been set up in a little farm scene in the conference area of the hotel. All I can say is that a lot of pictures were taken of the chickens (and a few of them even "mysteriously" flew the coop).


Business Context of the Information Architecture in Content Management Systems
Lisa Chan, moderator, Amy Warner, Samantha Bailey, Paula Thornton, Bob Boiko

The panel began with brief intros and bios of the panelists by moderator Lisa Chan.

Bob Boiko opened the panel discussion by talking about what IA and CMS have to do with each other. CM systems generate sites and the architecture for a CMS is at the enterprise level involving development of templates and structures that will then render individual sites and structures. If you can generalize and think at the abstract level, if you can map and think larger, then you can practice IA at the enterprise level.

Paula Thornton followed and talked about the challenges of working with CM systems due to their immaturity in the marketplace. She illustrated the challenges of vendor selection and shared some strategies and vision for how to work around the vendor offerings.

Samantha Bailey
Samantha Bailey
(photo Erin Malone)

Samantha Bailey presented her views on how a CM system can give more functionality and ease to the IA. She spoke of the challenges of selecting a CM system and the need to prioritize where your efforts go. She warned against letting a CMS solution that makes things easier for the end customer make things more difficult for the internal team that must use the CM system. She closed by stressing the need for synergies and collaboration across all members of the team that will select, implement and use the CMS solution.

Amy J. Warner closed the panel by discussing the importance of maximizing the investment in taxonomy and metadata and how leveraging those elements throughout the system will lead to a higher return on investment in the long run. She made the point that the more time spent at the input stage, appropriately tagging and applying content to the taxonomy, the better the retrieval experience at the output point. The audience then proceeded to ask general questions as well as asking about examples of taxonomies to look at for reference. Peter Merholz (the Bad Peter) polled the audience to see who uses a CMS (20-30) and who was happy with their CMS (4), which led to the panelists talking about the fact that CMS solutions generally are never adequate off the shelf, and must have a lot of customization done to fit the organizational needs.

Case Studies : Parallel Sessions

Jesse James Garrett talks about the IA of everyday things
IA diagram for the radio program All Things Considered
Jesse James Garrett talks about the IA of everyday things, including the architecture of the popular radio program, "All things Considered"
(photos Erin Malone)

The Information Architecture of Everyday Things
Jesse James Garrett
Jesse James Garrett gave a very interesting presentation in which he dissected elements from the world around us. The premise: IA is all around us. IA is as old as communication and wherever there is information there is architecture. He was making a point, that an IA can reverse engineer just about anything and he used concepts from basic design principles to illustrate this point. He showed a series of slides that illustrated the types of communication and inference a viewer can have when two pieces of information are put together.

These slides reminded me of the basic design exercises I had to do when I was in design school: composition, juxtaposition, scale etc. Jesse went on to say that humans are patternmakers and naturally desire to organize information. IA is the juxtaposition of individual pieces of information in order to convey meaning. He then illustrated these points with a series of reverse engineered examples: juxtaposition, implicit architecture, explicit architecture, random access, linear access, non-linear access. The examples were drawn from everyday life -a restaurant menu,the index in Harpers weekly, the program notes from NPR’s "All things Considered" and the Land’s End catalog.

Jesse ended by challenging the audience to take these ideas and translate them to the web, but to beware of the pitfalls around constraints imposed by the medium. He noted that conventions are not necessarily best practices and that user behavior must always be kept in mind.

Overall, the presentation was a goodintroduction to information architecture, but there was some concern among the audience – those who came from the design world – that these concepts only add to the fear that IAs must know everything instead of supporting the collaborative relationship with a designer to make an experience. Jesse was also asked by an audience member to spend some more time making examples from more vernacular samples, rather than examples of things that were professionally designed (e.g. The Land’s End catalog, the Harper’s weekly index). Several audience members recommended good books to check out and Jesse promised to add them to his reading list attached to this presentation.

Choosing the Best Path: Techniques for Assessing and Improving Information Scent
Jason Withrow

Jason Withrow presented the concept/metaphor of information scent. The concept of information scent originated at Xerox Parc and is related to the concept of information foraging, which basically classifies people as infovores that are following the scent of information. Jason discussed how users will continue clicking or working their way through a site if they can still follow the scent of the information or if the scent gets stronger. The user relies on a semantic network of nodes of concepts and connection of terms. This places a strong reliance on a commonly understood vocabulary and synonyms to execute the integral labelling system that provides the scent. Jason points out that information scent tends to work best with focussed information. One example that has proven to help keep information scent existent on pages is the use of “also see” links.

Facet Analysis
Louise Gruenberg
Louise has had a diverse set of experiences from instructional design to library and information science. In this discussion, she gave an overview of faceted classification development. Her talk was very informal and even provided an opportunity for exercises to explain how facets can be derived from a collection of things. These examples included a collection of fruit, science materials for a particular age of girls, and the process of selecting clothing from an online ecommerce site.

Gruenberg explained the history of faceted classification – a technique from library and information science in which items can be categorized in more than one way. For example, a piece of fruit might be categorized by taste with “facets” for sweet, sour, etc. and also categorized by color, with “facets” of particular colors.

Typically facets are:

  • are mutually exclusive, representing a characteristic not found in the other facets,
  • can’t be further sub-divided – although this decision is made by the person
    doing the categorization and is based on how important further sub-division is,
  • and have non-hierarchical relationships with other facets

But while traditionally librarians have focused on creating mutually exclusive facets, Gruenberg argued that’s no longer a critical factor, since database-driven sites make it easy to display information in more than one place – in contrast to the physical world where only one copy of a document might exist.

Facets can be used to help information architects analyze the site’s content and functionality by various topics or functions, or even by metaphors. For new sites, this is done via a top-down approach, while a bottom-up approach works better for overhauling existing sites, Gruenberg said.

Lou Rosenfeld and Erica Bruce lunch
Lou Rosenfeld and Erica Bruce lunch
(photo Joe Sokohl)

Following the parallel sessions, another fun chicken lunch was served so slowly that many attendees were barely served before the hour was over. Despite the food, the level of conversation was more animated than the day before and it was obvious that old and new friends were enjoying the dissection of our craft and had a lot of things to say. Case Studies : Parallel Sessions

New Roles in Information Architecture
Peter Morville, Semantic Studios

Peter began the presentation by reviewing the distinction of the “good Peter” and the “bad Peter.” Peter Morville claimed to be “good Peter” and Peter Merholz the “bad Peter.” There is a long history of both of these Peters having different opinions on the definition of an information architect.

But the central thought of his talk was the next generation of information architects and the titles and roles they will have in the coming years. There is a glut of information and IAs should begin taking an entrepreneurial role in applying what they have been doing for the web across the enterprise.

Education and Information Architecture
Andrew Dillon, Rong Tang, Karl Fast, David Robins, Louise Gruenberg

Moderated by Andrew Dillon, the Education panel presented a diverse set of quick presentations around the current and future information architecture curriculum. David Robins presented the cross disciplinary program that has been developed at Kent State University. Rong Tong presented a survey of IA courses and certificates offered across the 54 ALA accredited LIS (Library and InformationSciences) schools in the country. She did not offer any assessment of IA courses offered through design schools. She also surveyed the course objectives and statements to gain an understanding of the type of content to be covered by these courses.

Karl Fast talks about his experience at LIS school.
Karl Fast talks about his experience at LIS school.
(photo Erin Malone)

Karl Fast shared his current experience with the LIS program in which he’s enrolled and warned about the perspective from which the courses are being taught. The LIS program has not pulled itself out of the old world of Libraries and physical books and card catalogs. The curriculum needs to be taught with a richer perspective as to how and where the skills can be applied.

Louise Gruenberg offered the audience a series of questions and asked for small groups to discuss them. The groups were asked to share their answer to one of the questions with everyone. It was interesting to see that each group ended up taking a different question and everyone felt that schools need to be multidisciplinary in their teaching approach and that practitioners need to be part of the faculty.

The floor was then opened up for questions.

Steve Mulder
Nam-Ho Park
Louise Gruenberg
Steve Mulder, Nam-Ho Park and Louise Gruenberg are a few who took advantage of Five Minute Madness and spoke their mind.
(photos Erin Malone)

Five Minute Madness
Gary Marchianini, moderator
Five minute madness is the opportunity for all summit attendees, excluding presenters, to have five minutes to speak. The speaker could give a presentation-and in this case we saw two, Rashmi Sinha presented a brief overview of the faceted classification system designed for Flamenco, and Matt Jones (who broke the "no presenter" rule) gave a brief presentation. Or they could just take the microphone and speak their mind, offer insights or ask questions of the audience.

There were 17 people brave enough to get up and speak and the topics covered everything from Brad Lauster thanking the people he had met to Jeff Lash putting an invitation out on the table for IAs involved in intranets to join the Yahoo group of intranet IAs, to Tony Bull, a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill feeling wishful that he could take the title IA, but he didn’t see it yet because of the uneven acceptance of IA as a title to David Austen reminding everyone that the SIGIA-L list has a website to Thomas Pole, an engineer, challenging us (IAs) to not let engineers get away with it when they say they can’t make something to Don Kraft thanking us for letting him learn about information architecture. It was a diverse set of people who spoke on a wide range of offerings. It was also one of the neatest things about this conference.

Wrap Up
Andrew Dillon
Andrew Dillon closed the summit with some thoughts about where we started on Saturday morning. He felt we have a community, which was exhibited by all who attended and included an international presence. We are beyond definition. There is evidence of progress, shown by the case studies which were not all rosy and perfect, shown by the discussions around IA in education and IA in business relationships and by the types of topics discussed over the weekend – Metadata to metaphors, ROI and ethic, usability and facet analysis.

He concluded by saying that there would be an IA summit in 2003 and that Christina Wodtke would lead the planning efforts. Dillon also reminded us of other community initiatives-Boxes and Arrows, SIGIA-L, the group, the special ASIS Journal coming out in August that will be devoted solely to IA and all the books and new editions being worked on by many of the attendees. The committee for 2002 was thanked again and the 2002 IA Summit drew to a close.

For more information:

Most of of the observations in this piece were written by Erin Malone. Since chickens can’t write and one person can’t attend three parallel sessions, other portions were written by Lisa Chan, George Olsen, Thomas Vander Wal and Christina Wodtke.


  1. Rubbery chicken at lunch… rubbery chickens in the hallway… I’m sensing a connection here, can’t quite put my finger on it…

  2. You should be grateful you even got rubbery chicken at lunch, at least on Sunday.

    (And actually, Brenda, since I was sitting next to you at lunch, I know you were…. 🙂

    At least the soup dishes were attractive, even if they were never used for more than catching bread crumbs.

  3. Weak tea used to be a problem in IA. Until I came to Argus.

    Argus had a ritual of having tea every Friday afternoon. But good heavens–they heated the water in a microwave and used tea bags. Heresy!

    I donated an electric kettle (imported from my native Canada) and bought loose tea, banishing this IA sin.

    Except at conferences where hotels and restaurants spend billions to import expensive coffee beans and make fancy desserts, yet serve the same tea you get at McDonald’s.

    It’s a little known fact that Argus closed so we could more effectively spread the good tea gospel throughout the IA world.

    The commandments:

    1. Use loose tea.

    2. Unless the water boiling be, vain the attempt to make the tea.


  4. Hmmm, I always thought the official beverage of IA was
    serial cups of black coffee, brought back to the
    project room, the last in the series cooled past
    tepidity to the point you could barely tolerate it if
    your long-sleep-deprived body didn’t crave every last
    molecule of caffeine so badly..

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