Designing Webs – Euro IA 2013

On Saturday, I presented a talk at Euro IA 2013 called ‘Designing Webs – Information Architecture as a Creative Practice‘. Rather than write the talk up in full, for now, I’ll just link you to the slides (with my speaker notes), Martin Belam’s write-up, and Boon Yew Chew’s sketch-notes (ooh, my first ever sketch-notes!).

This talk was a long time in coming. The ideas contained within have been bubbling around my head for most of the year, indeed, ever since I (re)discovered TARDIS Eruditorum and, at the same time, was pointed to John Higgs’ book about the KLF (thanks, Libby!). Reading both at the same time, the connections between Alan Moore’s concept of magic, the ideas of alchemy, and linked data/internet of things, were both fascinating and strangely familiar.

I wasn’t the first to make these kind of connections – Dan Catt has touched on similar things with his Artisanal Numbers project. Indeed, a lot of the content of the talk owes much to others – Michael Smethurst, Leila Johnston, Alyson FieldingTom Coates, Tom Armitage, James Burke, James Bridle, Russell Davies – all far cleverer and more accomplished than I. And yet, I wanted to draw all these threads together. I’ve had about three draft versions of blog posts just touching on the magic/alchemy thing sitting on WordPress for ages, and I could never quite get it to gel. The talk, being forty-five minutes (or just under, once I’d cut out the various comedy clips I was going to include, given the rather tenuous Edinburgh Fringe connection), doesn’t cover all the ideas I would have liked to, or in enough depth. I’ve probably been far too simplistic about the ideas of the people I’ve mentioned above, but there is frankly loads to say. Indeed, I’m hoping that an upcoming episode of Henry Cooke‘s Unevenly Distributed podcast will expand on a few of them (it was recorded a month or so prior to writing this talk).

I’d also like to explore the themes a lot more – getting my hands dirty with Arduinos, bringing to life the Internet of Fictional Things and so on. Also, I can certainly see how the talk might be perceived as a little too wooly, hand-wavy, naive. In response, I’d say that yes, the magic/alchemy thing is just a metaphor, albeit a really interesting and fun one for me, but there are practical points underpinning it. Not least that by thinking of your product, service or creative work as a web, rather than purely as a website, you get to the absolute essence of what it is – which helps you design for both now and the future. Martin makes the point that when redesigning the Guardian’s Culture section, he tried a similar approach – yes, it’s not necessarily easy or possible to complete the task straight away, but remember, you’re trying to build something that will last, something that will add to human culture and society in the long run – something which one day we may not even need a screen or visual interface to interact with – we might be able to appreciate each web for what it is.

So, yes, there it is. Thank you to all those who encouraged me to write the talk, refine it and so on – oh, and one note of caution – the domain model for sport (really just football) which is at the beginning (and you may have seen in a much more visually appealing state in some of Mike Atherton and even Louis Rosenfeld’s presentations) – that’s not actually the official BBC one, it’s one I created myself a while back, but has influenced the BBC’s Sport Ontology.

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