Re: What happened to information architecture and design

Subject: Re: What happened to information architecture and design
From: th -at- tino-haida -dot- de
To: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2016 14:17:12 +0200

Hi Steven,

this could be an interesting discussion.
Being a layouter, not a tech writer, I can only provide an example of what I see from my customers concerning semantic writing.

So, one of my customers once migrated to structured documentation, long time ago, and the structure was implemented conforming R. Horn's "Information Mapping".
But today, there is nothing left in their documentation of the idea of semantics and semantic writing. The moduls ("Maps" and "Blocks") that originally would create different content now are regarded simply as being suitable or not suitable for layout purposes.

The question is: Would a semantic differentiation lead to a distinguishable output? My customer does not see or does not have this requirement, or any sufficient reason that would justify the effort. So they think about switching to a less complicated, less semantic DTD.

I tried to find out when the idea of semantics came up (correct me if I am wrong):
It seems that from the beginning of SGML until the late 90's, the main advantage of using structured documents was associated with the separation of content and machine-related layout information, so-called "generic writing (or tagging)". Then there are some hints that the authors of the time thought, the "Internet" and "HTML" or "XHTML" would bring a new infrastructure where semantic differentiation might be useful, could be used efficiently. (This was before Google, of course...)

And today? I searched the net, but there is not much.
One blog even confuses "semantic" with "generic" or with tagging in general (HTML itself is not semantic, and the tags are hardly generic either).
(--> https://webdesignfromscratch.com/html-css/why-write-semantic-html/)

I read a book called "DITA best practices" lately. The authors advise to only use the DITA topics according to semantic rules.
But they do not provide facts how this could be used later on. Not very persuasive...

Is the idea of semantics "defunct"?
I would like to hear about your and other writers' experiences.

Best regards -- Tino H. Haida, Berlin


Janoff, Steven:

Just wanted to insert something here amid all the talk of tools, the
field, upgrades, etc.

One thing I don't see much of anymore is discussion of what to me is
the heart and soul of technical writing/technical communication, which
is (arguably) information design and information architecture.

Has anyone seen or come across any good articles that discuss topics
that go further along the paths carved out by Robert Horn (visual
mapping, visual language, information mapping) and Richard Saul Wurman
(information architecture - he coined the term - and information
design)?

I'm not talking about Edward Tufte-type stuff, although that is
wonderful. That relies too much on graphic design talents that might
not be available to the average tech writer.

Visuals are very important, so I'm not at all ruling that out, in fact
it's critical to the overall message of a piece, so I'm including it
from the standpoint of Horn's integration of text, icons (graphics?),
and symbols.

I'm looking for really good, really cool examples of technical
communication that blends these ideas. And by the way, the
"infographics" of today, as has often been said, even here, are
ridiculous from that standpoint because they're usually nothing more
than showpieces, or portfolio pieces, for graphic artists, who just
want to "express" themselves. I *rarely* see an infographic that has
the kinds of info architecture/design qualities that I'm thinking
about when I'm thinking of Horn, Wurman, and even Tufte. But I've seen
enough about Tufte. Why has nobody carried the ball on these other
two?

Thanks,

Steve

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