RE: What happened to information architecture and design

Subject: RE: What happened to information architecture and design
From: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "Mike McCallister" <mike -dot- mccallister -at- pkware -dot- com>, Slager Timothy J <Timothy -dot- Slager -at- dematic -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2016 22:43:54 +0000

Thanks, Mike.

Gives new meaning to the term, "the medium is the message." They pushed the boundaries of the medium. I mean, you think about, what has come close? I wouldn't say the Web is "relatively new" anymore although in some senses it still is, but from the long view, they wrangled the thing pretty well considering it's been less than 30 years. Amazing.

I'm a little disappointed that they gave the Pulitzer only to the writer, although the category is admittedly feature writing. They should have created a whole category for the full team. But maybe that wasn't part of the original charter. The site won a Webby, but I don't know how much weight that has compared to a Pulitzer. The name is not all that distinguished.

I'll be digging in to see what else the Times has done like this (although it says they worked with a couple of outside groups, including one called Byline).

Obviously we in the tech comms world likely won't be working on anything like this (too bad, huh?) but it's a gold standard.

Thanks again, Tim, for sending this on.


On Wednesday, March 30, 2016 2:44 PM, Mike McCallister wrote:


"Snow Fall" won a Pulitzer for feature writing in 2013. A Google search on 'nyt snowfall' will generate many articles on its creation, etc.

Mike McCallister

-----Original Message-----
From: On Behalf Of Janoff, Steven
Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2016 4:34 PM
To: Slager Timothy J; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: RE: What happened to information architecture and design

Hey Tim, thank you for knocking it out of the park!!

That was incredible. I'm absolutely speechless. I've never seen anything like that.

It's got EVERYTHING. I went through the whole thing -- scanned the text, watched all the videos, listened to the 911 calls, looked at the images (some) -- obviously have to go back and really view the whole thing when time. But it kept me riveted for at least the last half hour, maybe more.

I don't know if it fits the strict definition of "infographics" but I wasn't looking for infographics per se. I was looking for great examples of information design and information architecture and this fits both of those on steroids!

I honestly didn't know such a thing existed.

I do remember a few years back, over one Christmas vacation, sitting in a Starbucks and reading the paper version of the New York Times, when they did a story on the entire Deepwater Horizon event, the one that led to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

They had rich graphics, profiles of the people involved. It was really mainly the story about the people on the platform at the time the failure and explosions happened, leading up to, during, and after the event. Similar kind of treatment, who didn't make it, who did, etc.

The one story that stands out is that when the fire broke out on the platform after the explosion, the crane operator realized that he left his crane, which was perched high atop the platform, with the boom out. He was concerned that if it fell as a result of the fire (weakening the steel holding it up), it would kill somebody. He climbed up the scaffolding, climbed into the cab, started up the engine, and steered the boom into its cradle on the side, so that the whole unit would be unlikely to fall. He then tried to climb out to safety again but it was too late -- the fire reached him, and he was engulfed in flames and died. What a hero.

I believe there were something like 8 people on the platform and it told the story of each one of them, what they did, what happened to them, and the stories of bravery (like the crane operator's) and how all of these guys fought to save each other, were incredible. They also went through the whole details of what caused the failure of the pumping system, and the decisions that were made that day by the people in charge, even as the system was marching toward failure.

It was the most amazing thing I'd ever read to that time, and it took me a couple of hours to get through -- they had multiple stories going on, maps, charts, diagrams, everything.

They did a few other treatments like that on other topics, that I've seen over the last few years, but I didn't get a chance to read them in depth like that one.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd say the Deepwater story (as a total experience) was maybe a 3 at most, whereas this Snow Fall piece gets a 10 easily.

I'd be surprised if the NY Times didn't get an award for this one. It really pushes the boundary. The people that created it deserve a medal.

And dang, you get an award for finding this thing! Awesome! Thanks again.


On Wednesday, March 30, 2016 12:35 PM, Timothy J Slager wrote:

Steve asked for good examples of infographics helping tell the story. Here's one from a few years ago that I really like.

Some of the graphics are simply links to supporting interviews and other video or slide shows. But I like the view of the storm. And I especially like the graphics in Part 3 ( where the paths down the mountain are traced as you read about the descent. The simulation of the avalanche in Part 4, done by an organization in Switzerland, is also pretty impressive. And the writing is good.

I'd be interested to know if others are impressed, or bored by this presentation. I think some of the graphics were pretty expensive, and I don't know if NY Times has done many similar multimedia articles. I'm amazed every time I "read" this and it has as good of infographics as I've seen. Or maybe you wouldn't consider these infographics...


-----Original Message-----
From: On Behalf Of Janoff, Steven
Sent: Tuesday, March 29, 2016 3:36 PM
To: Lin Sims; techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: [RMX:NL] RE: What happened to information architecture and design

Yes, that was presented in Tufte's book(s).

In the OP I mentioned that Tufte has been pretty well represented.

I was looking for more along the lines of a continuation of the work of Richard Saul Wurman, Robert E. Horn, and others of that ilk.

There's a nice book called "Information Design" edited by Robert Jacobson -- it's a bit dated and somewhat academic, but it seemed to be aiming toward a continuation of that path. I haven't seen much since then that takes up the torch. And I wonder why? These were great ideas.

Also note that the Minard example is heavily graphics-oriented. (It's a brilliant piece, by the way, I don't doubt that.) Most tech writers don't have that kind of graphic ability. You can work with a graphic artist or tech illustrator to realize your vision, but there are also ways to incorporate fundamental images that don't require an art degree. Although, a real infographics piece generally shows an artist's hand.

Anyway... it continues to baffle me why nothing much is written about this, certainly compared to DITA, single-sourcing, content management, "intelligent content," and the various tools for document production.

I look forward to any really good examples anyone finds (and this Minard one is good, so it's always good to see top-tier examples -- thanks, Lin -- and I like your story at the end too :).


On Tuesday, March 29, 2016 12:08 PM, Lin Sims wrote:

Well, there's always the classic example of the march of Napoleon's Grand Army to, and from, Russia. It's by Charles Joseph Minard. Minard really hated Napoleon, so the emperor's name does not appear on the graphic at all.

On Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 2:44 PM, Janoff, Steven <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- hologic -dot- com> wrote:
This is provocative information and I hope that line of thought continues.

At the same time, I want to bring back a parallel thread on the purpose of the original post, which was to try to find examples of good or great information design and information architecture in perhaps publicly available tech comms publications (print, web, mobile, etc.).

I'll bet there are a few infographics out there that are extra-special and really encapsulate what fantastic information design/architecture is all about -- I haven't seen them yet. I can find a hundred infographics not a single one of which seems necessary or even helpful.

What is it about good information design or good information architecture that galvanizes you?

To me it's when I see a documentation piece that presents the perfect combination of text and images to immediately convey information and learning to me, especially in a way that not only do I remember it for days or weeks afterward, but it leaves such an impression that I just can't stop thinking about how good it is -- and I might continue to be impressed even years later.

I guess it's about how the brain works and how it perceives, assimilates, and organizes information.

I wish I had an example to link to, of what I'm talking about, but I don't have one handy. I posted one a few years back (map of the Internet) but it looks very uninspiring now, after everything that's flowed through our minds in the past 4 years.

I want to see what's out there that's really good.



On Tuesday, March 29, 2016 8:14 AM, Mark Baker wrote:

The concept of semantics has generated endless confusion over the years.

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What happened to information architecture and design: From: Janoff, Steven
Re: What happened to information architecture and design: From: th
RE: What happened to information architecture and design: From: mbaker
RE: What happened to information architecture and design: From: Janoff, Steven
Re: What happened to information architecture and design: From: Lin Sims
RE: What happened to information architecture and design: From: Janoff, Steven
RE: What happened to information architecture and design: From: Slager Timothy J
RE: What happened to information architecture and design: From: Janoff, Steven
RE: What happened to information architecture and design: From: Mike McCallister

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