IA Summit: Richard Saul Wurman Keynote

by April 11, 2010

In his keynote address at the IA Summit in Phoenix AZ, Richard Saul Wurman urged the information architecture community to take on self-directed initiatives that lead people through the journey of understanding. Here's my notes from his talk:

The theme of this talk is opening the banana from the other end. This is a metaphor for the opposite paradigm. Your priority should be to do the opposite pattern. Many people are just making things a little better. We don't want to make things a little better. We want to start again. That terrifying and that's good. Being terrified is good because it makes you think.

  • A pie chart is a pretty poor way of showing comparative information. But we've created tools to add shadows, colors, 3d, and more to pie charts. This is dumb. We keep trying to make things that fundamentally don't work a little better. We need to rethink the fundamentals instead.
  • It took 99 years to invent pagination. This was one of the first approaches to organizing information. Organizing information is fundamental. The words are the same in a dictionary and a thesaurus but organization changes the purpose.
  • Information architecture is making something understandable to another human being (could be yourself). You need to describe the journey from not knowing to knowing. That is the magic of the business. How do you do it systematically? What makes an information architect is a desire, a passion to communicate something systematically to another human being.
  • Anyone who has expertise will lose it in ten minutes as things are always changing. But people with passion and interest are always exciting. People with passion want to understand. Nothing tests your mind like the journey from not understanding to understanding.
  • You should accept that all ideas are temporal. This is true in any business. There are no eternal ideas other than understanding.
  • Nothing is very accurate or sensible about numbers. We have an arrogance about numbers. We made up the calendar. You can take any numbers and make them work.
  • You can only understand something relative to something else.
  • Everything we have done with computers and web sites is still really primitive. We are in a really rapid changing time during which you can't invest in the finality and finish of anything. As a result most things are really bad.
  • The web is not going to end up as a collection of pages. It needs to be a fluid movie and provide a journey. You need to be able to fly through the information of your choosing. You need to be able to direct where you want to go. The metaphor of the book for the Web does not support that.
  • We will be able to make incredible journeys that lead to understanding. That's what the IA community should be focused on.
  • Think about how much personal power you have to get things done. Nobody ever asked RSW to write a book or start a conference. He took the initiative and you can too. It is better to fail than to be told what to do. Take direction from yourself.