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Applying Information Architecture in Design Thinking: Ideating Solutions to the Wicked Problem of Addiction

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This research project explores the use of Information Architecture (IA) in Design Thinking for the purposes of ideating solutions to wicked problems. A constructivist account of IA is advanced in this study offering new perspectives, distinct to those offered by the mainstream IA employed in digital design, heralding from Library and Information Science. This reframing of IA creates a new space to explore what value may be found lying dormant in the relationship between IA and DT, and Design in general. The Research Through Design (RTD) methodology serves to support the constructive nature of this inquiry. In RTD, the researcher operates both in the role of designer and researcher, executing and critically reflecting upon a design project. For this study, a design project was conducted to address the complex social problem of addiction as it manifests in Johannesburg, South Africa. A new form of IA, Conceptual IA (CIA), is notionally developed to observe and discuss IA when enacted in Ideation following the DT process-method. The findings and conclusions offered emerge from qualitative analysis of observations and reflection upon the design project’s enactment. Within its scope, the study reveals that IA, as reframed, can be understood as operating tacitly within design (and the world) as that which contains and transmits socio-ontological meaning, decoded, recoded and encoded in design. Explicit use of IA methods, tools and techniques greatly enhanced synthetic cognition across the whole of the DT process-method enacted. Furthermore, CIA conducted in Ideation provided the concept for a social systems solution central to a strategy design which synthetically resolved the challenges presented by the wicked problem of addiction. IA and design developed to realise the concept, as blueprints, describe how use of the system in the world triggers a transformation and transcendence of this concept: in use, the IA of the concept being embedded within the structural form of the designed object, comes to be a new socio-ontological phenomena. In this way, a (speculative) theoretical account is given for how an instrumental / ontological mediation of social reality may occur, at scale, by IA employed in Design.
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This serves to confirm that I, Jason Richard Hobbs,
ID Number 7506035058089
Student number 217092006 enrolled for the
Qualification Master of Arts in Design
Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture
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APPLYING INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE IN
DESIGN THINKING:
IDEATING SOLUTIONS TO THE WICKED PROBLEM
OF ADDICTION
Jason Hobbs
217092006
Master of Arts in Design (MA). M8DE1Q
UNIVERSITY OF JOHANNESBURG
FACULTY OF ART, DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE
Supervisor: Marc Edwards
Submitted on the 11th of June 2021
65 300 words counted
ii
ABSTRACT
This research project explores the use of Information Architecture (IA) in Design Thinking for
the purposes of ideating solutions to wicked problems. A constructivist account of IA is
advanced in this study offering new perspectives, distinct to those offered by the mainstream
IA employed in digital design, heralding from Library and Information Science. This reframing
of IA creates a new space to explore what value may be found lying dormant in the relationship
between IA and DT, and Design in general.
The Research Through Design (RTD) methodology serves to support the constructive nature
of this inquiry. In RTD, the researcher operates both in the role of designer and researcher,
executing and critically reflecting upon a design project. For this study, a design project was
conducted to address the complex social problem of addiction as it manifests in Johannesburg,
South Africa. A new form of IA, Conceptual IA (CIA), is notionally developed to observe and
discuss IA when enacted in Ideation following the DT process-method. The findings and
conclusions offered emerge from qualitative analysis of observations and reflection upon the
design project’s enactment.
Within its scope, the study reveals that IA, as reframed, can be understood as operating tacitly
within design (and the world) as that which contains and transmits socio-ontological meaning,
decoded, recoded and encoded in design. Explicit use of IA methods, tools and techniques
greatly enhanced synthetic cognition across the whole of the DT process-method enacted.
Furthermore, CIA conducted in Ideation provided the concept for a social systems solution
central to a strategy design which synthetically resolved the challenges presented by the wicked
problem of addiction.
IA and design developed to realise the concept, as blueprints, describe how use of the system
in the world triggers a transformation and transcendence of this concept: in use, the IA of the
concept being embedded within the structural form of the designed object, comes to be a new
socio-ontological phenomena. In this way, a (speculative) theoretical account is given for how
an instrumental / ontological mediation of social reality may occur, at scale, by IA employed
in Design.
iii
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Exploration of the theoretical relationship between Information Architecture and Design
Thinking began for the author, and research partner Terence Fenn, over a decade ago. Almost
all of the foundational propositional theory to be found herein may be traced back to this very
fruitful, productive and enjoyable collaboration.
Terence is further acknowledged for identifying the potential to be found in the conceptual
relationships between information architecture and Discursive Design, and Vygotsky’s
psychological tools. The recommendation to develop a critical discourse about information
architecture emerged in discussion with Naude Malan, who is credited for the suggestion.
Thanks are given to my supervisor, Marc Edwards, for various reasons but above all, for his
patience. In addition, the various staff of the University of Johannesburg Faculty of Art, Design
and Architecture and those within the Multimedia Department are thanked. Yumna Motala’s
assistance with the document was sanity saving.
This dissertation would not have been completed without the various forms of support provided
by my mum and dad (Janine and Mike Hobbs), Rayanne Jacobson and, when the going got
rough, Naude Malan.
The design project conducted with and for the Ubuntu Addiction Community Trust was never
merely a means towards the ends of this dissertation. In fact, the Trust was the inspiration for
the research project as a whole. David Collins, Leigh-Anne Brierley, all the staff and awesome
addicts at 41 Pretoria Street, Johannesburg, thank you. I check out with joy.
iv
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES ................................................................................................................ vi
LIST OF TABLES .................................................................................................................. xi
LIST OF APPENDICES ........................................................................................................ xii
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Need for the Study .................................................................................................... 2
1.2 Aims and Objectives ................................................................................................ 6
1.3 Overview of the Methodology ................................................................................ 7
1.4 Significance of the Study ....................................................................................... 11
1.5 Organisation of the Dissertation ............................................................................. 15
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Design Thinking, Ideation and Complexity ........................................................... 20
2.2 Information Architecture ........................................................................................ 30
2.3 Sense-Making and Meaning-Making ..................................................................... 42
2.4 Summary ................................................................................................................ 60
CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY
3.1 Conceptual Framework .......................................................................................... 63
3.2 Methodology .......................................................................................................... 68
3.3 The Design Project ................................................................................................. 74
3.4 Ethics and the Study ............................................................................................... 84
3.5 Summary ................................................................................................................ 86
CHAPTER 4: WORKING THEORETICAL MODEL
4.1 Addiction as an Ontological Complexity ............................................................... 88
4.2 Deconstructing Social Reality ................................................................................ 93
4.3 The Problem / Solution Ecology Model ................................................................. 94
4.4 A Human-Centred Ethos ........................................................................................ 98
4.5 Summary ................................................................................................................ 99
v
CHAPTER 5: THE DESIGN PROJECT
5.1 Phase 1: Enquiry ................................................................................................... 103
5.2 Phase 2: Ideation .................................................................................................. 139
5.3 Phase 3 Prototyping .............................................................................................. 180
5.4 Summary .............................................................................................................. 210
CHAPTER 6: RTD REVIEW
6.1 Approach to the Evaluation .................................................................................. 212
6.2 Process Evaluation ............................................................................................... 215
6.3 Invention Evaluation ............................................................................................ 226
6.4 Relevance Evaluation ........................................................................................... 236
6.5 Extensibility ......................................................................................................... 243
CHAPTER 7: CONCLUSION
7.1 Reflections ............................................................................................................ 262
7.2 Recommendations ................................................................................................ 269
SOURCES CONSULTED .............................................................................. 273
vi
LIST OF FIGURES
Page
Figure 1.1
Conceptual IA imagined in the DT process-method, by the author ........
Figure 2.1
Problem / solution pairing, by the author .................................................
Figure 2.2
The Human-Centred Design process, by IDEO (design firm) 2009 ........
Figure 2.3
Linearising Design’s thinking, by the author ...........................................
Figure 2.4
The shift in the object of Design, by the author .......................................
Figure 2.5
The Chu Cube, by Resmini and Rosati (information architects), 2011 ...
Figure 2.6
Mainstream IA in the DT process-method, by the author ........................
Figure 2.7
Dogs organised using LATCH, by Wurman (designer), 2001 .................
Figure 2.8
Card sorting in the design project, by the author .....................................
Figure 2.9
Mandala as a tool for synthesis, by Rutter (designer), 2010 ....................
Figure 2.10
A sitemap deconstructed as an ontological composition, by the author ..
Figure 2.11
Transportability and coding of semantic formations, by the author ........
Figure 2.12
Deconstruction of the Holy Trinity, by the author ...................................
Figure 2.13
The Context-Content-Users Model reconsidered after Hobbs & Fenn
(designers), by the author .........................................................................
Figure 2.14
Discursive Design and Information Architecture – conceptual overlap,
by the author .............................................................................................
Figure 2.15
Information architecture mediating social reality by design, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 3.1
Frame-scale in the DT process-method, by the author ............................
Figure 3.2
Conceptual framework for the methodology, by the author ....................
Figure 3.3
Diagrammatic representation of the RTD methodology, by the author ...
Figure 3.4
Mapping the conceptual framework for CIA to the DT process-method,
by the author .............................................................................................
Figure 3.5
The Context-Content-Users Model by Rosenfeld, Morville and Arango
(information architects) amended by the author ......................................
Figure 3.6
Mapping Rumelt’s kernel of any good strategy, by the author ................
vii
Figure 4.1
Mapping of the main IMP methodologies to categories of addiction
etiology, after Du Plessis (clinical psychologist), by the author ..............
Figure 4.2
Addiction as a multiple object continuum of complexity, after Du
Plessis, by the author ................................................................................
Figure 4.3
Hobbs and Fenn’s Problem / Solution Ecology Model, by the author .....
Figure 5.1
Enquiry in the DT process-method for the design project, by the author
Figure 5.2
Areas of Concern from the Firma Model mapped to the amended CCU
model, by the author .................................................................................
Figure 5.3
The four-stage research plan, by the author .............................................
Figure 5.4
The New Kid persona, by the author ........................................................
Figure 5.5
Environmental information gathering: symbolism in the premises, by
the author .................................................................................................
Figure 5.6
Environmental information gathering: The U-ACT premises and
symbolism, by the author ........................................................................
Figure 5.7
Final organisation of requirements from information gathering, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.8
Research plan - Stage 4: Applying IA tools for synthesis, by the author
Figure 5.9
Card sorting example 1. Individual card, by the author ..............
Figure 5.10
Card sorting example 2. Category abstraction, by the author ..................
Figure 5.11
Card sorting example 3. With superimposed reference to the star
pattern formation in the Mandala, by the author .....................................
Figure 5.12
Mandala example 1. Arriving at the Mandala concept, by the author .....
Figure 5.13
Mandala example 2. Early iteration, by the author ..................................
Figure 5.14
Mandala example 3. Early iteration, by the author ..................................
Figure 5.15
Mandala example 4. Early iteration, by the author ..................................
Figure 5.16
Card sorting example 3. Mandala star pattern superimposed, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.17
Mandala example 5. Top-level category labelling, by the author ............
Figure 5.18
Mandala example 6. Thematic lenses, by the author ...............................
Figure 5.19
Mandala example 7. Amended CCU model mapping, by the author ......
Figure 5.20
Mandala example 8. Spatial themes mapping, by the author ...................
Figure 5.21
Mandala example 9. Final top-level categories, by the author ................
Figure 5.22
Mandala example 10. Final level two and three coding, by the author ...
viii
Figure 5.23
Sketching for synthesis for the Problem Framing (4), by the author .......
Figure 5.24
Addiction as a symptom with hidden causes, by the author ....................
Figure 5.25
The wheel of life recovery tool, by the author ..........................................
Figure 5.26
Second sketched iteration of the Problem Framing (4) by the author ......
Figure 5.27
The final, digitised Problem Formation, by the author ............................
Figure 5.28
Ideation in the DT process-method for the design project by the author .
Figure 5.29
The reframe, by way of diagrammatic slip of the tongue, by the author .
Figure 5.30
Mapping the reframe: Progression 1, by the author .................................
Figure 5.31
Compassionate care in the U-ACT approach, by the author ...................
Figure 5.32
Mapping the reframe: Progression 2, by the author .................................
Figure 5.33
The Design Strategy (6), by the author ....................................................
Figure 5.34
Example of the Mandala / Design Strategy mapping, by the author .......
Figure 5.35
The global / local model, by the author ....................................................
Figure 5.36
The concept of the hand and the moon in addiction recovery, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.37
An abstinence lifecycle model of addiction and recovery, by the author
Figure 5.38
A wellness lifecycle model as recovery in addiction, by the author ........
Figure 5.39
Du Plessis’ six dimensions of quality of life in recovery, by the author ..
Figure 5.40
Framework dependencies, by the author ..................................................
Figure 5.41
A conceptual model informed by Solheim (addiction recovery
specialists) of the Recovery Management approach, by the author .........
Figure 5.42
Experience drivers development: Example 1, by the author.
Figure 5.43
Experience drivers development: Example 2, by the author ....................
Figure 5.44
The experience drivers mapped to the design strategy, by the author .....
Figure 5.45
The experience drivers model, by the author ...........................................
Figure 5.46
The experience drivers model cross-section, by the author .....................
Figure 5.47
The relationship model, by the author ......................................................
ix
Figure 5.48
The relationship model mapped to the addiction continuum of care, by
the author ..................................................................................................
Figure 5.49
Integrating experience drivers content into the relationship model, by
the author ..................................................................................................
Figure 5.50
Synthesis of the experience drivers and the relationship model in the
RW Journey v1, by the author ..................................................................
Figure 5.51
Prototyping in the DT process-method for the design project by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.52
Summary slide for networked personalisation driver concepting, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.53
Example of idea sketches for the wellbeing driver, by the author ...........
Figure 5.54
An exampled of benchmarking for the awareness, knowledge and
advocacy driver by the author ..................................................................
Figure 5.55
Weighting of experience drivers across the relationship model, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.56
Services and content for the wellbeing experience driver mapped to the
relationship model, by the author .............................................................
Figure 5.57
All services and content across the experience drivers mapped to the
relationship model, by the author .............................................................
Figure 5.58
The version 2 Immersion Journey, by the author .....................................
Figure 5.59
The version 2 Immersion Journey colour coded to the experience
drivers, by the author ................................................................................
Figure 5.60
The solution landscape model for prototyping, by the author .................
Figure 5.61
Campaign concepts, by the author ...........................................................
Figure 5.62
The global navigation mapped to the Recovery Management
conceptual model, by the author ..............................................................
Figure 5.63
Website global navigation and primary interaction modes, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.64
Dropdown menu content for the Our approach and How it works
sections, by the author ..............................................................................
Figure 5.65
Dropdown menu content for the Knowledge, network and
communication section, by the author ......................................................
Figure 5.66
Dropdown menu content for the Recovery services section, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.67
Dropdown menu content for the Recovery coaching and About us
sections, by the author ..............................................................................
Figure 5.68
Sketching a series for the Recovery Wellness Packs concept, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 5.69
Collins and Brierley’s (addiction recovery specialists) wheel of life tool
amended including monitoring quality of life factors, by the author .......
Figure 5.70
Recovery support services taxonomy mapped to the quality of life
categories, by the author ..........................................................................
Figure 5.71
Create a recovery plan wireframe sketch, by the author .........................
Figure 5.72
My recovery plan & analytics wireframe sketch, by the author ..............
x
Figure 6.1
The conceptual framework for application in the RTD review, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 6.2
Aspects of design synthesis related to CIA, by the author .......................
Figure 6.3
Synthetic reach afforded by the use of IA in the design project, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 6.4
A tesseract employed to explain how concepts can be made in CIA, by
the author ..................................................................................................
Figure 6.5
Capturing, organising, coding and mapping of information using card
sorting in the design project, by the author ..............................................
Figure 6.6
Sketches of the pivot concept illustrating synthetic resolution, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 6.7
Sketches of the scaffolding concept illustrating synthetic integrity, by
the author ..................................................................................................
Figure 6.8
Visibility and traceability through the DT process method, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 6.9
Logo design for the CIA concept, by the author ......................................
Figure 6.10
Discursive poetics in the CIA concept, by the author ..............................
Figure 6.11
The Chu Cube by Resmini and Rosati (information architects) and the
CIA concept mapped to the Chu Cube, by the author ..............................
Figure 6.12
Methods employed in realising the minimal contrived ontology, by the
author ........................................................................................................
Figure 6.13
Synthetic integrity’s golden thread across the dual dimensions of
space, vertically, and time, horizontally, by the author ...........................
Figure 6.14
Realising discourse in the conceptual model, by the author ....................
Figure 6.15
Process mapping of the strategy design, the CIA and working
theoretical model, by the author ...............................................................
Figure 6.16
Ideating the CIA concept in four stages, by the author ............................
Figure 6.17
Mapping the second instantiation of the CIA concept, by the author ......
Figure 6.18
The tectonic for the third and fourth instantiation of the CIA concept,
by the author .............................................................................................
Figure 6.19
Example of the tectonic in play, by the author .........................................
xi
LIST OF TABLES
Page
Table 2.1
Rationalising the Design Thinking process-method ..................................
22
Table 2.2
Definitions of the Pervasive IA Heuristics .................................................
36
Table 3.1
The Context-Content-Users Model, Amends and Descriptions .................
80
Table 5.1
Modelling user types in the design project .................................................
111
Table 5.2
Overview of the Design Strategy (6) .........................................................
148
Table 5.3
Experience Drivers (7) Mapped to the Design Strategy (6) ......................
170
Table 6.1
The four instantiations and evolution of the CIA concept .........................
244
xii
LIST OF APPENDICES
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D
Appendix E
Appendix F
Key Topics in SUD and Addiction
The Etiologies of Addiction
The Design Project – Phase 0 Exploration
The Design Project – Phase 1 Enquiry
The Design Project – Phase 2 Ideation
The Design Project – Phase 3 Prototyping
The appendices are available online (they are not included in this
document). Click on any of the listed items above and you'll be able to view
and / or download any appendix you require.
1
1. INTRODUCTION
The purpose of this research through design study is to explore the use of information
architecture (IA), in the context of Design Thinking (DT), to ideate solutions to wicked
problems.
Wicked problems are well known for their influence on the theory of Design Thinking.
1
Due to
the indeterminate nature of such problems (Buchanan, 1992, p. 16), they shift the emphasis in
design away from the making of objects of a particular type, towards an emphasis on how
design’s thinking can innovatively solve problems through ideation (Dorst & Cross, 2001, p.
11). In the paper Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design Synthesis, Kolko
(2010, pp. 15-16) further stresses the importance of synthetic cognition as employed in design
towards innovative problem resolution within the broader rubric of design thinking.
In the domain of digital design there exists a small, misconceived and increasingly marginalised
practice, known as information architecture. While IA, as it relates to Design, operates in the
main within design-led processes, it is not well understood as a form of design in its own right,
nor does the theory exist which could support or allow for such an understanding. However, IA
has also been observed to contain valuable ways of thinking and methods of practice, which
extend beyond the digital and in particular with regards to sense-making and understanding,
which enhance synthetic cognition and acts of synthetic resolution (Kolko, 2007b).
The focus of this study lies in the application of IA in a design project for the purposes of
ideating solutions to a wicked problem. The manner of application sits outside of IAs
mainstream use as an application of Library and Information Science in support of the making
of digital artefacts such as websites or mobile applications (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015). The form
of IA employed for the purposes of this dissertation, is framed as Conceptual IA which aims to
assist in design’s ideation through its own performance of synthetic resolution. To this end, the
1
This research project takes Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber’s Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning
(1973) as its starting point for considering wicked problems in relation to Design. Two further conceptions of
wickedness are addressed in Chapter’s 2 and 3 respectively. The former assumes a more generalized notion of
highly complex, systemic problems and the latter recasts indeterminacy as a philosophical perspective arising
from the epistemologies of constructionist and constructivist theories.
2
design project herein tackles addiction, as a complex, social systems problem as it manifests
for those striving for recovery from substance use disorders in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Coming to a better understanding of the relationship between IA and Design could benefit both
in an effort to address the complexities of the world. The importance of this study lies in
determining if such value can be observed to exist, within the given scope, so as to further
develop the theory and praxis of IA as a designerly pursuit or even as a form of design in its
own right.
The study employed a Research Through Design (RTD) methodology (Zimmerman, et al.,
2007).
2
This methodology allows for a separation of a discussion of the theory which lies at the
intersection of IA, DT and wicked problems, the conducting of a design project, and an analysis
of the theory and models employed in relation to the practical outcomes of the design project.
Notwithstanding that any knowledge extracted using the RTD methodology could only be so
within the given context of the design project, it is hoped that what does emerge could
contribute in the form of advancing a theoretical understanding of the relationship between IA
and DT. Furthermore, it is hoped that new methods of designing will be generated and, in the
form of pre-patterns, be relevant for consideration and discussion by design theorists, educators
and practitioners.
1.1 The Need for the Study
In Design Thinking designers are understood to solve problems through a synthetic process of
ideation (Kolko, 2010, p. 15). This aspect of DT differentiates it from more analytical
approaches to problem solving, especially as applied in business contexts, for its potential to
arrive at innovative solutions (Brown, 2008, p. 86).
2
Not to be confused with Frayling’s (1993, p. 5) notion of research through design within which the
chosen methodology, by the same name, operates.
3
Synthesis in Ideation is understood in DT as sense-making and abductive reasoning, based on
conducting design research (Kolko, 2010, p. 18), where developing a hypothesis of and for the
wicked-problem becomes the solution. In other words, to understand the problem is to
determine the solution, through synthetic modes of thinking, achieved by the designer moving
through multiple iterations of problem / solution conceptions (Dorst & Cross, 2001, p. 11)
which constitutes the Ideation process.
Ideation further manifests as the prototyping of solutions in whichever form is relevant to the
ideas that have emerged: this could be a building, a process, a website, a system, etc. Lastly,
because of the indeterminate nature of wicked-problems and the synthetic nature of ideation,
these prototypes are tested with stakeholders in an attempt to validate their appropriateness.
As such, the relationship between DT and wicked problems is well documented in the theory
and is often represented as the DT process-method. This process can broadly be described as
the designer moving through stages of Enquiry (researching), Ideation (solutioning) and
Prototyping (making).
The first concern regarding complexity is the implication that as enquiries into complexity
broaden and deepen, so too is there an increased need for the skills required to synthesise
research in robust and designerly ways. Referred to herein as synthetic resolution, this thinking
and its related activities are intimately intertwined with ideation.
Kolko (2007b) observes that the skills and tools required for developing synthetic cognition are
insufficiently nurtured in design education. By way of recommendation, his paper Information
Architecture: Synthesis Techniques for the Muddy Middle of the Design Process (Kolko,
2007b) makes the point that many elements of design synthesis appear in the practices of IA.
Kolko further notes the positive contribution to be made to design strategy by engaging deeply
in design synthesis (2007a). Design strategy refers to the production of strategy as part of the
process of design thinking (Nixon, 2016, p. xiii) where strategy is understood as "...a high level
intention to achieve particular goals under unpredictable conditions" (Fenn & Hobbs, 2017, p.
520). In terms of IA, Kolko is not referring to any mainstream forms of IA but rather some
other aspect or form of IA which shall be referred to as Conceptual IA (CIA): IA performed as
ideation through synthesis in DT.
4
Information Architecture is a term that may be found across a variety of fields including Library
and Information Science, Knowledge Management, Information Science, Computer Science
and Design. Within Design, IA in its mainstream application is most closely related to the
planning and schematic blueprinting of digital products such as websites, mobile applications
and desktop applications where the concern lies in the structure, organisation and presentation
of information for end users, customers or staff of organisations, with an emphasis on usability,
findability and understanding (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015).
Recent developments in the field of IA have seen it reframed (Resmini, 2014) as a practice with
a far broader interest in the design of information environments that span multiple contexts,
services and products across digital, physical and blended digital / physical spaces referred to
as Pervasive IA (Resmini & Rosati, 2011). Nonetheless, as the article Maturing a Practice
(Hobbs, et al., 2010) makes clear, the development of the field of IA is overwhelmingly
practice-led and while practiced within the processes of Design, as a form of Design in its own
right, it is neither well understood in theory nor documented in scholarly publications.
3
Sense-making and understanding are central concepts in IA, both in its mainstream form and
that described in Pervasive IA, although the latter contains a far broader proposition. While
contemporary IA in its application in digital design originates from the field of library and
information science (LIS), ideas related to sense-making in IA date back to Richard Saul
Wurman’s work as early as the 1970s (Resmini & Rosati, 2012),
4
however his work related to
this topic largely found its way into the field of information design. These perspectives are that
which Kolko draws upon, as previously noted. However, his recommendation, as important as
it is to this dissertation, extends the application of IA within a limited theoretical lens.
The major theoretical limitation for mainstream IA, as an applied science from LIS, is its
struggle to recognise that in Design, sense-making and meaning-making must be viewed as two
sides of the same coin when enacted for synthetic resolution (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 761).
3
While it is not ideal to reference one’s own work as a theoretical basis for studies such as this,
together with Terence Fenn, this subject matter has been a niche pre-occupation for the authors over
the past decade. The principal, but not exclusive, texts in question include Maturing a Practice
(Hobbs, et al., 2010), The Information Architecture of Meaning-Making (Fenn & Hobbs, 2014), and
The Design of Socially Sustainable Ontologies (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019).
4
Wurman and Katz penned the article Beyond Graphics: The Architecture of Information in 1975
(Wurman & Katz, 1975)
5
Furthermore, central to DT is an acknowledgement that problems and solutions should be
considered as occurring within social reality (Rittel & Webber, 1973, p. 159). The view of
constructed reality, and the existence of multiple possible social realities (Bourdieu, 1977),
highlights that through synthetic resolution any resultant design artefact will bring to the world
meanings of and for things which have either been sustained, transformed or are new. Whether
or not a designer is aware of such meaning-making is another matter of great importance.
The manner in which meaning-making occurs in IA is somewhat different however to that
which one finds in human-centred design (HCD).
5
In HCD the meaning of its objects of design
is defined in external reference to the object’s ability to answer human needs within the
particularities of its use, including socio-cultural, economic and political considerations. In IA,
meaning operates the other way around. Information architectures provide contrived ontologies
(Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, pp. 760-762) which are conceived through acts of synthetic resolution,
made visible in the process of designing, which then strive to find a realised form through the
iterative processes of prototyping in design. Thus, this kind of meaning may be described as
being internal to a design object.
Furthermore, IA’s contrived ontologies (CO) bear a striking resemblance to the operations of
meaning-making to be found in descriptions by Tharp and Tharp (2019, pp. 165-182) in relation
to Discursive Design (DD). These similarities will be explored in the next chapter but suffice
to say at this point, that the implications are of great importance. The primary reason being that
in DD the interplay of meaning between that said by a product and its dialogue with society is,
in the first instance, an internal meaning to a discursively designed object.
In this dissertation, IA is understood to carry social meaning which exists tacitly within
designed objects (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 763). Social meaning as applied herein is essentially
cultural in nature and is either more or less consciously coded into design’s objects within the
context of a given culture’s social practices. Being more or less tacit in a designed object, more
5
Although Human Centred Design has its own theoretical basis, for example Krippendorff’s (2006)
Semantic Turn, in this dissertation it is additionally considered to stand as the dominant representative
of a contemporary reading of DTs theoretical body of knowledge. DT as a term associated with the
consultative application of design for the purposes of radical innovation, for which the firm IDEO is
synonymous, is referred to herein as Applied DT.
6
or less considered in the act of designing and more or less understood as operating as IA, both
profound concerns and opportunities thus exist for Design and IA in this regard.
In brief summary then, IA stands to extend design’s synthetic reach into complexity, following
Kolko (2010; 2007a; 2007b), while also offering acts of explicit meaning-making in ideation
(Tharp & Tharp, 2019)(Hobbs & Fenn, 2019). Or so the theoretical argument goes.
1.2 Aims and Objectives
The aim of the study is to explore how applying Information Architecture methods and
techniques, from the perspective of Design Thinking, could offer an effective approach to
ideating solutions to wicked problems, in general.
Given the breadth of such an enquiry, the methodology employed, Research Through Design
(Zimmerman, et al., 2007) provides the opportunity to conduct a design project and thereafter
reflect upon it through the lens of this aim. This approach assists in managing the scope of
enquiry through providing the opportunity to learn from the acts of making which are so central
to Design.
Addiction itself is a complex topic with systemic relations to almost all aspects of personal and
civic life. As an entry point into such a domain the design project was enacted in collaboration
with the Ubuntu Addiction Community Trust (U-ACT). The non-profit was founded by David
Collins who remains actively engaged in its strategy, growth, operations and service provision.
U-ACT provides a wide array of services across the addiction lifecycle and ecosystem in
particular in- and out-patient programs through their treatment centre, the Foundation Clinic,
6
and recovery coaching services through their Academy of Coaching and Training. In-line with
U-ACT’s desire to offer “well researched and uniquely developed innovative solutions”
(Collins, 2018) they have agreed to participate in this project.
6
In this document, reference to U-ACT refers to the Trust, the Training Academy and the Foundation
Clinic as a collective, for reasons of convenience. Since they are legally individually registered entities
with differing functions, when necessary, the specific entity will be references.
7
As such, the object of study becomes the process, methods employed, and solutions determined
through IA applied in Ideation to address the challenges of addiction in relation to U-ACT.
The following objectives emerge to fulfil the purposes of this study and support the application
of the chosen methodology:
1. Determine a working theoretical model for applying IA in DT appropriate to and for the
purposes of addressing the wicked problem of addiction in Johannesburg, South Africa,
2. Ideate solutions to the problem of addiction by employing IA thinking, techniques and
methods in the context of addicts recovering from substance misuse and dependence in
relation to the Ubuntu Addiction Community Trust, and
3. Evaluate objectives 1 and 2 based on criteria set out in the Research Through Design
methodology
Regarding the first objective, since IA sits outside of the disciplinary frameworks of Design, a
working theoretical model has been deemed necessary such that a logic exists to bridge the
theoretical worlds of IA and Design. In the research project, the theoretical framework’s aim is
directed towards conducting IA in a DT process-method for the needs of the design project.
1.3 Overview of the Methodology
Research through Design (RTD) is a methodology which positions the design researcher as
design practitioner (Frayling, 1993) (Zimmerman, et al., 2007). In RTD, research takes the form
of developing and evaluating design outputs where knowledge is generated to contribute to the
world, in terms of the subject-matter, in this case addiction, and to the discipline of Design
(Hevner, et al., 2004).
In the form developed by Zimmerman et. al. (ibid), and the methodology to be applied in this
project, RTD follows the DT process-method and focuses on wicked-problems. The emphasis
is on creating the right solution, designing artefacts which "transform the world from its current
state to a preferred state" (Zimmerman, et al., 2007, p. 1) where,
8
…research contributions should be artifacts that demonstrate significant
invention. The contributions should be novel integrations of theory,
technology, user need, and context; not just refinements of products that
already exist in the research literature or commercial markets. (Zimmerman,
et al., 2007, p. 7)
In terms of contribution to Design, the purpose of RTD lies in developing artefacts with “…the
potential to become pre-patterns from which design patterns can begin to emerge.”
(Zimmerman, et al., 2007, p. 5).
Figure 1.1 Conceptual IA imagined in the DT process-method (Author)
The design project herein is enacted following the DT process-method such that a Conceptual
IA may be delivered supported by problem and solution exploration (Fig. 1.1). The criteria of
Process, Invention, Relevance and Extensibility (Zimmerman, et al., 2007, pp. 7-8) will then
be applied to evaluate the project, and the IA design outputs of the process, so as to generate
insight and hopefully contribute knowledge regarding the issue of addiction in SA and the
practice and theory of IA and DT.
9
Relevance of the Design Project to the Study
By way of introduction, for some time the term addiction has been used as a catch-all phrase in
reference to a multitude of conditions which have been related to the misuse of psychoactive
substances. Prompted largely by new scientific knowledge of substance misuse, substance use
disorder / s (SUD) is now the preferred method of referring to the category of conditions related
to misuse of which addiction is a subset (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
2016). Addiction specifically refers to a manifestation of SUD where an individual has become
dependent on a substance medically defined in neurobiological terms (ibid). SUD have been
categorised into the progressive stages of substance misuse, abuse and dependence where,
towards the latter stages, the rational decision-making functions of the pre-frontal cortex are
hijacked by other areas of the brain (ibid).
7
This is relevant not just for reasons of the application of terminology within, but because it
marks a watershed moment in the history of addictionology where the topic at large is now
viewed as a complex rather than a binary condition (ibid). In this dissertation, substance use
disorder /s and addiction are terms employed interchangeably in reference to the new meaning
of SUD as a parent category and where required distinction is made in the text to refer to
substance dependence.
It has been noted that 15% of South Africans have a drug problem; that 5.7 million South
Africans will suffer from an addiction disorder in their lifetime; and that 1 in 14 South Africans
are regular narcotics users (Akeso Psychiatric Clinics, 2016).
8
It is of course not just addicts
who are affected. The broader problem ecology includes families and communities,
workplaces, supply systems (including the supply of legal, over-the-counter psychoactive
substances), health and recovery systems, educational institutions, political and legal systems
and the criminal justice system (Collins, 2016). Furthermore, within this ecosystem we see
7
This is a simplified and lay explanation in the authors words. A more critical and referenced
introduction to key topics within addiction has been prepared for the reader in Appendix A. Given the
complexity of the subject matter, and the many misconceptions which surround the condition, this
appendix was deemed to be necessary.
8
The same article (Akeso Psychiatric Clinics, 2016) notes that overdosing on psychoactive
substances, at the time of publication, was the primary cause of death for people under the age of 50 in
the USA.
10
multiple interconnected problem spaces, for example the relationship between alcohol and
drugs and crime, road accidents, breakdowns in the family unit and so on (Department of Social
Development, 2013).
It follows that the economic burden to the state, at the very least, is significant (Collins, 2016).
We lack sufficient research in SA regarding the economic impact of substance abuse, however
The National Drug Master Plan 2013 - 2017 (2013, pp. 43-44) places a conservative estimate
at 6,4% of GDP. The American Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health (2016)
further distinguishes between cost-to-country and cost-to-society where the latter also provides
an economic impact. Harmful effects of misuse during pregnancy, impacts to labour and
productivity in the workplace, contraction of communicable diseases, increased likelihood of
experiencing trauma and violence as well as the acute costs of road accidents related to misuse,
deaths caused by overdose and violence, rape and sexual assault with partners (U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, 2016, pp. 1-12). For all of these reasons we may consider
addiction to be a wicked problem.
Of particular interest is the ontological challenge posed by the field of addiction. This view is
the driving force behind the work of Guy Du Plessis who has argued for the application of
Integral Theory in an effort to develop a “transdisciplinary framework, in an attempt to arrive
at an integrally informed metatheory of addiction” (2014, p. 38). Du Plessis (ibid) highlights
the relationship between addiction as a complex, social problem and its related ontological
challenge which offers a meaningful link to the application of IA and DT to solutioning in this
space.
David Benyon (2014) describes IA as providing an ontology which acts as a “conceptual model
of a domain described in terms of objects (or entities), their relationships and their
structure…[where an] information architect analyses some domain (a sphere of activity, or
activity space) and decides on the objects of interest and the relationships between those
objects.” (Benyon, 2014, p. 49). Not only does this description exclude reference to digital
products, channels, media or technology but it also suggests a place for a Conceptual IA
employed during design synthesis as part of the DT process of problem solving.
11
1.4 Significance of the Study
The premise behind this dissertation is that IA could hold within it valuable ways of thinking,
methods and skills which Design, in general and the world, will require to effectively engage
in our rapidly evolving socio-technological reality.
William Gibson, noted that, “…one of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us
is that we distinguished the digital from the real” (2007).
9
In this future, which is already upon
us, Design will be faced with increased and new forms of complexity which will only
compound that which we face today. Furthermore, we are likely to discover many instances in
which the majority of people are not considered to be the primary beneficiaries of rapid
technological advancement in cases where its investment is sourced from those whose future
has already been privileged by their past.
Justice aside, for the purposes of communicating the sheer scale of change upon us, it is worth
sharing Luciano Floridi’s perspective. In The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is
Reshaping Human Reality (2016), Floridi, pre-eminent scholar in the field of the philosophy of
information, presents an important view of history related to information and communication
technologies (ICT) (Floridi, 2016, pp. 11-28). He begins in a pre-historic period defined as
existing prior to the invention of technologies for the recording of history.
10
The historic period
which follows is characterised by humanity’s relationship to the development of ICTs. Where
we stand at present, is in the transition between the historic and hyperhistoric periods where
humans are no longer just related to ICTs but dependent upon them. By implication, Hobbs and
Fenn (2019) note:
…the immediacy and immersive social reality of technology will become
frictionless within our human experience. As this occurs, there is a moral
and ethical imperative to ensure social sustainability and to this end that the
meanings and intentions that inform the mature design of our human-made
world are visible and accountable. It is towards this end that information
architecture can make a valuable contribution. (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 745)
9
Gibson was also the author of the cult novel Neuromancer (Gibson, 1984) wherein he also coined the
term cyberspace.
10
In addition to contemporary digital ICT, Floridi’s definition of ICT would include the pigment
employed in rock art paintings, pen and paper, as well as the Guttenberg Press.
12
The field of IA requires a broadening of its own conception. This is argued within to be found
in a reframing of IA from an applied science, as it stands today, towards becoming a substantive
form of design in its own right at the levels of discipline and practice.
In order for this maturing of IA to occur its relationship to Design needs to be understood in
terms broader than their co-enactment in any particular domain, such as digital design. A deeper
exploration and understanding of the ways in which IA is designerly in theory and praxis is
required. This is one reason why this research project has not been framed in terms of digital
technology, digital media or any such related social realities, which one might otherwise
reasonably expect of IA. Following Floridi’s account of ICT, IA would also be understood as
pre-dating the emergence of digital technology (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 760).
By the same token, a mature Design would be able to support the need for increased skills of
synthesis in theory, method and application for its educators and practitioners readied for the
new complexity of the hyperhistoric period.
Role of the Researcher
The collaboration with U-ACT on this project was instigated by the author. No vested interests
exist in assisting U-ACT beyond those related to this dissertation other than personal
motivations towards assisting the organization in achieving their social aims. No financial gain,
or any other form of payment, has resulted from the engagements with U-ACT in relation to
this research project.
While personal motivations do exist, working with U-ACT for the purposes of this research
project have been in support of the execution of the design project alone, as required by the
chosen methodology.
13
Assumptions, Beliefs and Bias
A fair amount of prior work and personal experience is brought to this research effort. In terms
of the former, the author has practised a combination of IA, user experience design, service
design, HCD, applied DT and strategy design for over two decades, both in SA and the United
Kingdom for local and international clients. The first decade was largely given to design in
digital media and the second to cross- and multi-channel integration projects with an emphasis
on strategy design and design management. From time to time the experiential knowledge
gained from these activities is called upon in this dissertation although all efforts have been
made to keep such referencing to a minimum.
Of greater relevance to the academic nature of this dissertation, is a decade’s worth of co-
authored and published research on the topic of the relationship between IA, DT and wicked
problems and certain other Design-related topics. Although unconventional, this dissertation
specifically draws upon this research and theory and takes as its starting point the last significant
publication on the topic by the author in collaboration with Terence Fenn: The Design of
Socially Sustainable Ontologies (2019) published in the journal Philosophy and Technology.
Naturally this decision was discussed at length with the supporting university.
For the author, no other theoretical concern could have motivated such an effort at this time,
and the timing of the need for such research is overdue (Hobbs, et al., 2010) and more necessary
than ever (Hobbs, 2019). Furthermore, IA is a niche area of interest academically, the field is
by and large practice-led (Hobbs, et al., 2010), and very little validated research is published
on the topic. Most significantly, no other theory has been published which explores the formal
theoretical relationship between IA and DT or IA and Design in general beyond the digital
domain, and it is this very gap which is argued to require urgent attendance.
Regarding what the author brings to this dissertation of a relevant personal nature would be the
personal experience of SUD. This fact is comfortably acknowledged. As such, these
experiences will inevitably colour the research within, to the extent that any other socio- cultural
bias would, relative to an individual’s psychological processing of such. Where possible and
appropriate, perspectives volunteered based upon personal experience have been
14
acknowledged, at best may be considered to be anecdotal and, again where possible and
relevant, efforts have been made to employ research or design techniques to address such.
11
Within the domains of SUD and addiction Collins (2018) has noted that a privilege of
perspective is frequently afforded to those working in the field who have a personal history
with SUD. To the contrary, he advocates the tempering of this. This view is shared by the author
notwithstanding instances where the limits of empathy, as an act of imagination rather than
compassion or sympathy, affect understanding, decision-making or judgement in a qualitative
respect which are believed to be best addressed on a case by case basis.
As with many fields, approaches to practice can be hotly contested. A bias towards the
approaches of U-ACT are declared in relation to the experiences of the author in engaging with
U-ACT, not as designer or service provider, but as a beneficiary of U-ACT’s services. These
personal experiences underpin the choice of U-ACT as a partner to develop design solutions
with. The dual aim of the design project has been to assist U-ACT so as to help those with SUD
and addiction, particularly in reference to recovery.
A primary, but not exclusive, factor in conducting design research during Enquiry in the project
was to understand U-ACTs approach within the landscape of existing approaches, less to
critique their approach but to appreciate the domain at large and how U-ACT operates in
relation to such. The addiction treatment landscape is as competitive as any commercial
marketplace and increasingly so (Collins, 2018). Ultimately, the Ideation phase saw most of U-
ACTs current approaches maintained and enriched but radically transformed through
developing a Conceptual IA for how U-ACT could be, in the first instance, conceptually
(re)organized in the world. It is probably fair to say that the solution was based in U-ACTs
approaches in equal measure to understanding available alternatives approaches, as well as their
reasons for operating as they do currently.
11
For example, one of the six personae created in the design project is based on the author. This is a
personal technique that has been employed in many other projects unrelated to this research project,
for the value it brings in foregrounding the designer’s subjectivity.
15
1.5 Organisation of the Dissertation
The dissertation is organised following the flow and requirements of the RTD methodology.
The review of literature, conceptual framework and working theoretical model are provided in
Chapters 2 through 4, the design project is documented in Chapter 5, and an analysis of the
theory in relation to the outcomes of the design project, synthesis and conclusion are provided
in Chapters 6 and 7.
Chapter 1: Introduction
This chapter provides the context of the study and an overview of the research project in its
entirety.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
A review of literature related to the aim of the study is presented, relevant and significant gaps
identified, and arguments made in support of the need for the research project. The synthesis
offered in the conclusion sets the frame for the focus of the study.
Chapter 3: Conceptual Framework and Methodology
An articulation of the conceptual framework and focus of the study starts this chapter. This
paves the way to a deeper description of the methodology, the rationale for its use and the
projects research aims and objectives. The design project is then introduced, and an overview
provided of how the conceptual framework will operate, in design methodological terms, across
the phases of Enquiry, Ideation and Prototyping in the project’s delivery.
Chapter 4: Working Theoretical Model
The first objective of this project is met in this chapter. Through a discussion of selected theory
related to the topic of the problem of addiction, a case is made for the application of IA for the
design project. An alternative theoretical underpinning for an enactment of developing a
16
conceptual IA solution in DT terms is provided. It is alternative, as it situates IA outside of the
current applied sciences framing (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015). Additionally, this takes the form of
a model which overlays the DT process-method to be enacted. A rationale, by way of
description, is provided of how each of the design phases will relate to the working theoretical
model.
Chapter 5: The Design Project
This chapter provides a comprehensive account of the design project as an annotated portfolio
(Glaver, 2012) of the various design artefacts produced through the process. The second
objective of the research project is met through a presentation of the work conducted in each
design phase:
Phase 1 – Enquiry
Description of design research exploration into the problem ecology of addiction in
Johannesburg, SA. Outputs include aspects of research data and analysis, research findings,
synthesis and a problem framing.
Phase 2 – Ideation
Description and documentation of the Ideation process and Conceptual IA solution.
Phase 3 – Prototyping
Description and documentation of selected design prototypes within the proposed solution
landscape which exemplify the Conceptual IA solution developed in Ideation.
Chapter 6: RTD Evaluation
The third and last objective of the research project is provided in this chapter through an analysis
of the design project applying the RTD criteria of process, invention, relevance and
extensibility.
17
Chapter 7: Conclusion
The main findings and key contributions regarding the study’s purpose and need are presented
in the context of the overarching aim herein. Recommendations for future efforts conclude the
dissertation.
18
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
A critical review and synthesis of theory, and related matters of field, praxis and practice,
related to the subjects of Design Thinking, wicked problems and information architecture are
provided in this chapter.
Two themes are initially followed in the first two sections of this chapter respectively. The first
relates to Design Thinking as a body of theory and draws upon Nigel Cross’s Designerly Ways
of Knowing (2006) with regards to an emergent disciplinarity across the fields of design.
Kolko’s account of design cognition in Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of
Design Synthesis (2010) and Dorst and Cross’s research, Creativity in the Design Process: Co-
evolution of Problem–Solution (2001), are then discussed in terms of ideation and how ideation
manifests in DT process-method. The influence of wicked problems, as a subject matter in
contemporary Design theory, is then reviewed in reference to the seminal works Dilemmas in
a General Theory of Planning by Rittel and Webber (1973) and Wicked Problems in Design
Thinking by Buchanan (1992).
Indeterminacy, as a concept in Design (ibid), is considered both for how it extends the reach of
social systems problems across the field, but also as an approach or mentality advocating non-
assumptive, problem-led design methodology. In this reading, indeterminacy acts as a lens for
appreciating various contemporary theories and approaches in Design. The section concludes
with an analysis by the author, noting a broad-based shift in the object of design across the field,
which identifies ideation as a first zone of making in DT process-method.
The second theme introduces and offers an overview of IA as a field. Discussion of IA as a
troubled, emergent discipline draws on the article Maturing a Practice by Hobbs, et al. (2010)
and Lacerda and Lima-Marques’s (2014) Information Architecture as a Discipline - A
Methodological Approach. A Brief History of Information Architecture by Resmini and Rosati
(2012) is referred too, complimented by a very recent account of a cultural split occurring
within the field (Hobbs, 2020a). This split is presented as having marginalised contemporary
advances in practice and theory in the field, in favour of an incumbent Mainstream IA. The
19
latter originates from the fields of Library and Information Science and is discussed in primary
reference to Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015). Those
marginalised advances in theory (and praxis) made in the field of IA over the past decade
include discussion of the Pervasive Information Architecture of Resmini and Rosati (2011), the
edited text Reframing Information Architecture (Resmini, 2014) and Andrew Hinton’s (2014)
book Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture.
Additionally, something of a revival of the designerly IA of Richard Saul Wurman (1990)
within the Mainstream, LIS IA community of practice is remarked upon.
The two themes previously discussed converge in the third section of this chapter. Firstly,
Kolko’s earlier contributions to discussion of design synthesis are expanded to include several
further texts, Information Architecture and Design Strategy: The Importance of Synthesis
during the Process of Design (2007a) and Information Architecture: Synthesis Techniques for
the Muddy Middle of the Design Process (2007b) wherein he argues for the use of IA thinking,
methods and tools towards effective design synthesis practice.
Secondly, the concepts of structural logic, semantic formation and contrived ontology are
introduced in reference to Hobbs and Fenn’s paper The Design of Socially Sustainable
Ontologies (2019). In this discussion a theoretical argument evolves for how natural acts of
information architecting implicitly generate internal meaning for artificial, human made objects
unleashed into the world; and the corollary, that information architectures exist in the world
tacit within such objects and the relationships which society develops with them (Hobbs &
Fenn, 2019).
In this way, from the perspective of IA, acts of sense- and meaning-making are viewed as co-
occurring in design synthesis. As a mode of design, structural logics and semantic formations
from IA are then likened, and analysed in relation, to the concepts of message-content and
message-form established by Tharpe and Tharpe in Discursive Design: Critical, Speculative,
and Alternative Things (2019).
Multiple (theoretical) implications arise from this discussion for IA, Design and the world.
These then provide the context for an opportunity space to be identified which the conceptual
framework in Chapter 3 builds upon. This framework in turn, provides for an enactment of IA
20
through the RTD methodology for the purposes of ideating solutions to the wicked problem of
addiction.
2.1 Design Thinking, Ideation and Complexity
Design Thinking, as a research focus as opposed to an applied practice,
1
refers to a fairly recent
and growing body of knowledge and discourse that is concerned with designerly ways of
knowing or design cognition (Cross, 2006) This perspective advocates a “…‘three cultures’
view of human knowledge and ability” (Cross, 2006, p. 2) which places Design at a footing
equivalent to the sciences and the humanities, as a distinct intellectual culture.
Cross (2006) makes a distinction between design science and the science of design. The former
relates to what one may describe as positioning design within a scientific frame while the latter
“…refers to that body of work which attempts to improve our understanding of design through
‘scientific’…methods of investigation” (Cross, 2006, p. 99). The kinds of questions that could
drive the research agenda for a discipline of Design, Cross (2006, p. 101) suggests, could span:
How designers come to knowledge (the epistemological)
How designers do design (praxeology)
And learning from the artefacts produced by designers (the phenomenological)
Such views have had a profound impact on design theory, practice and education. In particular,
research into the cognition employed by designers in general has shed light on the unique way
that designers solve ill-defined (Cross, 2006, p. 12) or complex problems, commonly referred
to as ideation.
1
As popularised by design firms such as IDEO.
21
2.1.1 Ideation
Due to the nature of ill-defined problems, which the next section will address in depth, ideation
in DT employs synthetic cognition (Kolko, 2010, p. 15) in a modality grounded within the
pragmatist worldview or paradigm.
2
Furthermore, designers are understood as acting for the
purposes of problem solving in DT, through the making of the artificial intended for some future
improvement of the world (Simon, 1998).
In Kolko’s paper, Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design Synthesis
(2010) he notes:
Sensemaking [is] an action-oriented process that people automatically go
through in order to integrate experiences into their understanding of the
world around them…[where] emphasis is placed on finding relationships
and patterns between elements, and forcing an external view of things. In all
of the methods, it is less important to be "accurate" and more important to
give some abstract and tangible form to the ideas, thoughts and reflections.
(Kolko, 2010, p. 18)
Abduction builds on sense-making in synthesis as it is the form of reasoning that produces
hypothesies based on inference from facts: data and information gathered through design
research. “[A]bduction can be thought of as the argument to the best explanation. It is the
hypothesis that makes the most sense given observed phenomenon or data and based on prior
experience.” (Kolko, 2010, p. 20). Abduction is applied because of what Cross (2006) described
earlier as ill-defined problems: problems which fail to be resolved through the traditional
inductive and deductive approaches of logic or formal scientific or philosophical method.
The DT process-method,
3
could be thought of as the practical approach to applying synthetic
cognition in problem solving where making sense of research data, abductively interpreting
reality and envisioning a solution are foregrounded because of the ill-defined nature of
problems in design (ibid).
2
See Buchanan’s discussion of Dewey in Wicked Problems in Design Thinking (1992, pp. 6-9)
3
This phraseology is the author’s and is applied in acknowledgment of issues surrounding its
enactment in relation to wicked problems regardless of its description in the literature. Reference will
duly be provided throughout.
22
Table 2.1 Rationalising the Design Thinking process-method
(after Hobbs & Fenn, 2019)
Various descriptions of the DT process-method may be found in the literature all of which may
be grouped into three intersecting phases (see Table 2.1).
4
While represented to be linear, the
process visualisation is mannered, as each phase incorporates aspects of the cognitive
4
Harris and Ambrose (2009), Weinberg (2010), Brown (2008) and the Stanford D.School (c2015)
23
modalities to be found in the others (Brown, 2008). These phases are: Enquiry (understanding
the problem), Ideation (determining a solution) and Prototyping (designing the solution).
Throughout this document, when these terms are capitalised, it is in reference to the DT process-
method.
Imagining a solution through synthesis requires that the designer take either an implicit or
explicit stance on the definition of the problem such that a design-mediated envisioning of the
future may occur. A key aspect of the praxeology of DT is the foregrounding of this moment
in the design process method. This is referred to as the point of view stage (Weinberg, 2010) or
the define stage (Stanford D.School, c2015). It is perhaps better known as reframing (Dorst,
2015) and is core to the value proposition of applied DT. In the increasing reach of design into
contemporary marketplaces it holds within it the kernel of thought which forms the basis of
innovative problem resolution.
Dorst and Cross’s (2001) research into design-led problem solving provides the explanation for
a designer’s ability to arrive at novel, original or innovative solutions:
It seems that creative design is not a matter of first fixing the problem and
then searching for a satisfactory solution concept. Creative design seems
more to be a matter of developing and refining together both the formulation
of a problem and ideas for a solution, with constant iteration of analysis,
synthesis and evaluation processes between the two notional design ‘spaces’
- problem space and solution space. (Dorst & Cross, 2001, p. 11)
Figure 2.1 offers a visualisation (from the quote above) of the iterative cycles of problem /
solution conjecturing (formulating problems and ideating solutions, respectively) as it may be
understood in relation to the three co-enacted cognitive modalities of analysis, synthesis and
evaluation in DT.
In addition to the observation of the iterative nature of problem / solution conjecturing, IDEOs
visual description (Fig. 2.2) highlights another relevant concept, although in a more
traditionally linear time-based visual presentation, of the movements between abstraction and
concretisation (2009, p. 11). This visualisation is not interpreted as intending to describe a literal
and single arched movement in the DT process but rather to suggest a particular relationship
between grounded rationalisation and acts of the imagination.
24
Figure 2.1 Problem / solution pairing (Dorst & Cross, 2001) (Author)
Figure 2.2 The Human-Centred Design process (IDEO, 2009, p. 11)
25
Two last important points relate. Firstly, a workable solution presents as such because abduction
and solutioning, in the abstract, define a co-dependent, simultaneous and synthetic resolution.
That is, in synthetic resolution, coming to understand the problem is to understand the solution,
and vice versa (Rittel & Webber, 1973, p. 161).
Secondly, although the activities of Design Thinking in practice are represented in a linear and
procedural manner, it is crucial to appreciate Enquiry, Ideation and Prototyping as participating
in the co-enacted cognitive operations of analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Dorst & Cross,
2001, p. 11). Figure 2.2 illustrates this distinction where the latter is represented as image (i.)
and the former as image (ii.).
5
Figure 2.3 Linearising Design’s thinking (Author)
Tim Brown notes of descriptions of the DT process-method that, “…these are overlapping
spaces rather than sequential stages of a lockstep methodology” (Brown, 2008, p. 42), and
elsewhere, Buchanan adds that this process can lose its efficacy if executed in an overly linear,
cause-and-effect, procedural manner (Buchanan, 1992, p. 15). It is in the context of wicked
problems that Buchanan’s caution arises.
5
In Figure 2.3 image (i.) the coding represents (A)nalysis, (S)ynthesis and (E)valuation.
26
2.1.2 Wicked Problems and the Field’s Response
Since the 1970’s the field of design has been acknowledged as facing a series of disciplinary
challenges in its appreciation of the degree to which it can provide meaningful solutions to
complex problems. The field’s response and recognition of its limitations has revealed
something of a renaissance across the spectrum of the various incarnations of design practice
since that time.
The point of origin for the consideration of complexity in relation to design is, it seems, in most
cases attributed to the discussion of wicked problems by Rittel and Webber (1973) and is well
articulated in the following:
We have been learning to see social processes as the links tying up open
systems into large and interconnected network of systems, such that outputs
of one become inputs of another. In that structural framework it has become
less apparent where problem centers lie, and less apparent where and how
we should intervene even if we know what aims we seek. (Rittel & Webber,
1973, p. 159)
This view has broadly been integrated into the theory of Design Thinking such that there has
been an acknowledgement that problems and solutions should be considered as occurring
within social reality (Rittel & Webber, 1973), that design in a human-centred framing is
concerned with the betterment of people’s lives (Buchanan, 2001) (Resnick, 2019) and that
problem, and solution, identification takes on an indeterminate nature as a result of the
complexities that emerge from understanding social reality (Buchanan, 2001, p. 16).
One interpretation of wicked problems identifies that not all problems, designerly or other, are
wicked but rather that only certain types of problems fall within the category by satisfying
particular criteria. By way of example, Kolko provides some of the attributes of wickedness as
being:
…social or cultural problem[s] that [are] difficult or impossible to solve for
as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number
of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the
interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.
(Kolko, 2012, p. 10)
27
Frequently cited examples include climate change, pandemics, social phenomena such as
injustice and so on. A further categorical extreme recognises super wicked problems which
include factors such as unclear points of accountability, issues of limitations in time frame and
actors who would otherwise benefit from a solution, working against it (Levin, et al., 2012, p.
123). Such notions of wicked problems, as a type, are useful in terms of the manner in which
they provide an outer extreme of what an ill-defined problem could be constituted as.
However, another view of wickedness is provided by Buchanan who argues that due to Design
having no particular subject matter of its own, it being more of a point and shoot exercise where
the problem and subject matter are metaphorical stand-ins for the target, the potential of any
problem to systemically relate to a broader context or frame introduces a paradigm of
indeterminacy (1992, p. 16). In this case, what could constitute a solution is only ever limited
by assumption, or a pre-determination of a solution type.
In Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, Buchanan takes care to note that design solutions
should not be considered as undetermined (1992, pp. 16-17), waiting to be solved by a particular
form of design, but rather infinite in their possibilities and limited more by the imagination than
traditional notions of constraints in design such as budget, time or particulars of a problems
subject matter (1992, p. 21). Designs contemporary innovation proposition could be argued to
find its theoretical origin in this conception of indeterminacy.
What is seminal about these positions will now be discussed by way of understanding their vast
implications for the field of Design as a whole, or at least as the author interprets Buchanan.
Buchanan (1992) notes that the historic categories of design, types of design such as
architecture, industrial design, communication design, multi-media design, etc., have
developed in response to well understood and (pre-) determined problems. For example,
architecture addresses issues of shelter, urban development, etc. And as Rittel and Webber note
problems of a wicked nature demanded a careful reconsideration of the aims, methodologies
and structures of the field in its broadest conception (1973, p. 155).
In this view the application of any particular category or type of design not only assumes a
solution domain - the interests of architecture for instance - referred to herein as product-led
approaches to designing, but also the associated research methods and design methodologies
28
embedded in the particular category: architecture has a special interest in spatiality, for
instance.
6
In contrast, problem-led design approaches do not make an assumption regarding a particular
problem / product match and begin with a broad and deep investigation of the problem space
so as to authentically engage with the potential complexity of any given problem. The scope of
the implications of a non-assumptive, non-product-oriented Design, as articulated by
Buchannan (1992), appears to have reverberated across the entire spectrum of forms of design
and their practices, including the domains of design research and education.
2.1.3 The Shift in the Object of Design
In a problem-led approach, there is nothing to be made, in the traditional sense, by the designer
in the first instance: there is no poster, building, mobile app or chair. This has posed a challenge
to the field at large to whom the making of things is practically definitional.
Buchanan’s own response was the suggestion of ideating solutions through the lenses of four
design placements (1992, p. 8). Placements, or what he calls the Doctrine of Placements, is an
organisation of broad areas of interest, focus and approach across the various forms of design.
These include, verbatim: symbolic and visual communications; material objects; activities and
organised services; and complex systems or environments for living, working, playing, and
learning (1992, pp. 9-10).
However, the overarching theme emerging from this shift in focus and emphasis appears to take
the form of tackling any problem through a socio-semantic lens, appreciating both the
individual human experience as well as society at large (Krippendorff, 2006) (Hassenzahl,
2010) (Resnick, 2019) (Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010) (Tharp & Tharp, 2019) (IDEO, 2009).
The trend is towards design efforts being led by a concern for where the meaning lies in design
solutions, or alternatively phrased, what makes design solutions meaningful in and to the
6
The terms product- and problem-led are taken from the text The Information Architecture of
Transdisciplinary Design Practice: Rethinking Nathan Shedroff's Continuum of Understanding (Fenn
& Hobbs, 2012)
29
world,
7
where end users may be considered to be design’s ultimate client. Included in the
recently published text The Social Designer (Resnick, 2019) are responses as broad as:
understanding and ideating experiences based on fundamental human needs or human-centred
design ; the design of systems and services rather than products; and enacting social and
environmental discourse, change, transition, and innovation through a variety of evaluative and
generative design research methods that engage multiple stakeholders and end-users.
The general move appears as one towards the artefactual outcome, a designed object, remaining
un-defined until after conducting some combination of design research methods,
8
in most cases
it seems; problem (re)framing; and ideation. Defining a (human) experience thus becomes a
placeholder, a framed but empty or negative space, for an object or arrangement of placements
(Buchanan, 1992) to emerge within.
Figure 2.4 The shift in the object of Design (Author)
7
This being most directly referenced to in Krippendorff’s use of the word semantic in the title to his
text The Semantic Turn (2006).
8
The intended use behind IDEO’s Method Cards (IDEO, 2003), by way of example.
30
Conceptualising design objects in this manner is thus analogous to the notion of definition by
the negative where a shift (Fig. 2.4) appears from a pre-occupation with the what and how (i.)
towards a deep interrogation of what constitutes a problem being as such and what could be
done about it, the why and what (ii.). Making and crafting design objects becomes secondary,
while no less important, and operates in service of an idea for a solution being brought into
being, through artefactual production.
2.2 Information Architecture
IA in its contemporary, mainstream form, as it relates to design, is a young field aspiring
towards becoming a discipline (Hobbs, et al., 2010) and a niche practice within the space of
digital design.
The term Information Architecture has only appeared fairly recently, since the 1960s, and
coincides with the emergence of computer and computer-related technologies (Resmini &
Rosati, 2012). Today, the practice with its concerns for the role and use of information in the
design and development of products and services, is largely related to fields which continue to
engage with information technologies either directly or indirectly (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019).
2.2.1 Discipline and Practice in the field of IA
In the practice of IA, it draws on the knowledge, theory and methods of a variety of fields and
their associated disciplines including but not limited to Library and Information Science,
Knowledge Management, Information Science, Computer Science, Human Computer
Interaction and Design. However, a succinct and agreed definition of IA remains an enigma
within the field (Resmini & Rosati, 2011, p. 28).
Although challenges to disciplinary definitions exist within many fields and would be
considered healthy, in the case of the field of IA, it is yet to mature to the point of being a
31
discipline (Hobbs, et al., 2010) and the field remains uncertain not just as to how to define itself
but also where to position itself from a disciplinary perspective, as Lacerda and Lima-Marques
note (2014):
Since the establishment of information architecture (IA) as an area of
expertise and research more than a decade ago, its community of scientists
and practitioners [have] been seeking foundations to establish concepts,
scope [and] relations with other disciplines. Some are motivated by the
conceptual gap; others are also concerned about the lack of communication
between theory and practice in the field.
(Lacerda & Lima-Marques, 2014, p. 1)
The lack of a clear, concise and agreed definition for what IA is, could well stem from this
disciplinary void. Lacerda and Lima-Marques (ibid.) further note, in the context of their
discussion of the transdisciplinary nature of IA, that,
…while we have information as the raw material, embedded in objects
delimited by spaces intentionally designed in order to promote user
experiences as the core expertise practiced and researched within the field,
the multiple disciplines that coalesce around information architecture are
certainly all contributing to this artifact, but they highlight different aspects
of it: information itself, the objects, the spaces, the design, or the user
experience. The multiple points of view should complement each other and
provide a richer final artifact. (Lacerda & Lima-Marques, 2014, p. 5)
The transdisciplinary nature of IA (Lacerda & Lima-Marques, 2014, p. 3) creates, arguably,
one the greatest challenges to the field’s disciplinary development because of the diversity of
worldviews and paradigms that appear at different times as a background to the methods and
domains of the practice.
Given the stage and state of the field’s maturity as a discipline a closer look at IA practices and
the community of practice is required to describe and understand it.
2.2.2 Mainstream Information Architecture
IA is a term that can be found in Information Systems and Information Communication
Technology. In these contexts, IA refers to the activity of defining data types and their
32
properties, grouping these types to form entities, grouping entities if so required, interrelating
all this and the associated taxonomies which emerge for its application in ICT systems design.
The emergence of the world wide web in the 1990s brought to the fore an applied Library and
Information Science also called IA. Resmini and Rosati (2012, p. 41) refer to this IA as Classic
IA.
9
This IA considers itself to be both an art and a science (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015, p. 24).
Mainstream IA, as the application of IA in the design of digital objects such as websites,
intranets, mobile apps, etc., sits firmly in its application in and for information technologies and
while it acknowledges the art it is fundamentally based in the Library and Information Sciences
(LIS) with concerns for “the representation, storage and supply as well as the search for and
retrieval of relevant (predominantly digital) documents and knowledge (including the
environment of information)” (Stock & Stock, 2013, p. 3) and the related functional needs of
people, for example, findability. If anything, the synthesis of science and art in Mainstream IA
places it in the space of engineering experiences for users of information technology. This
engineering orientation was also to be found in the area of Usability in the 1990s which emerged
against the backdrop of theory being developed in the field of Human Computer Interaction
(HCI) as it related to web-based technology.
In the domain of usability, a care for the IA in digital experiences was widely accepted as
important for good usability.
10
For example, findability (searching and browsing), wayfinding,
semantic-orientation, taxonomies and organisational schema that guide the presentation and
labelling of navigation, etc. for the purposes of the objects use in functional terms. In general,
IA served the important and necessary role of providing the definition of the information system
in digital applications such as websites and apps for various aspects of programmatic builds.
At this same time, there was another kind of IA practiced, which shall be referred to as the lost
IA (Hobbs, 2020a, p. 2), which operated as a matured and more strategically - or marketing-
oriented (Shiple, c1998) form of being a webmaster. This IA spanned resolving business and
9
In this text Classic IA is referred to as Mainstream IA (MIA) or LIS IA in acknowledgement of its
continued dominance as a practice and a perception thereof.
10
Largely through Jakob Nielsen, spokesperson for web usability in the 1990s and beyond. See
www.nngroup.com
33
customer goals through the conceptualisation, selection and structuring of content and
functionality across the entirety of a website.
11
It included doing usability, interaction design
for the Web and page level layout employing the principles of information design. All this, in
addition to those IA activities to be found in the LIS IA concerned with the organisation schema
of a website, labelling, navigation design and so forth.
In the authors experience,
12
it was an important role at the time that sat between and acted as
the glue between those programming and coding the website, visual and graphic designers,
content creators and copywriters and the people tasked with ensuring that the final product
answered business and marketing needs. In this context, the information architect was likely to
be the individual with the best view and responsibility for ensuring that all the various aspects
came together to form a coherent whole and, in some cases, lead the design process, much to
the consternation of traditional marketing creative directors.
The last point matters because some of these information architects, especially those with an
LIS bent, lacked the creative experience or marketing understanding to be in a lead role.
Information architects with this experience reduced the creative director’s role to a mere
concern for look and feel and ensuring branding, identity and campaign consistency. Again, it
was the creative type of IA that was lost.
In the mid 2000s, for a variety of reasons not directly related to this dissertation, IA as a practice
and community fragmented into a variety of specialisations where the new catch-all title and
role,
13
became User Experience Designer (UX or UXD). Interaction design for the Web rapidly
become a robust, stand-alone community and proposition and Content Strategy emerged as a
new practice out of IA. Interestingly, much of the early contributions from the space of usability
became entrenched as best practice and conventions in digital design. More specialised usability
research and servicing of the marketplace remained secure within the ever-expanding field of
HCI.
11
A notable method was the design of user journeys as a way to architect websites which pre-date the
customer journey and experience mapping, we find employed in service and customer experience
design these days.
12
In relation to the lost IA, working at leading digital design firms in London and Cape Town between
1997 and 2004. See www.jh-01.com
13
Even earlier, the web generalist was referred to as a webmaster: an individual who coded HTML
and dabbled in visual design, IA and usability. Today this multiskilled individual is referred to as a
‘unicorn’ in digital design community of practice.
34
Today, even though one cannot receive a formal degree in UX in tertiary design institutions, it
is nonetheless an enormous and still growing practice closely associated with Experience
Design, Interaction Design and User Centred Design. It was amidst this disciplinary and
community of practice reshuffle that the lost IA was definitively lost (Hobbs, 2020a, p. 4).
During the 2000s, almost no theory emerged from within the field of IA.14 Since that time
Mainstream IA has become an increasingly narrow sphere of interest within the collection of
practices to be found under the umbrella of UX. It is probably fair to say that IA in its applied
LIS form, now exists as a specialised practice with a value proposition that is largely only viable
in places with access to higher end digital technology and mature digital marketplace
economies.15 In short, Mainstream IA has become increasingly narrow in its theoretical and
practical contribution to digital design in general.
The handful of advances in theory or practice which have been made, while significant and
important, have remained on the periphery of the mainstream.16 These advances will now be
shared.
2.2.3 Expanding and Reframing IA
Towards the end of the 2000s the ubiquity of internet enabled mobile devices had made a reality
of ubiquitous and pervasive computing theory. The smart thing in your pocket called a mobile
phone should be more accurately described as a little computer from which phone calls can be
made.
Three texts related to IA stand apart from others which have emerged from this technological
evolution:
17
Resmini and Rosati’s (2011) Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing
14
For a detailed discussion see the article Maturing a Practice (Hobbs, et al., 2010).
15
See Re: The Future of Information Architecture (Hobbs, 2019).
16
Several reasons are provided at the same source referenced in footnote 15.
17
A variety of practice-oriented texts, that is, non-scholarly texts, have emerged from the mainstream
field in response to this shift, including Morville’s Ambient Findability (Morville, 2014) and
35
Cross-Channel User Experiences, the collection Reframing Information Architecture (Resmini,
2014), and Hinton’s (2014) Understanding Context: Environment, Language and Information
Architecture.
Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences (Resmini &
Rosati, 2011) presents a distinct re-conceptualisation of IA as a field of practice. The key
positions include that IA extends beyond individual artefacts, such as websites, to the design
of the IA between and across these objects and media (termed cross-channel); IA is firmly
considered to be an act of designing ; and IA is positioned as a form of architecting: “…where
the information architect recognizes gathering, organizing, and presenting information as tasks
analogous to those an architect faces in designing a building, as both ‘design spaces for human
beings to live, work, and play in’” (Resmini & Rosati, 2011, p. 34). A last and key point is that
Pervasive IA breaks from the domain of digital and information technology and extends into
all media: a pervasive information architecture can span natural / material objects, analogue
and digital media.
By definition then, the historical and theoretical frame of IA extends into a pre-digital time and
into categories on the periphery of Design. A frequent example of the authors is that the IA
employed in games is the structural concept of and for the game which thus allows the game
to transcend any fixed or individual material representation and experience of the game. Chess,
for example, may be played on a board, it’s pieces can take any form as long as the players both
have an agreed understanding of what each piece represents (the big black pebble is the king,
the box of matches is the queen and the pawns are individual matches), in a park where the
board and pieces could be at human scale, or online, etc.
18
Pervasive IA operates at the same level of abstraction as the field of Service Design although
the latter is acting slowly to integrate the former, arguably to its detriment. The cross-channel
agenda of Pervasive IA is exemplified in its heuristics (Resmini & Rosati, 2011, p. 55)
reproduced in Table 2.2 and models that it employs such as the Chu Cube (Resmini & Rosati,
2011, p. 203) (Fig. 2.5).
Intertwingled (Morville, 2014) and Arango’s Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital
Places (2018).
18
This analogy was previously made by Resmini (2014).
36
Table 2.2 Definitions of the Pervasive IA Heuristics
(Resmini & Rosati, 2011)
The Springer publication Reframing Information Architecture (Resmini, 2014), a part of their
Human-Computer Interaction Series, emerged from a workshop held at the IA Summit in 2013
named The Academics and Practitioners Roundtable the theme of which was entitled
Reframing IA,
19
in 2013 (reframe-ia.org, 2013).
19
Post 2013, roundtable topics have included teaching IA, developing a language of critique,
discussions of what could constitute an IA masterwork, articulating and debating the disciplinary
domain of IA, ethics and diversity and inclusion.
37
Figure 2.5 The Chu Cube (Resmini & Rosati, 2011)
The workshop series was aimed at addressing the lack of research and theory in the domain of
IA over the preceding decade. As its name implies, it also aimed to bridge the worlds of
academia and practice to stimulate advancement in the field. The book’s contribution, beyond
being a researched output in and of itself, marks a clear step forward in demanding a recognition
of the need to broaden the discussion regarding IA beyond the still mainstream LIS framing.
Information architecture in the mid 2010s is steadily growing into a channel-
or medium-specific multi-disciplinary framing, with contributions coming in
from architecture, urban planning, design and systems thinking, cognitive
38
science, new media, anthropology, that have been heavily reshaping the
practice: conversations about belling, websites, and hierarchies have been
replaced by conversations about sense-making, place-making, design,
architecture, cross-media, complexity, embodied cognition, and their
application to the architecture of information spaces as places we live in as
an increasingly larger part of our lives.
The narratives, frameworks, references, approaches and case-studies… [in
the book] all vastly exceed in scope and complexity whatever was in place in
the mid 1990s: all the same, this is still clearly information architecture,
concerned with “structuring information spaces”, orders, and meaning.
(Resmini, 2014, p. v)
Understanding Context: Environment, Language and Information Architecture (Hinton, 2014)
was the result of an effort by Hinton to establish an underlying theoretical explanation for what
information architecture is, from a sciences perspective. Its timing suggests a renewed
questioning of the science of IA, rather than assuming practice-led advances premised upon a
LIS IA specifically established for the WWW.
In short, Hinton finds his answers broadly within the theories of embodiment and environmental
psychology,
20
with a special interest in the works of James J. Gibson. He applies relevant theory
from these fields to IA, with an emphasis on Mainstream IA, but a net cast broadly enough to
include Pervasive IA and even organisational development. To date his work has not been
contested.
In general, Hinton’s enquiries are in step with others to be found in HCI’s turn to embodiment
(Rogers, 2012) and across the domain the Interaction Design as established by Paul Dourish’s
(2004) highly influential Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction,
amongst others.
In a potentially ironic turn, the science of embodiment situates human’s ontological reality
deeply within nature, as opposed to Descartes’s dualism, at a time of ever increasing
dephysicalisation into the digital (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019).
20
Another voice connecting these dots is that of Marsha Haverty (2017) (2016) who is not
foregrounded herein only because the relevant texts / presentations have not been formally published
or peer reviewed.
39
2.2.4 The Sense-Making Proposition
Although the field in the main likes to acknowledge IA to be a designerly pursuit, its primary
intellectual culture, as previously noted, lies far more in the sciences than the arts.
21
That IA is
frequently conducted in the context of design projects lends more to this acknowledgement than
the field’s conscious understanding of what IA means in any designerly sense, or what Design
means for that matter, in any theoretical sense. Figure 2.6 illustrates Mainstream IA as being
primarily conducted after a decision has been made designating some or other digital product
as a solution and in Prototyping. That is, it operates in an assumptive, product-led framework
in DT terms.
Figure 2.6 Mainstream IA in the DT process-method (Author)
The earliest and primary link between IA and Design lies in the work and writing of Richard
Saul Wurman (Resmini & Rosati, 2012) and what has become the field of Information Design.
When Wurman first employed the terminology architecture of information, it was in the
American Institute of Architects Journal (1975), he himself being a practicing architect,
mentored by Louis Kahn. Wurman was certainly being influenced by the impact information
was having on society in the 1980s and 1990s as is evident in his publication of books such as
Information Anxiety (Wurman, 1990). His interest and response can be understood as emerging
from and for Design and in particular, Information Design. This is clear in his development of
21
There is no question that Resmini and Rosati (2011, p. xv) consider Pervasive IA to be an act of
design. The focus of the book, unlike this dissertation, lies in developing the heuristics for its practice
rather than detailing the theoretical links between itself and Design.
40
information organization models such as LATCH (location, alphabet, time, category, hierarchy)
(1990) for providing clarity and ways of understanding information (Fig. 2.7).
Figure 2.7 Dogs organised using LATCH (Wurman, 2001)
Wurman, being something of a cult figure in the USA
22
and an immensely prolific producer of
design cannot be done justice here. Suffice to say, his contribution of a designerly conception
of IA in Design in general and to the field of Information Design in particular is unquestionable.
However, Wurman’s IA and Mainstream IA are far from being synonymous with one another.
Mainstream IA is oriented towards facilitating the effective use of digital products by ensuring
that they are intuitively understandable to users. Wurman’s conception of IA is both looser and
broader in its conception of and appreciation for understanding. For Wurman, his interest in
understanding relates directly to how, through design, the human condition may be elevated
through the understanding facilitated by the design of information.
22
Wurman also founded the TED Conferences.
41
Wurman’s relevance to Mainstream IA, in the context of this dissertation, lies in his background
as an architect and offering an IA approach firmly rooted in Design rather than the sciences.
Wurman’s IA fits well within Cross’s intellectual culture of design (2006, p. 2) and it requires
careful articulation to be understood as something different to sense-making in the sciences and
psychology.
In Wurman’s design, the object of design, both its purpose and being, lies not in the designed
object - the graphical image of different types of dogs in various categories as in Figure 2.7 -
but in the mind of the person observing the image. What is made is an idea comprehended: not
the semiotics of the representation of the dogs themselves, but a semantic meaning given to the
observer through a structural concept, a scheme or set of schemas, such as breed, size,
propensity to bite, etc. The comprehension of the given categorisation is generative of specific
meanings that may be projected onto the individual dogs within the respective categories. Thus,
all sorts of meanings can be made for all sorts of reasons.
Wurman didn’t invent these foundational mechanisms of meaning-making. In the broadest
sense of meaning-making, this is how all art operates as a language at a semantic mechanic
level. Given the general intellectual sophistication and maturity of the field of architecture and
architecture’s overlap with the fine, or high, arts, the meaning-making aspect of his work may
have been of far less interest to him than its sense-making function. He may also have desired
to differentiate his IA from traditional architecture precisely because he could see what very
few others did at the time: the growing amount, importance and general foregrounding of
information in the world.
In this sense, in Design, he was certainly a pioneer and a visionary. His omission from inclusion
in the early framings of Mainstream IA have tragically set the field back by roughly two decades
in developing a deeper understanding of the manner in which IA is designerly and this is only
being redressed now.
As things stand today, Mainstream IA, particularly in the USA, has settled on and dug in to
hold the position of custodians of the value of sense-making and has to a point, integrated
42
Wurman’s focus on understanding,
23
in a world of increasing information overload and
information technology complexity. In the author’s view, this sense-making proposition has
been carefully crafted so as not to sever ties with LIS IA while making room for a Wurmanesque
notion of understanding.
The following quotes from the website of the Information Architecture Institute,
24
(a non-profit
section 501c6 non-profit organization) serve as examples:
Our singular focus is to make the world's information clearer and easier to
use by improving how people learn, practice and teach information
architecture (IA Institute, 2017)
Information architecture is the practice of deciding how to arrange the parts
of something to be understandable (‘What is Information Architecture’ (IA
Institute, 2017)
A good IA helps people to understand their surroundings and find what
they’re looking for (‘What is Information Architecture’) (IA Institute, 2017)
As the last section of this review unfolds, recall the so-called lost IA, the designerly IA
discussed earlier. This was the IA concerned with synthetically resolving factors of context,
content and users through the design of information as hypertextual architectures. Recall too,
this form of IAs concern for the design of a whole, as an architectonic, and not just a sum of
parts constituted by programmatic, interaction, graphical and usability concerns.
2.3 Sense-Making and Meaning-Making
This section brings together the two preceding trains of thought regarding DT and IA. It first
addresses the manner in which IA methods and techniques extend synthetic reach as per
Kolko’s (2010; 2007a; 2007b) thinking. Secondly, the concepts of structural logic and semantic
23
Prior to its fourth edition, the book Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond was titled
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. In its latest edition a chapter is dedicated to Design
for Understanding (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015)
24
Commentary on the IAI dissolution can be found at jh-01.com/?p=374 (Hobbs, 2019)
43
formation are introduced to explain how IA makes concepts through acts of composition which
are generative of new meaning (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019). Thirdly, Mainstream IA as an applied
science from the field of LIS is reconsidered through an interpretivist lens. The latter
repositioning (Fenn & Hobbs, 2014) is enriched within, relating IA and Discursive Design
(Tharp & Tharp, 2019) with important implications for how IA may be considered as a form of
design in its own right.
2.3.1 Sense-making in Design Thinking
Kolko (2010) was previously noted for observing sense-making and abduction as the core
activities supporting synthesis during Ideation. His emphasis on synthesis lies in the need to
abductively interpret research data (2007b) for the purposes of developing problem / solution
conjectures (Dorst & Cross, 2001). Related issues in the context of wicked problems could
include resolving the paradoxes in beliefs held, conflicts and contradictions inherent in the
multiplicity of stakeholder views and the technical conceptual challenge of how to synthesise
large amounts of data of different types, qualitative and quantitative, from a variety of
disciplinary contexts (Kolko, 2012, p. 10).
Furthermore, he observes that tools for the synthetic interpretation of research data are visibly
absent in many traditional forms of design, such as Industrial Design, and that they could go a
long way to assisting students in navigating what he calls the muddy middle (Kolko, 2007b) of
design.
25
The connections that can be formed during this synthesis phase frequently
hold the "keys" to innovation; designers visually explore large quantities of
data in an effort to understand hidden relationships. These visualizations can
then be used to communicate to other members of a design team or to outside
disciplines, or can be used as platforms for the creation of generative sketching
or model making. Frequently, the action of diagramming is a form of
synthesis, and is a way to actively produce knowledge. (Kolko, 2007b)
25
After exhausting searching, it appears that this text is only available online on Kolko’s website, and
thus no page numbers are given for reference. See jonkolko.com/writingInfoArchAsSynthesis.php
44
Based on Kolko’s thinking, the act of making sense of atomised research data through how one
structures it and relates concepts so as to form a landscape within which an ill-defined problem
is given definition, is thus the aim of synthesis and may be described as an informed yet
subjective act of composition in the abstract (Fenn & Hobbs, 2014, p. 26).
It seems that for a time Kolko pursued an interest in appropriating certain IA techniques, not
for structuring information for digital product design, but rather for its application in the process
of synthesising research data in the early stages of ideation.
26
A handful of methods, some understood as IA techniques that have been appropriated for
synthesis and others which are clearly of the same nature although not associated with IA, exist.
Kolko (2007b) sites examples such as process flow diagrams, concept maps, conceptual design
models and card sorting. Affinity maps or affinity diagramming, also known as laddering, may
be thought of in the same vein as card-sorting (Fig. 2.8).
Figure 2.8 Card sorting in the design project (Author)
Kate Rutter (2010) described various techniques of this kind, some closer to tools of analysis
and some leaning more towards synthetic thinking. An example, which will re-appear later,
26
Kolko published various articles and books between 2007 and 2011 dealing with design synthesis,
information architecture, wicked problems and strategy design, not always together and amongst other
topics. See www.jonkolko.com for his bibliography.
45
from her text Pen & Paper Techniques for Getting from Research to Design: Workbook (2010,
p. 15) is a mandala which is pictured below (Fig. 2.9).
Figure 2.9 Mandala as a tool for synthesis (Rutter, 2010)
Such methods of externalised thinking can take various forms. For example, card sorting, which
is commonly associated with IA, because of the use of library cards in card sorting, or the
ubiquitous walls covered with post-it notes such that individual items of information or groups
of concepts can be easily placed and replaced from one grouping of ideas to another. Such
externalisations also allow for collaborative acts of synthesis.
Although it is not a broadly discussed aspect of IA, its thinking style and tools as we have seen,
are clearly related to synthesis in design and are useful for managing complexity in the abstract
using semi-structured forms of abstraction and synthetic cognition (Fenn & Hobbs, 2014, pp.
26-28). Further exploration of the manner in which synthesis occurs in IA is, however yet
available to us.
46
2.3.2 Structural Logic and Semantic Formations
In order to proceed, an explanation of the mechanics of what constitutes any information
architecture needs to be provided. The chosen interpretation is that of Hobbs and Fenn (2019),
originally articulated in the article The Design of Socially Sustainable Ontologies, from which
this research project as a whole derives its (theoretical) reason for being.
In the case of Mainstream IA, an information architecture may be a blueprint for the making of
a digital object, such as a website, where the modality of thinking can be described as synthetic
cognition (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 760). The individual (or team) doing this conceptualisation
needn’t self-identify with IA or even have heard of the term or field because the act is a way of
thinking in the abstract about abstract things where the aim is to make a digital object in the
end, and the means is figuring out how this should be done. That is, answering the question of
how content and functionality should exist in various HTML pages and how these pages should
relate and link to one another, be labelled, grouped and so forth. This act of structuring a form
in the abstract is analogous to what an architect will do when creating the blueprints and
schematics for a building, which will later be made in bricks and mortar.
Synthesising, when referred to here as synthetic cognition, means the bringing together of
various items of data, information and concepts where the act of bringing together or forming
may be likened to the conventional notion of abstraction. By necessity this occurs in the
abstract since the way these elements are fused is through their conceptual structuring, that is
the relating of one thing to another. In achieving a (synthetic) resolution, by way of completing
a new structure, a new concept is formed. In this discussion, a concept for a website. Synthesis
as a process of abstraction is therefore a conceptually generative act emerging from the way in
which information is structured.
To illustrate the point, a sitemap (Fig. 2.10) being a tool employed by IAs in conceptualising
websites is provided by way of example.
27
Information architectures provide structural logics
(Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 761) made visible in diagrammatic forms such as sitemaps. Benyon
27
Although more contemporary examples of tools used in IA exist, a sitemap is given as an example
specifically for the purposes of including Mainstream IA / LIS IA in this reframing.
47
(2014) uses the term ontology,
28
to describe IA as providing, through such expressions as
sitemaps, a …conceptual model of a domain described in terms of objects (or entities), their
relationships and their structure…[where an] information architect analyses some domain (a
sphere of activity, or activity space) and decides on the objects of interest and the relationships
between those objects.” (2014, p. 49).
Figure 2.10 A sitemap deconstructed as an ontological composition
(Author)
Applying Benyon’s description to the mapping of content, the information architecture, for a
website in Figure 2.10, may be explained as follows (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 749): The boxes
(i.) represent either individual or grouped (categorised) objects or entities as web pages or
sections in a website; these are labelled (ii.) to capture and communicate what objects, entities
or groupings are represented by the boxes; and lastly these boxes are related (iii.) through the
lines which connect them to one another. The composition created by combining these aspects
of a description of a domain, a website, bring forth its structure as an ontological description of
what is planned to be made. The sitemap communicates an intention of what should be built
into a website.
28
Ontology as a term is applied in relation to another core concept in IA in this text, contrived
ontology (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019), which will be introduced shortly and thus the term structural logic
assists in providing a distinction.
48
The process involved in determining what data and information should be included in the first
place will be discussed in the next chapter as it forms the basis for the conceptual framework
in which this research project will operate. Suffice to say at this point, that what is included,
excluded or added is a matter of initial problem framing and reframing which is directly related
to notions of complexity and indeterminacy in Design.
Where the process of developing a structural logic ends, after moving, removing or adding new
data or information, marks a commitment to a specific form which is referred to as a semantic
formation (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 761).
The semantic formation is differentiated from its content, being both the structure of the content
and the content that has been structured, because the structural logic gains a totality or holism
that is greater than its sum of parts, the structural logic, in the taking of a specific form being
the semantic formation (ibid). The chosen form, as opposed to a default form or any other
possible form, adds a last part not included in the sum. Thus, it transcends itself to become a
whole where, in its gestalt, its meaning lies. This may also be expressed as the fact or evidence
of a synthetic resolution having been arrived at, whether successful or not.
The point here is more than semantics or relabelling. In taking a specific form, a concept or an
idea is made for what will become a product of design through the definition of boundaries and
internal, relational structures and is thus made concrete, or as concrete as anything can be, in
abstraction. This moment of settling on a first form is in effect an ontological commitment
towards the thing which is intended to be brought into the world (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 763).
A new concept is thus made by being given an ontological status, equivalent to other concepts,
such as dog, in the mind. In one’s mind, a dog exists as an idea abstracted from the world.
Following Wurman, creating categories for dogs becomes categories of dogs.
Sematic formations, being structural and semantic, are also transportable across the
imagination, media and environments. In the case of a sitemap, the concept is transportable into
the interface of a website where it presents itself, amongst many other factors, as navigation:
the text and pictures you can click on to move from one page to another, as illustrated in Figure
2.11.
49
Figure 2.11 Transportability and coding with semantic formations
(Author)
HOME PRODUCTS ABOUT US
PRODUCT 1
PRODUCT 2
ABOUT US
CONTACT US
HOME
PRODUCT 1
PRODUCT 2
CONTACT US
PRODUCTS
ABOUT US
50
Equally, and a major advantage of differentiating the structural logical from the semantic
formation, is that the structural logic can be used in part, in full or in principle beyond a
particular and singular design product and across multiple contexts and time, as is the
fundamental reasoning in Pervasive IA.
It may be useful to provide an example unrelated to the domain of digital design, the WWW or
even Design itself. The Christian concept of God is a more explicit and poetic example of how
meaning can be structurally formed or made as a concept. In reference to Figure 2.12, The Holy
Trinity could be deconstructed as follows: the parts are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit;
the sum is a structural logic, being the Holy Trinity; and the semantic formation, and gestalt, is
God. Part of the poetry of this formation lies in noting that God was not allowed to be visually
represented, visually or in textual form, in most cases during the medieval period and up until
the Renaissance.
29
Thus, the Holy Trinity defines a negative space in which the representation
of the idea of God may exist without any representation at all.
30
Figure 2.12 Deconstruction of the Holy Trinity (Author)
29
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trinity_in_art
30
From an atheist’s perspective, this is nothing less than a masterwork of design.
51
To deeply appreciate this thinking in action, even using such a bygone tool for synthetic
cognition as a sitemap, try to recall clicking here and there to different pages in a very large
website with large amounts of content. Now, consider that you are actually moving through a
sitemap: not the two-dimensional (site) map of boxes connected by lines represented in a
blueprint, but rather a concept manifested in the three-dimensional space of the Web, which
while you are clicking and moving through the website, is experienced as it becoming in your
mind.
The only theoretical account of synthetic resolution in Mainstream IA, to the authors
knowledge, is to be inferred from the Context-Content-Users model (Fig. 2.13) described in
Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015, p. 32). The authors
never explicitly describe the act of making in IA as a synthetic one or as oriented towards a
synthetic resolution, but it is suggested in their choice to use a Venn diagram to describe their
notion. The model is positioned as an approach to the domains which require being understood
and known about through research, in order to develop an informed information architecture.
The reasoning which underscores the choice of context, content and users, as domains, is that
of library and information science.
Figure 2.13 The Context-Content-Users Model reconsidered
(Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, pp. 760-761) (Author)
52
In Figure 2.13, the three white circles of context, content and users represent Rosenfeld, et al.’s
(2015, p. 32) original model. Context refers to the commissioning agent of the piece of work.
In commercial terms this would include understanding business requirements by way of
example. User’s refers to those people who will ultimately become end users of the digital
object to be designed. Keeping with the example, this could take the form of researching and
discovering who the users will be, customers perhaps, where and how they use existing or
similar products and their needs, pain points and so on. Content includes both textual contents,
any forms of media supported by the medium and functionality that either currently exists, is
new and required by the Context, or new and required by Users.
The use of a Venn diagram indicates that, where the circles overlap in the centre of the diagram
(i.), a synthesis occurs which is resolved in the making of an information architecture. As a
conceptualisation and plan for bringing something artificial into the world, the information
architecture is, in the broadest sense, a design. The information architecture itself is designed
based on research data collected about context, content and users. This act could only ever be
a synthetic one in the logic of research or design. The emergent object takes the form of a
semantic formation which is emergent from the structural logic. Additionally, the synthetic
resolution of information abstracted from the world, as a semantic formation, is made concrete
in the act of information architecting.
31
The elements added to the original model (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 761) (i. and ii., designated
in colour) in Figure 2.13 serve to communicate the essence of why a theoretical reframing of
IA, from an applied science to an act of Design, is necessary. While context suggests a rather
broad scope, it is in fact just a framing of the endeavour through the lens of the commissioning
agent (Rosenfeld, et al., 2015, p. 32). It is necessary then, in DT terms, to make explicit that the
needs and objectives of the commissioning agents, as well as content and users, exist against
the backdrop of a social reality (ii.) with multiple stakeholders and not just shareholders.
In design terms, the synthetic resolution of problems identified through research occurs by
information architecting a solution, the semantic formation, which provides a concept in the
31
This rethinking of Mainstream IA / LIS IA, the use of the venn diagram to make the points and the
matters of synthetic resolution (i.) and social reality (ii.) are all derived from the text The Design of
Socially Sustainable Ontologies (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, pp. 760-761).
53
form of a blueprint, intended for the world, through being brought to life in the form of a digital
design, such as a website.
2.3.3 Meaning-Making in Design and IA
Semantic formations are subjectively formed even when user or human-centred methods are
employed (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 761). They may be validated by more objective research
efforts which precede their creation in design but should not be assumed therefore to be
democratic in any sense. While human-centred design methods suggest a democratisation of
efforts through co-designing or including stakeholders as participants in the design process,
ultimately, design decisions which lead up to the creation of a semantic formation, tacitly or
explicitly, require being led towards resolution. In some cases, this could be an individual
designer, or a design team, positions included from research, the client or a mix of all. The key
take-away from this is less one of identifying who is doing the design but the benefit to be
gained from the explicit articulation of a semantic formation because this is when an ontological
commitment is made towards something intended for the world.
Many people with a background or interest in the Arts and Humanity’s would likely have felt
hairs stand up on the backs of their necks in the earlier conversation of identifying, including
and excluding, categorising and labelling objects and entities. Hopefully most South Africans
would want to show concern. In Sorting Things Out, Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Star (2000)
dedicate an entire chapter to a description of the ways in which race-classification was
employed by the apartheid government of South Africa.
32
It is precisely for these important reasons that IA, as a field in general, expands beyond an
applied science towards being understood as a form of, if not Design, then at least designing.
Which is to argue that descriptions such as IA being both a science and an art (Rosenfeld, et
al., 2015, p. 24) do not go far enough. Although many differing schools of thought and practice
exist in Design, it’s principal concern with introducing the artificial into the world so as to
32
Chapter 6. The Case of Race Classification and Reclassification under Apartheid in Sorting Things
Out Classification and Its Consequences (Bowker & Star, 2000, pp. 195-225).
54
mediate reality fundamentally includes discourse (and practice) relating to constructionist
accounts of reality and meaning-making. When sense-making is decoupled from meaning-
making there is no call for accountability, which we know is not the case, as the example of
apartheid South Africa testifies to. The danger speaks equally to its significance, especially as
digital, internet-based technologies grow ever more pervasive in our physical and material
realities (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, pp. 762-763).
The view herein, is that sense-making operates inseparably from meaning-making, as two sides
of the same coin (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, p. 761). For the same reasons identified by Hinton
(2014), it seems problematic to separate the two concepts: the embodied experience is an
omnipresent dialogue which one’s cognition is not separate to but a part of. For the meaning to
be understood it has to acknowledge (social) context interpreted through sense-making. The
theory of embodiment as it relates to IA, takes IA to the door of a constructivist worldview but
not through it. The critical link between socially constructed reality and meaning, and in turn,
meaning and its socio-cultural semantic architecture (Hobbs & Fenn, 2019, pp. 763-765) is
reduced in mainstream thinking to the practice of IA being, at best, a loose, application of the
theory of LIS.
33
That some dogs are pedigree, and some are not, through a categorical designation, and that we
may consider pedigree and non-pedigree dogs differently is not a mere matter of genetics, truth,
or individual, subjective interpretation. The respective meanings of pedigree and not pedigree
are entirely interwoven with our societies and their cultures and thus, pedigree dogs cost more.
34
Contrived-Ontology
Discursive Design (DD) is positioned as a field within Design where the meaning behind or
within a designed artefact is given primacy over the design artefact itself:
33
This is colloquially referred to as satisficing in the language of usability and UX practice which
clearly highlights its cultural awkwardness when considered next to Design.
34
This argument is derived from Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of Habitus (1977) and is expanded upon in
Chapter 4.
55
“...discursive designs are seen to intentionally and primarily act as particular
communicators—calculated carriers and deliberate embodiments of systems
of thought or knowledge. Discourse is not merely a consequence or possibility
of an object’s existence—something that a discursive design shares with all
artifacts. Instead, discourse is why it exists. (Tharp & Tharp, 2019, p. 77).
As the term discourse suggests, the object of design, being both its aim and its materiality, is to
engage in a conversation about some subject matter through the form of the artefact. Tharp &
Tharp note:
If discursive design is a tool for conveying ideas – with the artefact serving as a
means to that end – it follows that designers should be very concerned with the
qualities of their messages at least as much as the objects themselves (Tharp &
Tharp, 2019, p. 166)
This approach appears to take the ideas which drive the semantic turn (Krippendorff, 2006) at
its word however while HCD orientates the meaning-making of design artefacts outside of the
artefacts themselves, DD places the meaning-making inside the artefact. In HCD, the value of
the artefact is determined in relation to answering real human needs needs over wants over
desires where the form and life of the artefact operates through contexts of use, be they
physical / environmental, social, political, psychological, etc (Hassenzahl, 2010). In HCD, a
meaning – such as Pedigree or God – is not required per se, to exist within the object beyond
concerns for the object’s ability to fulfil its purpose in answering an external need in context.
In other words, the meaning is derived from the instrumental act of use. In HCD, the object’s
meaning lies closer to Norman’s (2013) notion of a conceptual model where what is
communicated by the object, through the design of affordances and other semiotic mechanisms,
is how to use the artefact, which has implicit value assigned by the user in relation to the (user’s)
needs that it answers.
As noted, in Discursive Design the internal meaning of the artefact is an end itself. The
artefact’s reason for being is its meaning, where its value lies in relation to the meaning’s
meaning as engaged with by users. Amongst other good reasons, Tharp and Tharp (2019)
introduce a new set of terms and concepts to address these challenges of description.
Message-content (Tharp & Tharp, 2019, p. 166) is introduced to refer to the discussion of some
aspect of a subject-matter or topic to be communicated through an artefact. What subjects,
topics and communication methods may be addressed or used is not prescribed in any way in
56
DD. A discourse is “…understood as a system of thought and knowledge,” (Tharp & Tharp,
2019, p. 168) which, so framed, gains form through its relationship to other voices and
discourses in the world. This background to an object’s message-content is referred to as the
meta-discourse (Tharp & Tharp, 2019, p. 169). Thus, the content of a message is directed
towards eliciting a response from the user which could vary from reflection on the topic, all the
way through to mass action.
35
Although the content is not prescribed it is understood as more than just saying something. The
content presents a point of view on a topic or subject, an argument or a consideration, which is
why it is referred to as a discourse and not mere content. As a system of thought and knowledge
in relation to others, such content may be multi-layered and multi-dimensional in its
composition and thus it requires crafting. Not crafting through the artefact but the crafting of
the composition of the content. This may be unfamiliar to some designers given designs visual
rather than literary or textual leaning. Writers, of any kind, find their art and craft not in the
story alone but in how the story is told, its composition. Tharpe and Tharpe provide a more
specific analysis through the concept of message-form (2019, p. 169) for which they identify
ten types: analysis, description, classification, definition, comparison, analogy, narration,
process, and cause and effect (Tharp & Tharp, 2019, pp. 171-181).
An aspect of the application of message-forms is to explore the message-content through the
different lenses of the form types, to play with the structure or organisation of content (Tharp
& Tharp, 2019, p. 169), such that arriving at a particular message-form, is a considered act. The
content becomes designed by taking a form. The message-content is then fused, within, an
artefact through the chosen manner in which the message-form is structured as the artefact. In
other words, the artefact – and media, material and so forth – takes its cue from the message-
form and ultimately, one could say, becomes the artefact. Thus, the designer “…compos[es]
objects to convey ideas” (Tharp & Tharp, 2019, p. 170).
Tharpe and Tharpe also note that an individual artefact can be comprised of multiple message-
forms and the final design object or work of design may be comprised of more than one artefact
where, the work “…leverage[s] elements of the semantic environment that all contribute to a
meaningful communication event” (Tharp & Tharp, 2019, p. 170)
35
In principle. This is the view of the author.
57
The manner in which DD identifies three design acts - the design of content, a form for this
content and a resultant artifact - contributing to a whole object, bears a striking resemblance to
the description of IA by Hobbs and Fenn (2019, p. 276). Indeed, an information architect could
be heard saying these exact words by Tharp and Tharp: “This structuring and shaping of
information is as important as the shaping of the artefacts themselves” (Tharp & Tharp, 2019,
p. 169).
This likeness is illu