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Tomorrow’s Architects: The Wednesday Keynote

Peter Morville

Peter Morville


Tomorrow's Architects

Peter Morville, President, Semantic Studios and Author, Planning for Everything: The Design of Paths and Goals, presented the Wednesday keynote. He began with a photo of Harpers Ferry, WV and recounted the story of John Brown. Morville had a dream and wanted to organize information so people can find what they need. He wrote an O’Reilly book (with a polar bear on the cover) on information architecture.

Information Architecture

He also evaluated the web presence of the Library of Congress (LC) and compared it to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose that was under construction for 38 years and had no blueprint, so it is a findability nightmare. His report to LC was deemed too sensitive to disseminate widely. A governance board was formed to improve the website. It is necessary to engage culture and anticipate cultural resistance to change. We are drawn to information architecture in the same way that John Brown was drawn to Harpers Ferry. Our job is to create environments for understanding; to do it well we must get better at research.

The 2016 election showed the extent to which many people have lost track of the truth. Our society has fractured into a Tower of Babel where there is no understanding. Morville began to question his career as an information architect and experienced disorientation, fear, and anger.  He wrote his book about designs, paths, and goals. We need to plan or die; planning is the crowning achievement of human cognition. The people who act and plan concurrently are those who succeed. Planning is a skill, and all of us can get better. We are planning all the time. Our brains use stored memories to constantly make predictions about everything we hear, feel, and see.

There are two different kinds of emotion. Twinges of emotion affect our plans. Planning is about finding meaning and purpose in our lives. It is a design of paths and goals; there are many good ways to plan, and we need to find a balance that plays to our strengths.

Need for Planning

There is an opportunity to engage in strategic design: find the what and why, not just the how.  We hope we are nearing the end of an era of moving fast and breaking things. We need to make planning more social, tangible, agile, and reflective and involve people early and often. We must plan for change because disruption is inevitable and affects everything. Keep in mind that planning is nonlinear.

  • Framing: how we understand and explain our plans. Fear doesn’t stop you; your unwillingness to feel fear does. See The Art of Fear, by Kristen Ulmer. The healthy way to respond to fear is with curiosity.
  • Imagining: Expanding our awareness of paths and possibilities. Hope = willpower + waypower. Options let us be stupid.
  • Narrowing: Evaluation and filtering of paths and options. Drivers help us eliminate options.
  • Deciding: committing to and communicating a belief, path, and goal. Doing things backwards can help us learn.
  • Executing: a dance of listening, learning, and leading. The biggest mistake is to think that planning is done.  One way to improve the odds is to involve different kinds of people. We must include people who think and plan differently.
  • Reflecting: insight by intent. Reflection changes direction. What bad habits have you picked up in your decision making? Bad experiences alter the way the brain organizes information and leave us less able to identify cause and effect, grasp the long term effects of actions, or create coherent plans for the future. We must change the cultures of our organizations and society; start by telling the truth. We need a new story that is honest about the consequences of our actions on others, and we need a vision of the future.

The question of how to deal with inequality and injustice is still with us; we are all free to design our paths. Many of us are in the position to make a difference in our communities. The library lifts us up and empowers individuals and communities. We have never needed libraries more than we do now. We are all tomorrow’s architects.

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