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Organizing Information Is Finite

By Nancy Duarte

One of my favorite books in my library is Information Anxiety 2 written by Richard Saul Wurman. Richard not only founded TED but also hosts another intriguing conference called eg hosted in Monterey, CA in early December.  In an era of exploding information, Mr. Wurman brings clarity and process to information design.

He introduces the acronym LATCH which are represent ways to categorize information that are applicable to almost any endeavor.

Richard Wurman's acronym LATCH which stands for Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Hierarchy

The acronym is a framework upon which most information can be organized. To illustrate his point, Mr. Wurman applied the LATCH system to man’s best friend.

Applying the acronym Latch to man's best friend. There is a chart of various types of dogs.

The book states,

“while information may be infinite, the ways of structuring it are not. And once you have a place in shich the information can be plugged, it becomes that much more useful. Your choice will be different understanding of the information-within each are many variations. However, recognizing that the main choices are limited makes the process less intimidating.”

I wanted to show the LATCH system in action here in the office. Looking around, it wasn’t hard to find something to sort.

Duarte conference room with snow globes on display on shelves

When Duarte employees travel, they pick up snow globes. We decided to test the theory using our ever-expanding collection.

L = Location

Here we sorted snow globes from California to New York

Location: 9 Snow globes sorted from California to New York

A = Alphabet

Here we sorted snow globes alphabetically.

Alphabet: 9 Snow globes sorted by alphabet

T = Time

This one was tougher for me because we didn’t record when the snow globes were acquired so we sorted them instead by the evaporation levels of the water in the globes.

Time: 5 Snow globes sorted by evaporation levels

C = Category

Categorization could have been done a few ways. We could have pulled all the non-snow globes (many countries don’t produce snow globes). Instead we sorted them by shape:

Category: 9 Snow globes sorted by shape

H = Hierarchy

To show hierarchy, these snow globes were sorted by height.

Hierarchy: 8 snow globes sorted by height

Whatever problem you are trying to solve can be illuminated by puling yourself out of the situation. Can you see it by changing scale? Can you look at the problem from a different vantage point? How can you divide it into smaller pieces? How can you arrange and rearrange these pieces to shed new light on the problem?

“Each vantage point, each mode of organization will create a new structure. And each new structure will enable you to see a different meaning, acting as a new method of classification from which the whole can be grasped and understood.”

Try to always look at life AND information from new vantage points!

Topics Covered

Design, story

Written by

Nancy Duarte

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