Book Reviews Design

Organizing Information Is Finite

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.

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.

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.

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

A = Alphabet

Here we sorted snow globes alphabetically.

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.

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:

H = Hierarchy

To show hierarchy, these snow globes were 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!

Nancy Duarte

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  • Nice post. Information Anxiety was probably the first design book that really got to me – old but still pulled down from my shelf every now and then. Thanks for these useful, fun, and lovely examples!

  • Really helpful post. A new title for me to explore and a practical way to approach organizing information.

    Keep creating…a story worth repeating,
    Mike

  • Lertad

    I think that since the human brain thinks and interprets information in patterns, categorizing information in groups in a system such as LATCH really gives a refreshing feeling. This looks like a very useful tool to begin interpreting information in different ways. Thanks a lot!

    I’m curious, do you also find Tufte’s work inspirating? (http://snipurl.com/3i3jr)

    Also, is that a real reflection on a surface, or is it photoshop? 😀

  • doug

    Author and metathinker Nathan Shedroff decided to one up his mentor Wurman by claiming information was organized in *seven* ways, not merely five (http://www.nathan.com/thoughts/unified/6.html): alphabets, locations, time, continuum, numbers, categories, and randomness. (Shedroff kept L, A, T, C, but expanded on H with ‘continuum,’ ‘numbers,’ and ‘randomness.’) One might argue that continuum actually *is* hierarchy, since he says that a continuum measures a value scale, or the relativity of value X to value Y.

    Where Shedroff’s taxonomy kind of breaks down for me is in 1) numbers and 2) randomness. ‘Numbers’ seems hierarchical, even categorical, but does it really need its own space in the taxonomy? And ‘randomness’? Really? That seems like a copout to me; why not add ‘miscellaneous’ to Wurman and get it over with.

  • as the photographer, i can tell you those reflections are 100% real. although the photoshop gurus in our office would make quick work of it if it weren’t. :o)

  • I am in the middle of writing a new presentation. I’ll have a chance to practice it. Thanks for the ideas!

  • Awesome stuff. Thanks a lot for posting this. Can’t believe I didn’t visit this blog earlier. You guys have some amazing stuff going on here! Keep up the good work.

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  • Yousuf Ali Nalakath

    Happened to read the book, Information Anxiety 2 during my research on Information visualization. I must say, its a gem!

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