IA and its changing general dynamics


milan   Mathew Milan – The Information Architect and the Fighter Pilot

If you click the image to the left you will go to a response to the presentation by Mathew Milan, that contains the presentation slides with audio and numerous comments from readers beneath it.

From my point of view this was the most thought provoking of the presentations because it touches on elements of my design education, that of reflective practice. But it is really important because of the ramifications of Milan’s observations, and the ensuing discussions



I commented on the post:

….The fighter pilot story was an excellent way to re-frame how we think of ourselves as design practitioners. The OODA model (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) is very similar to the reflective practice model talked about by Cal Swann.

He said that ‘The design process is iterative. It can only be effective if it is a constant process of revisiting the problem, re-analysing it and synthesizing revised solutions’

In effect it is a PAOR model – Plan, Act, Observe and Reflect. Its the reflection part that is important (perhaps the differentiator to Boyd’s) that feeds into the next cycle. In reflection we evaluate and prepare to synthesise our next move.

What we also need to remember is our ability to garner tools, techniques or tricks from experience. In the fighter pilot’s situation that may be through training or combat, in our experience it is through many different types of work.

Then we gain tacit knowledge , the ability to intuitively know when something is right and looks good. That is what defines great designers (or fighter pilots, sports stars, dancers etc).

Designing for emergent systems relies on tacit knowledge and no process or methodology will give you that.


It was a wordy comment to make I admit. But a presentation like this is meant to inspire and start discussions and Milan has a knack of conveying complex concepts in an easy to understand way.

The upshot is, we need to be able to adapt, those that do will survive. He states that we need to embrace the Chi (the unexpected or unorthodox) and the Cheng (the expected, orthodox idea).


Deconstruct to reconstruct

We need to synthesise our ideas faster, use our solutions appropriately. To construct effectively we need to deconstruct, break down to build up. Milan suggests we are too fixated with structure, we work to ‘permanent grids’, we are bad at ‘unstructure’.

This element harks back to Jared Spool’s presentation. How we become entrenched in methodology without the ability to move onto using techniques that perform well in emergent situations.

Milan states that we are only half a discipline. He didn’t really explain this in the presentation but he does in this post.  He states that our interaction design qualities are addressed easily (wireframes, flows etc) with visible elements. Knowledge management areas such as taxonomies and metadata are also a well-documented.

However his concern is the ‘deep IA’, the value of what we do beneath the deliverables.


What is the value of ‘deep IA’?

Well maybe the answer lies in the arts of persuasion, understanding user paths and designing with empathy of context. Emerging and adaptive systems are chaotic and unpredictable, but so is any design process.

There are always mental leaps that occur that can not be rationalised or explained. But we must embrace these relationships, that may be tacit and intangible, this is what we must be able to do effectively – use tools that bridge these chaotic unknowns.

I personally think the tool to do this effectively is the concept model. Its versatility to show various problems and relationships, its freedom and ability to show complex layers, make it a core tool to help exhibit fundamental elements of ‘deep IA’.

A fascinating talk that will help define a new direction, it was the meat between the bread of Spool’s keynote and Hinton’s closing plenary.

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