Creating the perfect Information Architecture workspace

A former fellow student at my alma mater, the University of York, is Dr. Mark Batey. Mark moderates a couple of great groups on LinkedIn. If dip in and out of these as a lurker. Though Mark and I both started out on the BSc. Psychology course, I would not consider myself of sufficient academic weight to contribute meaningfully to the specific conversations that take place in the forums. That said, I do pay particularly close attention to any posts about the working environment and creativity.

I consider myself a creative information architect. I certainly don’t shy away from the more procedural and mundane information science elements of the role but I get up in the morning to do stuff that is creative, not simply organisational. What this means in practise is that I sketch more than I Visio. I write my own placeholder copy (in the full and frank knowledge that others will write it better). I over-style my wireframes and fret too much about typefaces, imagery and visual design.

Consequently I am looking forward to our impending office move at Dare. We have an opportunity to create a space more specifically designed around creating good IA. But what would this space look like? What does needs-analysis tell us about this space. Applying the same principles we would to a digital experience, we want [tongue a little in cheek] to develop an exceptional environment for creating exceptional experiences. To this end, I requested advice from the good people at the IxDA forum.

The thoughts of the IxDA community might be summarised as follows:

On (Clear) Desks
Such a policy is person-dependent (some are tidy, some not) but consideration might be given to the ‘unfinished’ nature of the thinking process. Do we leave our work in a state to instantly return to? Does getting your stuff back out of a file/folder/drawer really make that process more ‘final’? Clearly, some thinkers Alice TwemlowMassimo Vignelli for example, put great value onthe desk as a workspace.

On Stimulants
Books, articles, design magazines and inspirational visuals (i.e. print outs of pages/experiences we have loved) all seem like naturally good things to be surrounded by. My personal copies of Dan Brown and Luke Wroblewski’s books are in arm’s reach an very well thumbed. Jakob’s books tend to fill the spaces nowadays and Visio ‘bibles’ are used to prop-up my screen. It’s easy to default to online sources when a good flick through a reference book can work wonders.

On Separation
A few people assume that team collaboration can only be effective with proximal seating. I am not convinced that the team that sits together necessarily works together or the team that sits apart works independently. On myFry  I worked three floors away from the tech and creative team yet the end result was a consequence of regular collaborative working. The desire to achieve this method of collaboration has a huge part to play in overcoming the physical separation.

On a related theme, enclosures and cubicles are torn down and open desks that facilitate eye-to-eye contact remind us of being human. I loved Pauric’s thoughts around have a window to gaze out of, to dissociate and disconnect for a while.

I remember an article in Monocle (April 2010 Vol. 4 Issue 32) which mentioned Studioilse who had two spaces – a thinking space and a doing space. The concept really appeals to me.

On Noise
People need noisy and quiet places. Often the tendency is to up the music and create a fun atmosphere but I see plenty of people retreating to headphone-mode to escape the communal music. Equally I see people slinking off to work in silence… IT is task dependent. Churning through a templated wireframe in visio or  some repetitive/mindless task and music increases the working rhythm. Need to sink into deep concentrated thought, space and silence may be your friend.

On Vertical Space
Walls tend to be bigger than desks. Anyone who has been to Leah Buley’s excellent Good Design Faster workshop will see the instant benefit of vertical space for sharing and discussing ideas. Thinking, literally, on our feet is stimulating by virtue of its novelty factor. Think of the fast-paced radio shows that are presented by people standing or the scrum/huddle approach to energetic short catchups. Vertical spaces are key for projections too – projecting an interface and then scribbling on it might be a worthwhile activity.

On Things
PostIts (duh), brown paper (c.f. Leah Buley), drafting dots/masking tape, highlighters, sharpies, whiteboard film

On Asking
At the risk of being asked for a “faster horse”, there was the sensible suggestion of practising our craft by actually asking our users (us) what we need to be able to do and to develop the experiences and spaces to support those. Direct questions about the type of desk, chair or screen rig will get subjective responses a standard deviation or two from where we are today. I want to encourage a bit of left-brain thinking.

Other themes
Stephen Kochan
on LinkedIn mentioned the Göran Ekvall work on the 10 Creative Dimensions which had me running to my Organisational Psychology books to refresh my memory (grouped around ResourcesMotivationExploration). Worth looking into those studies if you have time.

As you can imagine, there are a gazillion links to good material on creating creative workspaces. I loved (thanks again Pauric) “The Brilliance of Creative Chaos” by Clive James in the BBC Magazine.

Right, I think it’s time to watch that infamous IDEO video again … just get trying stuff and ask for forgiveness later.

John (this article is still being edited and cross-referenced)

IxDA Member thanks
Sam Menter,  Matthew Nish-LapidusSean GeretyPauric O’Callaghan


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