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Information Architecture meets the Philosophy of Information

Published on
30 Jun 2016
Written by
Private: Dr Patrick Allo and David Peter Simon

On June 27 the Ethics and Philosophy of Information Cluster at the OII hosted a workshop to foster a dialogue between the discipline of Information Architecture (IA) and the Philosophy of Information (PI), and advance the practical and theoretical basis for how we conceptualise and shape the infosphere.

Core topics of concern included how we develop better principles to understand design practices and the absence of general principles or foundations. The latter surfaces in IA in relation to heuristics and the on-going conversation towards a language of critique, and in PI where we interrogate the question of what a logic of design might be, i.e. how we develop and adopt the right level of abstraction.

Throughout the workshop, two themes emerged:

  1. The need for more integrated ways to reason about and describe (a) informational artefacts and infrastructures, (b) the design-processes that lead to their creation, and (c) the requirements to which they should conform. This suggests a convergence between the things we build (informational artefacts) and the conceptual apparatus we rely on (the levels of abstraction we adopt), which surfaces in IA as well as in PI. At the same time, it also calls for novel frameworks and linguistic abstractions. This need to reframe the ways that we observe informational phenomena could be discerned in several contributions to the workshop. It surfaced in the more theoretically oriented contributions of Dan Klyn, Andrea Resmini, Andrew Hinton, and Jason Hobbs & Terence Fenn that for instance questioned the role of language or described frameworks to direct our thinking about designs and problems within their broader context, but also played a role in the practical challenges described by Vicky Buser and Konstantin Weiss.

  2. The gap, and resulting need to negotiate, between human and computer-oriented conceptual frameworks that are used to describe and manipulate reality. Whereas this theme was explicitly brought up in Luke Church’s comparison of how end-user programming, machine-learning and interactive visualisation each address this problem, it quickly leads us back to some of the broader concerns in IA. It is, straightforwardly, an instance of how computer-oriented frameworks start to shape infrastructures that are means to be manipulated by humans (i.e. when technical requirements dictate the shape of the user-interface), but it indirectly also hints at the challenges associated with the design of cross-channel interactions and of understanding how information flows between different levels of abstraction.

A final concern that cuts across these two themes deserves to be mentioned as well, namely the absence of general principles or foundations. The latter surfaces both in IA in relation to heuristics and the need for a language for critique, and in PI where the question of what a logic of design (how do we develop and adopt the right level of abstraction) may be has come into focus.

This workshop was organised by David Peter Simon, Luciano Floridi and Patrick Allo, and was part of the “Logics of Visualisation” project.

Workshop participants (©DPS)