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Thursday 12|13|01
The Decline of the Access Guides

I received a forwarded email today which included the latest essay from the Red Rock Eaters mailing list.

Phil Agre, an associate professor in Information Studies at UCLA, takes a long hard look at the latest version of the San Francisco Access Guide and laments the degradation of information design and the watered down interpretation of Richard Saul Wurman's original vision of the product.

He talks about Wurman's original implementation and it's signalling announcement of the new field of Information Architecture/Design and describes it as

"Information design starts from the user:
the inherent structure of a given body of information, the concrete process of using it, the questions a user is likely to have at each step along the way, the detailed properties of human perception and cognition, and the mappings between the structure of information and the structure of its physical embodiment that can make the answers to a user's questions perceptually and cognitively available at the moment when they are needed."

The essay is a good read and does a nice job of comparing in very specific ways, the faults or inadequacies of the new design to the original design. What is not known is whether Wurman was involved in any way - his name still sits on the guides - and what the new problems to be solved were by the new set of designers.

A brief history of modernism and modernist theories are also touched upon as well to give the design decisions some context.

This brings up a good topic - how do a new set of designers, brought in to redesign something highly successful - design a successful product? Many designers want to make their mark. Not everyone agrees that a particular solution is the right one - even if it was done by Richard Saul Wurman. How do you do an update to something that really only needs new content, yet the client may ask for a new design as well. Do you throw everything out and start over from scratch - often stumbling into the problems that had already been solved in a successful way but not understanding the reasons for the original solution because you were not part of the original team so different decisions are made to be different than the previous model? Are the problems different 20 years later? Do you just make minor changes to the existing design and run the risk of diluting the intent or the connections and then have to continually be compared to the original because the changes haven't been super radical?

I feel for the new set of designers - living up the the reputation and skills of the original team is a hard act to follow. Agre takes them to task for not learning from their predecessors - as they say - those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat their mistakes.

Posted by erin at 10:47 AM | in Information Architecture

Comments

I'd call Joshua Davis and kioken and ask them to do it in Flash!

Posted by Jim Jones at December 14, 2001 06:36 AM
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