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Women, fire and dangerous things: What every IA should know

5d79f73bf83f3675bbc6dbbcb3b1ba81?s=47 Donna Spencer
September 30, 2006

Women, fire and dangerous things: What every IA should know

George Lakoff’s book ’Women, Fire and Dangerous Things’ is a fundamental work on categorization theory, explaining categorization from a linguistic and cognitive perspective. Many IA’s (myself included) have had a paradigm shifting moment on reading it.

But it is 583 pages long, weighs a kilo, and is a very, very hard read. Let’s take a short cut - let me do the hard work.

In this presentation, I’ll examine the fundamentals of Lakoff’s theories and those scholars from which his theories draw. I’ll explain prototype theory and basic level categories and will discuss classical categorisation theory and how it fails to describe the real world we live in.

More importantly, I’ll discuss how these relate to everyday IA - particularly how we can use basic level categories and prototype theory to create more intuitive structures. I’ll even explain how folksonomies/tagging are a natural outcome of the failure of classical categorisation theory.

5d79f73bf83f3675bbc6dbbcb3b1ba81?s=128

Donna Spencer

September 30, 2006
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Transcript

  1. Women, fire & dangerous things: What every IA should know

    Donna Maurer – Maadmob Interaction Design
  2. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things About me

    • Freelance information architect/interaction designer  I design structures & interfaces for complex informational & interactive systems  6+ years professional experience, as an innie, an outie & a freelancer  Designed loads of business applications, websites, intranets • Practice, teach and write about IA and IxD • Chair for next year's IA Summit • Writing a book about card sorting - due Jan 2007 • IAI board member
  3. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things About the

    book • About categorisation and cognition • It offers a challenge and alternatives to the classical theory of categorisation • Understanding categorisation is fundamental to information architecture work • Can be paradigm shifting “Stop! The! World! For! A! Moment!” (http://shelter.nu/blog-102.html)
  4. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Why is

    it important The idea of a category is central... Most symbols (i.e., words & representations) do not designate particular things or individuals in the world... Most of our words & concepts designate categories. There is nothing more basic than categorization to our though, perception, action & speech. Every time we see something as a kind of thing, for example, a tree, we are categorizing
  5. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Classical categorisation

    theory • The classical view of a category:  an abstract container with things either inside or outside  clear boundaries  defined by common properties of the members  items are in the same category if and only if they have certain properties in common  independent of who is doing the categorising  no member of a category has any special status  all levels of a hierarchy are important and equivalent
  6. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things

  7. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Let’s play

    family feud
  8. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Basic-level categories

  9. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Basic level

    categories Categories are not merely organized in a hierarchy from the most general to the most specific, but are also organised so that the categories that are most cognitively basic are "in the middle" of a general-to- specific hierarchy. Generalisation proceeds upward from the basic level and specialization proceeds down
  10. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things What’s this?

  11. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Example The

    picture can't be displayed.
  12. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Basic-level categories

    • A basic level category is in the middle of a hierarchy • Learned earliest • Usually has a short name in frequent use • People are fast at identifying category members • A single mental image can reflect the category • No definitive basic level for a hierarchy • Dependent on the person who is thinking • Most of our knowledge is organised around basic level categories
  13. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Prototype effects

  14. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Prototype effects

    • Categories have best, or prototypical examples, with some members of the category being more representative than other members • If the classical theory were true, no member of a category would have any special status
  15. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Prototype effects

  16. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Other challenges

    to classical categorisation theory
  17. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Other challenges

    • Family resemblance  Category members may be related to one another without all having properties in common (game) • Graded categories  Degrees of membership and no clear boundaries • Idealised cognitive models  Complex structures that need a frame of reference  Weekend  Bachelor  Lie
  18. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Other challenges

    • Cluster models  Mother - birth model, genetic model, marital model, genealogical model • Radial categories  Mother is also an example of a radial category • Ideals - many categories are understood in terms of abstract ideal cases, which may not be typical or stereotypical  The ideal husband  Successful marriages
  19. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Women, fire

    & dangerous things • From the Dyirbal language  Bayi  Men, kangaroos, possums, bats, most snakes, most fishes, some birds, most insects, moon, storms, rainbows, boomerangs, some spears  Balan  Women, bandicoots, dogs, platypus, echidna, some snakes, some fishes, most birds, scorpions, crickets, hairy mary grub, water or fire, sun, stars, shields, some spears, some trees  Balam  Edible fruit and plants that bear them, tubers, ferns, honey, cigarettes, wine, cake  Bala  Parts of the body, meat, bees, wind, yamsticks, some spears, most trees, mud, stones, noises, language
  20. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things So what?

  21. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things One of

    the reasons why the classical theory of categorization is becoming more, rather than less, popular, is that it is built into the foundations of mathematics and into much of our current computer software. Since mathematical and computer models are being used more and more as intellectual tools in the cognitive sciences, it is not surprising that there is considerable pressure to keep the traditional theory of classification at all costs. It fits the available intellectual tools, and abandoning it would require the development of new intellectual tools. And retooling is no more popular in the academy than in industry.
  22. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Classical theory

    is pervasive • Enterprise IA  Content management systems based on strict hierarchies  Enterprise taxonomy projects • Business analysis  Defining business process & roles  Trying to force people into a model  Defining categories to fit data into computers • Information architects  Endless discussions about ‘what is IA’  IA can be tough!
  23. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Implications for

    IA – Basic level • Analyse user research data to identify basic-level  Basic level names are short and frequently used • Use basic-level categories as trigger words  Basic level items are easily recognised, and have good scent. • Card sort with basic level items rather than more granular content elements • In navigation, get people to the basic level of the hierarchy as soon as possible • Test navigation items for basic-level characteristics
  24. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Implications for

    IA – Basic level
  25. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Implications for

    IA • Recognise the failures of classical theory  you'll be less stressed about why categorisation is not neat • 'Miscellaneous' / 'everything else' categories are cognitively real, just not easy to use as navigation • Approximations in categorisation are OK • Use prototypical items when communicating - they represent a category well • For discussion – does some of this explain the popularity of tagging’?
  26. OZIA 2006 Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things Questions &

    thanks • http://maadmob.net/ • 0409-778-693 • donna@maadmob.net