ASIS&T IA Summit 2003 "Making Connections"  
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"A Spirit of Simplicity": What Information Architects Can Learn from the Arts and Crafts Movement
Sunday, 11:45 - 12:30
Session Three


Michael Magoolaghan
"A Spirit of Simplicity": What Information Architects Can Learn from the Arts and Crafts Movement
Michael Magoolaghan, Senior Information Management Specialist, The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

This presentation attempts to make connections between the design principles and ideals of participants in the Arts & Crafts movement at the turn of the 20th century and the design guidelines endorsed by some of the leading proponents of information architecture and web usability today, including Rosenfeld & Morville, Jacob Nielson, Stephen Krug and others. Drawing on quotations and illustrations--of designs for books, houses, furniture, pottery and jewelry--from such major motivators of the Arts & Crafts movement as William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley and Elbert Hubbard, the central portion of the presentation highlights key areas of overlap with the theories and concerns of today's IA and usability theorists, including:

* An emphasis on balancing utility and consistency with visual appeal--i.e., the harmonization of form and function
* An emphasis on the simplicity of good design
* A conception of the composition process as consisting of "exercises in progressive order"
* Resistance to automation/industrialization and technology-for-technology's sake
* "Site-specificity," or the Wrightian attempt to work with the given nature of the building site
* An emphasis on craftsmanship and the long-view over quick fixes and cheap materials

The presentation closes by pointing out several other, possibly more provocative points of connection between Arts & Craft and contemporary IA practices and discusses the implications of these shared principles and ideals for the future development of IA. Two of the more transformative ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement, for example, are its emphasis on achieving "joy in work" and its ultimately political push--with strong utopian and communal overtones--to make the world a more habitable and harmonious place through its coordinated design program. It is interesting to speculate on how these motivating principles dovetail with current directions in IA.

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