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Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich? and Other Taxonomy Questions

About the Talk

March 24, 2018 11:00 AM

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL

"In this talk I use a recent internet/Twitter meme as a starting point to discuss how taxonomic thinking is used in information architecture/content strategy.

Deciding how to organize concepts/terms in a taxonomy requires an Aristotelian/Platonic level of thinking -- in order to answer the question ""is a hot dog a sandwich?"" it's first necessary to define ""sandwich"" (and ""hot dog"" for that matter) and decide -- in Linnean terms -- whether the categories are congruent. This pseudo-objective methodology is a useful window into how taxonomists think -- but also demonstrates the ambiguities and challenges combining design-, IA-, and taxonomy-thinking vis-a-vis content and IA strategies.

The first part of the talk will, somewhat lightheartedly, discuss the arguments pro and con hot dog vis-a-vis their sandwich-ness and describe different ways of attacking the problem (and provide my definitive, Official Taxonomist's Answer).

However, in the real world -- and as pertains to information architecture -- this is not enough; context (and content) plays a role beyond speculating about the nature of sandwiches. Referencing Foucault (but not too much), I will discuss how categorization changes based on context. What would lead us to place ""hot dogs"" under ""sandwiches"" as a category (or not)? What are you designing? Who is your audience? What will the vocabulary structure be used for? -- Navigation? Ontological-style inferential reasoning? A restaurant menu? Sometimes these questions are not apparent until the act of taxonomic design.

The overarching goal is to place strategies for taxonomic thinking in the context of design thinking and help IAs think deeply about the role of taxonomies (and other vocabulary structures) in IA projects."

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