We get to spend our days working with generally awesome people across the wonderful worlds of technology, product management, user experience, digital design, project management, analytics and insight, marketing, change and transformation and leadership.
And we love exploring what makes these folks tick. So we launched FFS, or Futureheads Five Stories, where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell, to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they’ve learnt along the way.
And we couldn’t resist the acronym.
This week we sat down with Information Architect Peter Morville.
What’s the story of your career so far?
I graduated from college in 1991 with a degree in English Literature, and no plan for a career, so I lived with my parents, took a job from hell (abstracting and indexing), and searched for my future. On evenings and weekends, I taught myself the C programming language and explored the early “bulletin board systems” of America Online, Prodigy, and Compuserve. One Sunday afternoon, I was browsing the shelves of our public library, when I stumbled upon a dusty, old book about careers in library science. It occurred to me the principles of organizing physical documents might be useful in making sense of the messy, fast-growing digital worlds of computers and networks.
This insight led me to library school at the University of Michigan where I fell in love with the Internet. Upon graduation, I worked with Lou Rosenfeld to grow Argus Associates from a hobby into a 40 person consulting firm. We were on a mission to organize information so people could find what they need. There wasn’t a name for this work, so we called it “information architecture” and wrote the “polar bear book” to spread the word. Unfortunately, we got a bit carried away with growth, and in 2001 in the wake of the dotcom crash, we were forced to close our business.
After a few months of mourning and soul-searching, I decided to try being an independent writer, speaker, and consultant, so I founded Semantic Studios, and 17 years later, I have no regrets.
What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?
In my twenties, I was afraid of failure. That year after college with no life was painful. I felt lost and left behind. Fear drove me to work hard. It helped me to succeed, but it wasn’t fun. I might advise myself to relax, be happy, be adventurous, celebrate being young and free. But I doubt he’d listen.
What do you love most about what you do?
All these years later, I still love organizing information so people can find what they need and understand what they’ve found. I am passionate about serving as an advocate for the end user.
What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?
Ethics. We are seeing the damage caused by a “move fast and break things” culture, and we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place. That’s why I wrote Planning for Everything and engaged folks in exploring How to Plan for Design (and Why). Planning opens the door to change and invites us to consider the consequences of our actions on others. There’s never been a more important time to do so.
If you’d like to hear more from Peter – or even acquire a copy of his new book – you will be able to find him at UX London, where he will be running a workshop on planning for strategic design. He’ll also be on our stand signing copies of his new book Planning for Everything. See you there!
A little bit about Peter
Peter is a pioneer of information architecture and user experience. He is best known as an author of the “polar bear book” on information architecture. Peter has been helping people to plan since 1994. Clients include AT&T, eBay, Harvard, IBM, the Library of Congress, Microsoft, and the National Cancer Institute. His new book Planning for Everything is about the design of paths and goals. Peter lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Knowsy.
Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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