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Shapes and ladders — the art of abstraction and meaning making
Language and sense-making are fundamental to the success of design projects. They’re also the super-powers of an IA. Much of design relies on us making sense of ideas and situations for which it’s impossible to collect sense data. Design asks us to create new ideas. Innovation sees us combine ideas in ways to bring about something new. Making sense of all this ‘new stuff’ requires creativity, intention and effort in language and sense-making as well as the creativity for the ideas themselves. Without focus and effort in the sense-making it’s harder to share and shape the ideas collaboratively. You can do this through sketching, wireframes and prototypes — which are forms of abstraction in themselves — but you also often need language.

Hayakawa talked about a ‘ladder of abstraction’. The top of the ladder, up in the blue sky and clouds, is the most abstract. As you get closer to the bottom of the ladder, resting on the solid ground, you get more concrete. He used the example of a cow. At the bottom is an actual cow. We step up the ladder to the perception of the cow — in other words, the “experience” of the cow. Then further up the ladder we get to to a label that stands for the specific, perceived cow — in this case “Bessie”. Above the label of “Bessie” we have the word “cow” which is a more generic label. The language above this is even more general, “livestock”, “farm asset”, “asset” and “wealth”. At the top of the ladder are big, wibbly-wobbly, often metaphorical concepts that can be hard to grasp — you step down the ladder for the more concrete and specific.
abstraction  teamwork  communication  informationarchitecture  sharedlanguage  meaningmaking  dan_ramsden 
7 weeks ago by oddhack

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