Message from a Ghost Information Architect

Noriyo Asano


A story that I wrote on Medium in April, 2014.

This is an open letter to Peter Morville, in response to his plenary talk at IA Summit 2014.

Dear Peter,

Thank you so much for your totally awesome talk. Just like the Lemur Book*1, it is an unusual journey into the emerging reality, a roadmap to our future, and a manifesto for us to get to grips with what we think / what we do.

These days I call myself a Ghost IA. As I don’t want to bother myself with the Big/Little IA hoopla any more, and you know I do less and less public appearance. It’s pretty comfortable, however, to stay silent as a ghost and just keep working on what I can confidently regard as information architecture.

That title might sound kidding, but I came to feel it’s not a bad one. Because, a ghost is essentially a “soul or spirit” (even though of a dead person or animal). I believe, as an IA, that we need it both at first and at last. Any theory, methodology or practice would not do real good without such soul or spirit (I got tempted to call it “philosophy” —— but I stop here for now).

It was really an invigorating moment when I got here in your talk:

You’re not alone. Really. Nobody understands information architecture. We don’t even know what it is. And that’s okay. That’s why we’re here.Peter Morville’s Closing Plenary at IA Summit 2014

Absolutely. Coming full circle, I’ve also come to see it. We can never define information architecture as a kind of permanent, that is fixed, point of reference. We cannot help but keep on reframing it through good conversation then sharing it with folks and stakeholders, both online and offline.

And then, I can’t help recapping about your pants 😉

  1. There will always be people who don’t like it when you change.
  2. Clothes are cultural artifacts, visible symbols of our invisible values and assumptions.
  3. Clothing is a medium of communication.

The point is that we need our clothes for others rather than for ourselves. So it might be better not to use our titles like shields. Nor like weapons. Our title will truly work only when it helps people to understand us by articulating our professional wardrobe.

Your talk went further, and I picked up a lot of seeds for thought that I treasure, but I’ll just keep them within my harvesting box until I read your new book*2 that I guess you should be bringing them up more luxuriantly.

As you told at the end, we’re in the midst of an in-between stage of liminality. In The Clock Of The Long Now, Stewart Brand wrote, “Culture’s vast slow-motion dance keeps century and millennium time.” Indeed, it will never be easy to change culture.

That said, I’m really delighted to see you say, “It won’t be fast, but a little change can add up” and Stewart says, “Culture is the work of whole peoples.”

And even if I will stay as a ghost IA, I hope to exist as a boundary spanner, a bridge builder or someone like that somehow, for connecting the dots for us and them.


Again, thank you for always sharing your wonderful thoughts with us.

All the best,
Noriyo in Tokyo