information architecture · user experience

boxes and arrows (10 ways that packing up a house is like doing information architecture)

This Way Up

So, what exactly is it about packing and moving that is so entirely horrendous?

I’ve said to many people in the past week that it’s an exercise in ongoing under-estimation. Underestimating how much, how long, how expensive, how heavy, how tired.

It’s got a lot in common with working on an enormous project with not enough time and not enough budget, and the media booked for launch.

(This is why I’ve started encouraging my clients to work in increments now. I’m starting to think all enormous projects are doomed – not to mention rarely profitable… but that’s a whole other post).

I’m looking forward to only have two suitcases worth of gear. Must try to keep it to that for as long as possible. It will be good to not have possessions for a while!

I’ve noticed a few interesting behaviours in the last week of organising ‘stuff’ (see, packing up a house has a lot in common with information architecture… and I get to be the architect and the user at the same time! I am my own usability test!)

Some of these may be abundantly obvious, but I’m tired enough to find it interesting.

  1. It’s much easier to be diligent at the beginning of the exercise than it is at the end.
  2. This is because it’s natural to leave the trickiest things to last.
  3. Things are tricky when they don’t have a natural place. They don’t fit neatly into a box, or they’re hard to wrap, or no one wants to take them off your hand. They end up in a pile in the corner of the loungeroom. You enter the room with hand on hip, stare at the weird little pile, and sigh. Then walk out again.
  4. You will always argue over what can be thrown out and what cannot. The person with the best rationale wins. Except if the item was originally a present. (Although, I’m not sure how the present fits in the the IA metaphor… any ideas? While you’re thinking about it, read what Christopher Fahey has to say about throwing things out and web redesign.)
  5. Throughout the process you will group things together in different ways. Sometime because they are similar types of items. Sometimes because you will need to get to them at similar times, sometimes just because they’re the same shape or share a fragile nature. It doesn’t really matter. If there was a rational reason for the grouping, you’ll remember it and be able to refind the item quickly.
  6. You never group things logically at the end of the packing process. You throw things together randomly. This is when you lose things.
  7. Once you start throwing things together randomly, the entire system breaks down. Even those things that are grouped logically suffer because you lose faith in your system.
  8. The number of ‘special places’ you have to put important items is inversely proportional to the ‘specialness’ (read: useful/memorableness) of those special places.
  9. The only time you go through this process is when you move. There are some possessions you *only* see when you move house. You still don’t throw them out.
  10. The longer the time between moves, the more hellish the packing process.

We’re very close to hopping on a plane and heading off on our big adventure now, so posts might be a bit sporadic and possibly off topic for the next couple weeks. Promise I’ll brew up a few great posts for my return… (from a lounge chair in the shade on a beautiful Thai beach! Now that’s blogging!)

Image Credit: io2 @ Flickr

Whacky title explanation: Boxes & Arrows, a regular read for people who do stuff like me for a living. So, when I saw this picture on my blog I couldn’t resist. :)

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6 thoughts on “boxes and arrows (10 ways that packing up a house is like doing information architecture)

  1. About three weeks ago we moved our household for the second time in 18 months. A process of eliminating all but the essentials preceded each move. Funny how there were more non-essentials at the second move due no doubt to many possessions falling victim to the “I don’t want to move that again” judgment. After arriving at our latest destination and unpacking, our neighbors have made comments as to how clean and empty our garage is while theirs are crammed full of stuff. For the first time in my life I have more storage space then I have things to put in it. A situation not likely to last long. Have fun and good luck!

  2. I think I have a potential IA for the “present” metaphor – that thing that the CEO wants you to add?

    Not quite the same, but… mebbe?

    Ah, well. Good luck with the packing. It always sucks.

  3. While moving can be a royal pain in the a55 I also think that it can be a wonderful experience. Specifically, assuming you are doing the work yourself, it forces you to carefully consider each and every item you own. You have the opportunity to revisit, relive, and rethink all of your belongings. Also, it gives you a chance to get rid of junk and trash, or otherwise undesirable stuff. Less is more, right? ;-)

  4. Item 4, presents, are like contractual obligations. Sometimes you are pretty solid in your decision about what to include or not and a stakeholder comes in and says you have to put that thingy on the navigation (or that brick-a-brack in your cofee table), because the partner contract (ie wedding, birthday, etc) forced you to have it. You’re stuck.

    On the overall moving situation, try moving to another country. It’s a wonderful exercise in letting go. It’s like creating a site with bandwidth restrictions – everything must load in less than 3 seconds, even 1000K images. Which may sound back, but allows you to get rid of the brick-a-bracks you’ve hated for years…

    Best solution for that problem

  5. hey Livia, I love your presents analogy, it’s spot on :)

    As it happens, we did move to another country (Australia -> England)… we ended up getting off the plane with about 40kg of luggage each and we’ve been trying very hard not to accumulate ‘stuff’ ever since.

    It is a great exercise in understanding how little you *actually* need to get by quite happily, and how the freedom of ‘stuff’ also frees you from a kind of residual stress. I like it.

  6. I did Brazil > US two years ago by myself and landed here with 5 suitcases. When I finally installed myself I realized I could have gotten rid of more stuff even (I actually wished I had only brought two small suitcases). It was a great lesson; it was my first big move having lived in the same place since I was 5! Now I’m looking around and I can’t believe how much stuff I accumulated again. Eeesh!

    One big problem with moving is calling it a “move”, it sets an expectation that the work is actually porting things from A to B, when in fact the real exercise is rethinking how you live in a different context. It’s like making your site available for mobile, you don’t just make things WAP-ready, you need to see if it makes any sense to have all of your site available in a telephone. Sooo many parallels…

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