Lakoff’s Women, Fire & Dangerous Things – What every IA should know

Mar 2006: Information architecture summit 2006. Vancouver, Canada.

George Lakoff’s book ‘Women, Fire and Dangerous Things’ is a fundamental work on categorization theory, explaining categorization from a linguistic and cognitive perspective. Many IA’s (myself included) have had a paradigm shifting moment on reading it.

But it is 583 pages long, weighs 2lbs, and is a very, very hard read. Let’s take a short cut – let me do the hard work.

In this presentation, I’ll examine the fundamentals of Lakoff’s theories and those scholars from which his theories draw. I’ll explain prototype theory and basic level categories and will discuss classical categorisation theory and how it fails to describe the real world we live in.

More importantly, I’ll discuss how these relate to everyday IA – particularly how we can use basic level categories and prototype theory to create more intuitive structures. I’ll even explain how folksonomies/tagging are a natural outcome of the failure of classical categorisation theory.

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