Information Anxiety2: A Guidebook for the Information Age. | 2 | WebReference

Information Anxiety2: A Guidebook for the Information Age. | 2


Information Anxiety2: A Guidebook for the Information Age

The book is full of observations and solutions like the one above. Other chapters of the book include an enjoyable chapter on interpersonal communication – now you can finally understand why your boss behaves that way – integrated messaging, answering questions, finding things, instructions, empowerment, and seeing instructions in the context of work. A number of chapters are devoted to the fine art of conversation, which, in Wurman's eyes, is rapidly becoming a lost art.

Wurman takes these chapters and extends the content beyond the obvious. Can you have a conversation with an inanimate object? Wurman argues this is possible and holds the Volkswagen up as an example of an object that "talks" to you:

"Ever buy a Volkswagen? You feel comfortable, almost like someone is right there helping you use the car. Lexus and Jaguar are known for certain things, but each component seems like it was designed by someone different, so learning to use each system requires figuring out a new set of buttons and icons – like trying to speak five languages at the same party. With a Volkswagen, the dials, door locks, glove box, and seats were made using the same logic: making the vehicle a cohesive package with a distinct personality."

This book is bound to have wide appeal, and I estimate that each reader will bring away different critical key points. Web designers, marketing staff, usability professionals, and content writers are all bound to find immediate value and application in Wurman's material. Although some of his statements read like a basic usability manual - "Good instructions are like surrogate fingers that lead us, direct our attention, clarify, stress with repetition, and refer us to additional information" - Wurman doesn't stop there. Instead of simply proselytizing, he lists specific examples of each attribute, drawing in everything from traffic lights in Quebec to navigating the freeways of Los Angeles.

Perhaps most surprising, however, is the fact that Wurman is an architect by education and trade, well-respected in his profession and who has earned a number of awards for his work. This, more than anything, proves that the concepts that Wurman outlines in his book are universal, and apply to everything from marketing brochures to Web sites to consumer products.

The book itself has an interesting layout. In the margins of each page, there are quotes from a wide variety of sources that support the main arguments of the text, or at least make the reader stop to think. There are small articles interspersed throughout the text as well. I found these articles somewhat distracting while I was reading, but easy enough to manage. Regardless, the articles, written by respected information designers, offer plenty of food for thought. Wurman writes that he chose this format in an effort to allow the book to speak to the reader in many different voices; a goal that I feel he succeeded in meeting.

I have told many of my colleagues about this book and plan on passing my copy around the office. This book is thought provoking, insightful, and practical, and I estimate that readers will continue to gather nuggets of wisdom each time they reopen the book. Bear in mind that Wurman does not speak directly to any particular medium, and you'll soon see many ways that you can apply his philosophies to your own work.

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Laurie Gray began her professional career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, and in 1998, made a successful career switch to Web Development. She worked for a dot-com in Research Triangle Park, NC and her position there evolved into User Centered Design. She is now a Senior Usability Specialist with ( HumanCentric Technologies, Inc. ), a human factors and usability engineering services company. Since she has been with HumanCentric, she has had the opportunity to work with clients like IBM and Nortel on projects that encompassed wireless communications and Web evaluation and development. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, a Web analyst for Red Hat, and her two children. She can be reached at


Created: February 12, 2001
Revised: March 2, 2001