Illustrate Me for March

March’s Illustrate Me is by Liz Danzico, the multi-talented interaction designer, writer, editor and information architect who is partly responsible for, among other things Boxes and Arrows and AIGA Voice, serves as a senior development editor at Rosenfeld Media, and on the advisory board for The Information Architecture Institute. Whew. To say that she’s prolific is an understatement; there are about a dozen other significant things on her résumé that I don’t have room to mention here, but somehow she made time to produce a really wonderful, whimsical interpretation of three of my posts for last month. Go see it right now on the March 2007 archive page.

Extra Credit

This is exactly how much energy Liz has: on top of her countless other sideline projects, she actually produced two illustrations for this month’s archives. The first one can be seen on the archive page. The second is a riff on a diagrammatic convention she used in graduate school, she says, and is also something of a delight.

Right top: Clay time is over. Liz Danzico’s Illustrate Me. See it at full-size on the March 2007 archive page.. Below: Liz’s alternate illustration.
Illustrate Me for March by Liz Danzico
Illustrate Me for March by Liz Danzico

I only had room for one, of course. But as a good friend of hers, I know that it’s exactly like her to over-deliver; she’s the only one of the many generous Illustrate Me volunteers who produced two fully-fleshed, separate concepts for consideration. She’s recently left her day job at an Internet start-up to strike out on her own as a freelance information architect; if you have a product that demands top-shelf I.A. work, look no further.

Out of the Past

Conceived on a Train

Before we get to Liz’s interview, in other Illustrate Me news I am reshaping the past: I’m still working on a catch-up illustration for last January’s archives… it’s proven really hard to illustrate for oneself, I’ve discovered. I’m working on it.

More productively, I’ve also gone back and replaced the artificially squashed version of Paul Oslo Davis’s fantastic piece for the January 2006 archives with its natural height original. Paul was kind enough to take part in the first round of Illustrate Me, when I imposed a last-minute and ill-advised height limitation on all the illustrations which left him little choice but to just vertically compress his drawing in Photoshop. Well, I’ve since lifted that restriction, so it only seemed fair to post the original artwork in its true glory… go see it now on the January 2006 archive page.

Paul has also recently published a charming book called “Conceived on a Tram: A Book of Cartoons, Illustrations and Graphic Stories Done in Melbourne” that’s a fantastic tour of some of Victoria, Australia’s brightest drawing talent. It’s a two-color book full of vibrant, energetic and conspicuously unself-conscious drawings that makes you want to doodle like mad. Get yourself a copy, even if it means paying international shipping.

Questions for Liz Danzico

Khoi Vinh

What was your inspiration for this month’s Illustrate Me?

Liz Danzico

You had this demanding travel schedule last month; I have a long history as an information architect. So I started with the idea of a map or a diagram. I originally set out to show the geographic relationship between the posts — from London to Austin to New York. After choosing the medium though, I simplified the map idea to a single biplane, which is, as everyone knows, the universal symbol of travel.


There’s been some talk about picture-making — comics, in particular — as a tool for communicating information architecture ideas. What do you think of that?


It’s high time we came up with different ways of expressing I.A. ideas, so I’m a huge fan of the approach. I’ve seen a number of different approaches — some successful, some not so much. Back in 1999, for example, I was on an I.A. team that created a kind of I.A. puzzle set. The goal was to get away from the detail of the page-level, and focus on the I.A. as a system by creating architectures out of large puzzle-like modules. But what was missing was the story. Comics, in particular, are a great way of communicating that story.

At the I.A. Summit in March, Kevin Cheng, presented a workshop on using comics to communicate a product’s vision. Kevin also, incidentally, created the clay biplane in my sketch.

After seeing Jason and Rob’s presentation at South by Southwest Interactive this year, I was excited to get away from the computer to create this Illustrate Me. And I think whether you choose to use comics or other pictorial diagrams, sketching stories is an approach that forces you to get away from the computer to tell the story. As we get farther away from the traditional page metaphor, effective storytelling will be a requirement rather than an option.


What’s the most narratively visual thing you’ve done as an I.A. recently? Do you communicate in that mode often enough to keep your ideas fresh?


Most of the narratives I do support I.A. ideas I’m pitching, so any visualizing activities happen before “traditional” I.A. work begins. To tell these stories, I often use Keynote because it’s fast, cheap, and good looking. Last week, for example, I used it to build an historical narrative of moments in design history, and how those moments suggest tipping points for adoption. It was a great medium because I could tell the story visually, it was quick to build, and I could give the audience a print version when we were done. Easy!

Recently, I’ve been integrating our design process with an existing agile development process, which includes something literally called “+