What is naming science?

Up until about 8 months ago, I always used to describe myself as a taxonomist and an information architect. Something I was (and still am) incredibly product to call myself. The problem is, nobody knows what the f*ck they are. The minute I say I’m a taxonomist there is only one thing people think.

Yup, you guessed it, taxidermy. Please note, I don’t own that winged thing, I saw it in Paris and naturally had to take a photo of it.

I digress.

The point I want to make is that as someone who is an expert in naming, classifying and building navigable solutions to problems, I decided to practice what I preach.

What that means in practice is showing people rather than telling them what I can do.

Just because you’re a rocket scientist, doesn’t mean anyone else is

This is one of the principles about Jargon that I talk about. It applies to what I do though. If you start spouting academic, clinical, legalese or just up your own arse b*llocks about what you do, you’ll lose people.

You’ve all experience this, when someone starts talking in a language you just don’t understand. You first start to feel confused, and then anxious, but ultimately you’ll switch off.

This was one of the very first things I learned when I started my career, not in IA, but in tech support. If you want to give someone a fighting chance they won’t break something you’ve just fixed, explain to them what you’re doing to fix it, in a way they understand.

Navigation is no different. If you want someone to navigate easily, make it easy for them.

Do you want it to be open to interpretation?

Have you ever seen an argument on social media where someone takes offence at something, and someone else says they interpreted it incorrectly? If something is open to interpretation it’s going to get interpreted, and that leaves you with a problem.

Taxonomy is something that gets interpreted widely, even by those of us who are practitioners in it.

For example, is taxonomy a site map? is it a naming convention? is it something that we all have to pay?

If you’ve got a word that is impossible to understand without Googling it or open to interpretation how on earth do we get people to understand it let alone adopt it?

I’ll hum it, you name it

Naming things is not the easiest thing in the world. Names have and give meaning to things. They help us to navigate the world around us and the world inside us.

When it comes to all things digital, naming things makes it possible for us to find and navigate websites, services, applications and more. Getting it right, in some instances, can be the difference between life and death.

Today I gave a lightning talk, and I wanted to add a slide I’ve been thinking about for the last few weeks. Leveraging the design language created by the brilliant Brad Frost, Atomic design. I’m not going to paraphrase him, but I have found being able to talk about the component parts of taxonomy in a way that’s simple to understand is SO helpful.

Atomic taxonomy

Atomic taxonomy uses Brad’s principles and represents the three basic elements of taxonomy. A page is represented as an atom, a section is represented as a molecule and metadata is represented as an organism.

Visual representation of atom, molecule and organism as it relates to naming science

Simple, yet elegant (or at least I think so).

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