Design the Future
January 19–20, 2016: Training
January 20–22, 2016: Conference
San Francisco, CA

Give a hoot! Mapping (and caring for) the semantic environment

Jorge Arango (Futuredraft)
2:05pm Friday, 01/22/2016
The new fundamentals
Location: The Chapel
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 6 ratings)

Prerequisite knowledge

The presentation is targeted at UX designers, product managers, and anyone else responsible for defining digital products and services. Experience at workshop facilitation is a plus.


Before an architect designs a building, she must first understand the environment it will be designed for: the plot size and shape, location, the conditions of the ground, exposure to the elements, access to essentials like water and sewage lines, traffic patterns, and more. Only after she’s carefully measured and analyzed the place can she propose a meaningful and practical intervention.

Experience designers must also understand the environment we will be designing for. However, ours is not a physical environment but one made of signs: instead of earth, vegetation, roads, and neighboring buildings, we deal with words, ideas, rules, roles, and relationships. Ours are semantic environments, and just like architects, we must thoroughly understand them before we start proposing designs that change them.

Jorge Arango introduces the concept of the semantic environment as it has been developed in the field of general semantics and teaches a workshop technique for mapping the various semantic environments that affect your project. Jorge argues that one of the designer’s responsibilities is to avoid polluting these environments (“Give a hoot!”) and shows you specific ways in which you can do this.

You will learn:

  • What the semantic environment is, and why it’s important to your projects
  • How to avoid polluting the semantic environment
  • How to create a map of your project’s various semantic environments
  • How that map can inform the design of a cross-channel information architecture
Photo of Jorge Arango

Jorge Arango


Jorge Arango is an information architect with 20 years of experience designing digital products and services. He’s a partner in Futuredraft, the experience design consultancy that solves complex problems using co-creation throughout the design process. He is one of the co-authors of “Information Architecture for the Web and Beyond” the fourth edition of O’Reilly’s celebrated “polar bear” book. Jorge has also served the global UX community as president and director of the Information Architecture Institute.