Practice What You Preach: Manipulating First Place

In my previous post, “Creative Literary and Pragmatic Lists”, I indicated that one creative component of a pragmatic list is the selection of a category to sit in first place.  When I added the essay to my “Directory of Postings,” I realized my first place was “Arrangement Structures > Alphabetical Order.”

Of all arrangement structures, alphabetical order is certainly the most boring.  In addition, there are people, some in the information industry, who hate alphabetical order.  They feel it has no meaning, which of course is its beauty.  But do I really want my first category to be something that is both boring and controversial?

So I need to put a category in front of “Alphabetical Order,” which is not so easy.  My Directory is hierarchical with categories alphabetized.  If I keep “Arrangement Structures” as the first major category, I need a structure that appears earlier in the alphabet than “Al.”  There ain’t one.  The alphabet is alpha.  The word is based on the Greek word for “A.”  It’s supposed to be first, which is one way it keeps its primacy.

The next idea places a different major category into first place.  It has to fit in the alphabet before “Arrangement Structures.”  My second major category is “Arrangement Theory.”  I need a word for theory that begins with a letter before “S.”  That word is “Principles.”

My first category is now “Arrangement Principles > Categories.”  Not controversial, but not very sexy either.  So I look at the first few categories of arrangement principles:


I could find a synonym for categories, but “Findability” is not very sexy either.  The sexiest is “Persuasive Strategies,” a phrase I use often so I can’t change it.  Then I realize all I have to do is put “Arrangement” in front of a category and my problem is solved.

Unfortunately, “Arrangement Persuasive Strategies” is awkward and changes a phrase I use often.  “Findability,” “Information Architecture,” and “Knowledge Development” also awkward, plus lots of people work in those areas.  I want to feature something where I am the primary practitioner.

That brings us to “Parameters” and “Perspective.”  “Arrangement” fits nicely in front of both.  But “Parameters” is a little amorphous.  I use it to represent the sometimes odd characteristics that must be considered in an arrangement.  For example, in “Working with Parameters,” a post about my client Snoopy, I discuss building an arrangement around Bloglines’ inability to accurately display spreadsheets.

Which leaves “Arrangement Perspective.”  How delightful.  I always promote designing arrangements from the perspective of the user.  And there’s an added bonus, a double meaning.  “Arrangement Perspective” could also mean my perspective on arrangement, which is what IsisInBlog is all about.              

Creative Literary and Pragmatic Lists

Umberto Eco’s four month Louvre exhibit about lists finished its run in February.  So if you want to see his “Mille e tre,” exhibit, you’ll have to get the beautiful catalog, The Infinity of Lists, with essays by Eco about the history of lists, along with examples of literary lists and photos of lists in visual art.  One shows a painting of edible vegetation combined to make a realistic human face with a zucchini nose (p. 130).

Following the trail of Eco’s footnotes, I found a delightful book about literary lists by Robert E. Belknap, The List: The Uses and Pleasures of Cataloguing.  Belknap distinguishes between literary lists and pragmatic lists, the type usually made by my readers.

We expect creativity in literature and lists are no exception.  Here’s an example from Tom Sawyer identifying the contents of Tom’s pockets as “a lump of chalk, an indiarubber ball, three fish hooks, and one of that kind of marbles known as a ‘sure ‘nough crystal’” (Belknap, p. 17).  Belknap shows how Twain’s language enhances each object, with the marble given “the privileged, anchoring, final spot” (p. 18).

We don’t usually think of pragmatic lists as creative. Yet they are composed of words and any use of words has a creative component.  Just think about placement, which Twain used for the marble.  In a pragmatic list, the first item holds the privileged spot.  First place may be anointed through an accident of the alphabet.  It might also be an example of what Belknap calls deliberate arrangement.  Even in alphabetical lists, first place can be deliberate.  Words have synonyms and some of those synonyms start with an A.

Here’s where we begin to see the connection between literary and pragmatic lists.  They both communicate.  The literary list communicates the author’s intentions and, in many cases, so can the pragmatic list.  If you are the author of a pragmatic list, what are your intentions for the list?  What do you want to give your readers?  The answers will help you build a deliberate arrangement that intentionally communicates. ~