Organizing Information: L.A.T.C.H.

People regularly ask me for better frameworks to help them organize their data, research and projects. I balk, because I want people to look at the information and try to do something that is natural, or inherent to the information. But that’s really hard…and a lie. I use basic heuristics all the time…and as it turns out, there’s really only five ways to organize things.

But first, a movie interlude from High Fidelity:


In this scene, we see that the basic ways we would guess to organize a record collection are Chronological (by album release) or Alphabetical (artist or album?) …I would also guess genre. Genres are tough, because there is so much overlap (blues, blues-rock and bluegrass…I’m sure there are artists that span those)….and what’s amazing is that Autobiographical organization seems like such an innovative (and hard!) way to organize information….but it’s still time. It’s just *personal* time, instead of absolute time. Which is awesome.


Enter Mr. Saul Wurman, who coined the term “LATCH” and “the five hat racks” in his book ‘Information Anxiety’ (1989). He claims that there exactly 5 ways to organize information and the acronym “LATCH” helps you remember them: Location, Alphabet, Time,Category, and by Hierarchy. But we see from High Fidelity we can see that even just time, which seems straightforward, can have nuances.


Also, as the second video points out, combining or overlaying multiple types of information organization can create amazing results. Working with teams to create organic or relatable categories is an important process…we each may have our own ways of looking at and “chunking” the data. Sharing and agreeing on the right categories can be an involved process. The same is true of Hierarchies. Size, cost and Complexity can be easy to agree on. But how to we organize objects from most important to least important? Importance, or value as separate from cost are fuzzy terms…parsing that out can have a big impact.

Daniel Stillman
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  • Virginia
    Posted at 00:32h, 12 June Reply

    Great Post! With regard to Wurman’s Box of Chocolates categories, “Popularity” can already be determined by what’s left in the box with holes on the bottom of each piece. No? Maybe chocolates should be manufactured with pre-existing holes in each for previewing.

    I once organized my bookshelf by book color.. It was beautiful to look at but I gave up on finding books. I thought I might try this next time:

  • Nathan
    Posted at 04:30h, 24 October Reply

    I agree with the need to collaborate with team members on how to organize information, especially if the information is valuable to everyone. It will make the team more productive as it will cut down time in finding the data and eliminate the possibility of tasks repetition.

    Having a robust file storage that is easy to manage and learn would also have a big impact in organizing information.

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