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

People regularly ask me for better frameworks for organizing information. I balk, because I want people to look at their data, research, and projects 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 of organizing information… but it’s still time. It’s just *personal* time, instead of absolute time. Which is awesome.

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Enter Mr. Richard Saul Wurman, who coined the acronym “LATCH” and “the five hat racks” in his 1989 book Information Anxiety. He claims that there exactly five ways for organizing information and the acronym “LATCH” helps you remember them:

  • Location
  • Alphabet
  • Time
  • Category
  • Hierarchy

But, as we see in High Fidelity, a category like Time that 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 might 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 on how you organize your data.

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Daniel Stillman
[email protected]
  • 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.

  • Kelly M
    Posted at 12:20h, 07 March Reply

    Great video presentation that helps me understand the LATCH principles. Thanks!
    I especially enjoyed the grocery store illustration because it validates my frustration with a local grocery store chain that uses a very regional hierarchical way of placing certain items (e.g. saltine crackers are placed near the canned chili as opposed to near all of the OTHER crackers).

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