From ARCADE Issue 31.4. Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Richard Saul Wurman, graphic designer, architect, TED founder and originator of the term “information architect,” believes that nearly all organizational schemes for data can be reduced to five basic dimensions known as LATCH: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category and Hierarchy.

Location usually focuses on geography. Which regions of a business have the highest sales? Which local markets have the steepest declines? Mapped locations can also be contextually appropriate; for example, doctors can be organized by mapping their medical specializations to corresponding parts of the human body, while mechanics might organize their activities around the location of various parts of an automobile.

Alphabetical organization of information is often the easiest route to take, one that provides a clearly discernable, scalable, cross-cultural structure. A single name in a phone book can be readily found, regardless if the phonebook is in English, French or Portuguese.

Time also provides a simple form of organization. In a business context, we may wish to view changes in sales, profit or loss over a span of calendar years, fiscal years or financial quarters. Historical information is an obvious fit for chronological organization.

Categorical definitions are often more subjective and not as obvious in a data set. In some cases, the mere act of defining categories introduces bias. For example ,a popular movie might be categorized as “sci-fi,” “drama” or “comedy,” but determining which bucket a hybrid “sci-fi+ comedy” falls into becomes the subjective call of an information designer.

Hierarchical organization presents information according to a perceived value or weight. Numerical scales naturally fall under this vein, as well as any other data points that can be objectively or subjectively measured and quantified.

These five organizing elements provide powerful lenses through which to glean insight from information. Interactive data visualization scan exponentially expand this power by allowing users to instantly combine and switch between lenses, offering multifaceted levels of understanding.

For more information on LATCH, see Wurman's book Information Anxiety (1990) or Information Anxiety 2 (2000).