Dan Zollman

Information architecture, design, and strategy

Oblique Strategies + The Fifteen Fundamental Properties of Wholeness

At World IA Day 2017 in Boston, Dan Klyn handed out these great little card decks representing Christopher Alexander’s Fifteen Fundamental Properties of Wholeness. Recommended use: Carry these cards around with you to help you notice the properties of wholeness wherever you go.

Yesterday, looking through my box of Oblique Strategies made me wonder: Are the Oblique Strategies related to the Fifteen Fundamental Properties?

Photo of Fifteen Properties and Oblique Strategies card decks

So I gave it a try. I found that over half of the Oblique Strategies could be read as metaphors for physical structure or space. Some can be read as statements about the properties of wholeness. Others can be read as operations to achieve one or more of the properties. For example:

  • “Define an area as ‘safe’ and use it as an anchor” achieves a strong center.
  • “Emphasize differences” achieves contrast.
  • “Disciplined self-indulgence” might achieve good shape.
  • “Be dirty” achieves roughness.
  • “Simple subtraction” achieves positive space (or good shape).
  • “Repetition is a form of change” describes echoes.
  • “Make a blank valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame” is the void.

The remaining half of the Strategies, which I left in the box, were those that described ways of working rather than properties of the solution:

  • “Don’t be afraid of things because they’re easy to do”.
  • “Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them.”
  • “Use an old idea.”
  • “Use ‘unqualified’ people.” (Which, incidentally, is also pertinent to Dan Klyn’s IA Day talk, where he suggested “how wonderful it is to be dumb”.)

And finally, there were two Strategies that did not map to a specific Property, but seemed appropriate to place in the middle:

  • “Trust in the you of now.”
  • “Gardening, not architecture.”

I don’t think I necessarily grouped them “correctly” or well. I’m still learning about the Fifteen Properties, and I understand some better than others. One thing I found interesting is that many of the Oblique Strategies are expressed as negations—which is appropriate, because they are meant to break assumptions and force change—but it also made it more difficult to associate them with positive properties (e.g. good shape).

If nothing else, the fact that I affinitized them instead of using them for their intended purpose is proof that I’m an information architect.

A selection of Oblique Strategies cards grouped according to the Fifteen Properties.


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