the sally sisson blog


October 30, 2009

Rub-a-dub-TUB (part one): Pot bellies, bathtubs and the birth of “information architecture”

TUB sign

Last month I flew out to San Francisco to attend the TUB 20-year reunion. What is TUB, you ask? I spent a lot of time answering this question before and after the event.

TUB stands for The Understanding Business. A clever name coined for a design firm/guidebook publisher in the business of “making information understandable.”

Understand? No, you’re not alone. Ironically, those of us who worked there spent years trying to explain the name.

Our boss, Richard Saul Wurman, architect, designer and co-founder of the TED Conference, came up with it. He waxed lyrical when asked to describe the name in an interview with Information Design:

“It is a peculiar word because it has the word ‘under’ and ‘standing’ in it: what does that mean? How did that happen? ‘Under’ is a negative term, and ‘standing’, which is a different thing, those two words together create a word of such warmth. I named a company ‘The Understanding Business’; the initials are TUB. This has two meanings: the fact that I have a big pot belly and because Archimedes was in a bathtub when he said, ‘Eureka, I understand!’ For me, it is all about understanding.”

Try explaining that at a cocktail party.

Wurman coined the term “information architecture” more than 30 years ago. Now “information design” is a more accurate description of the work we did at TUB.

All kidding aside, TUB helped shape me as a writer and editor and content developer in important ways. Plus I made some amazing friends. Why else would I fly 3,000 miles for an office reunion?

Read Wurman’s full interview here:

http://www.informationdesign.org/special/wurman_interview.htm