IA Summit 2013 ? Views from The Summit

Roundarch Isobar UX consultants from left to right:
Sanchit Gupta, Valeska O?Leary, Joan McCarthy, and Sabrina Lonigro

As a leading interactive agency focused on delivering excellent user experiences for a broad and diverse range of clients, Roundarch Isobar is passionate about being at the forefront of UX strategy and innovation. In keeping with this spirit, a lucky group of us attended IA Summit 2013, the ?premiere community-curated and volunteer-run gathering on the ever-evolving disciplines of information architecture and experience design.? Here?s a glimpse of what we saw during our time at The Summit.

Sabrina Lonigro, Sr. User Experience Designer:

As a first time attendee of the IA Summit, it was a great experience to listen in on talks from both big names and new faces within the UX/IA community, and connect with other professionals from all around the globe. Although the weather was not as warm as I was hoping, Baltimore was still sunny, and the location was great?we were right on the harbor.

View of Baltimore Harbor from the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel

Since there were so many talks around the same time that I wanted to attend, I decided to abandon my normal ?plan every moment? approach and wing it, sort of in keeping with Scott Jenson?s opening keynote presentation,?Beyond Mobile, Beyond Web. His talk?taught us that we cannot think like the past and use the past to define the future. The only way to get there is to stop getting comfortable, and start taking risks. This is how we stumble our way into the future. Kind of like how I attended my favorite talk by Stephen Anderson?

Walking in the opposite direction, I ran into my Roundarch Isobar colleague Valeska O?Leary, and she told me I must see Stephen?s talk?Stop Doing What You’re Told!?and that became the best lesson from the entire conference. He talked about how easy it is to solve the wrong problems because the right problems are never discussed. What we need to do is cut through the noise of requests and requirements?remembering to choose our words wisely because they can determine the path of a solution?and reframe the problem so we can focus on the real problem.?We get to this by always asking “why?” Why design a better search engine, when what a user really needs is a better way to learn about x, y and z? Once we define the desired outcome, the problem becomes clear.

I left the conference with more connections and inspiration, curious and excited to apply my new knowledge, including these underlying principals that emerged for me:

Keep it simple
We need to follow this not only in design, but in practice.

Technology is everywhere
Everything we do is computerized. We can?t think in terms of building this site, or this app. We need to think in terms of solutions that fit into the entire ecosystem.

It?s not about the deliverables, it?s about the process
We can think about the UX process like directing a reality TV show. It?s our vision and the story we tell which matters. Success is the end result of this process.

Sanchit Gupta, Sr. User Experience Designer:

I attended the IA Summit for the first time and overall it was a great experience?I learned a lot from talks and workshops, met with a lot of people from the industry and had a lot of fun.

My first session at IA Summit was a full day workshop by?Patrick Quattlebaum and Chris Risdon?Mapping Experiences and Orchestrating Touch Points?where I learned a new framework to map customer journeys in the cross channel world.

I also attended talks on variety of subjects ranging from “Experience Design for a Connected Home” to “Running Great Review Meetings with Clients & Partners.” One of my favorite talks was “Revolutionizing?GOV.UK.”?This award-winning website has helped the UK government save million of dollars, and Paul Annett shared the 10 design principles?including ?start with user needs,? ?design with data? and ?build for inclusion??used to design it.

Another interesting talk was “What Before How” by?Bob Royce and Dan Klyn. Bob and Dan talked about why Information Architecture (IA) is still important, how it acts as a bridge between User Experience (UX) and Business Systems, and why IA need not be only a bounded subset of UX. In the Closing Plenary Karen McGrane shared some of the same thoughts.

Closing Plenary speaker Karen McGrane

Apart from attending talks and workshop, I spent a lot of time interacting with other conference attendees, learning from their experiences, and engaging in discussions about IA and UX. Overall, IA Summit 2013 was a great conference and I look forward to attending another IA Summit in the future.

Joan McCarthy, User Experience Designer:

I attended Christine Perfetti?s workshop ?Usability Bootcamp: Getting Your Team Onboard? and Kim Goodwin?s workshop ?Research Tools for Defining Products and Changing Minds.? These workshops provided great tips and techniques to take my user research skills to the next level.

Christine?s workshop included a ?KJ-Technique? exercise. She strongly recommends using this group process to establish priorities once all usability test sessions are completed. Everyone who observed at least one session participates, and the result is quick consensus regarding the most important problems to solve. Kim?s workshop focused on conducting field interviews to hear people?s stories. We practiced turning these stories into journey maps that document the ?do,? ?feel? and ?want? attributes at each stage of a persona?s experience.

Both Christine and Kim emphasized the importance of involving stakeholders in the entire process?by inviting them to help develop the research plan, observe the sessions, document key findings, and prioritize the problems to solve. (And the definition of ?stakeholder?? ?Anyone who can throw a monkey wrench into the project!? according to Kim.) By involving stakeholders in all phases of research, we change the dynamic from ?trust me, I?m a UX designer? to ?we got here together.?

And although the insights gained from these workshops were valuable enough, the IA Summit also offered a wealth of stimulating talks by many of the innovators in our communities of practice. Here are just a few of their thought-provoking comments:

?We need to stop thinking of the mobile web as a shoehorned version of the desktop web. The mobile web is going to go where the desktop and native apps can never go? ? Scott Jenson, Beyond Mobile, Beyond Web keynote

?Organizations have big data problems. People have small data problems.? ? Karl Fast, The Big Challenges of Small Data

?The Facebook privacy policy is longer than the US Constitution.? ? Angel Anderson, Why We Share

?Language is infrastructure? Too often, we assume the labels are something to add later?but in reality they?re the thing we have to figure out first.? ? Andrew Hinton, The World Is The Screen

Valeska O?Leary, Associate User Experience Director:

Building Bridges

I have been attending the IA Summit conference since 2008. While this event provides access to some of the leading experts, trends and thought leadership, it is also one of the most welcome and inviting events for those new to the industry, and provides tremendous support and coaching for presenters.

The underlying message of this year?s conference was ?building bridges with people who don?t know what we do.? Although the conference was packed with amazing workshops and presentations I always find some of the best insights and takeaways come from the conversations in the corridors. The networking and poster exhibits create lots of opportunities for great thought-provoking discussions. This is not just a series of talks you could watch on YouTube ? it?s a living organic experience every UX professional can really benefit from.

Emerging Themes

Through these sidebar conversations, some prevalent themes surfaced that represent topics many of us are working through:

  • UX Pedantic: The keynote boasted about how the emerging critical nature of UX will lead business and marketing. This all sounds very exciting but it?s important to understand that while UX professionals are becoming more business savvy, business leaders are also learning more about UX.
  • Unicorns: A common joke is about how naive hiring managers look for UX designers that can do research, usability testing, code markup and client pitches. While some of these job descriptions may represent an unusual blend of talents, the fact is these people are not completely mythical. I?ve worked with some and they exist. They may be hard to find and may not fit a model that requires rapid scale, but for smaller organization with dynamic teams they can be the magic bullet. Perhaps we should look at how these creatures evolved, and model that process.
  • Biggerism: “Big Data” is the newest buzzword everyone’s talking about. In ?The Big Challenges of Small Data? Karl Fast talked about the issue of data ownership and interoperability. Is this an issue for the organizations or the people who create all that data? The key point of Fast’s talk was to clarify who it is a problem for and what data challenges we should be focusing on. According to Fast, ?eyes not size? matters, which means that the most important data to the user is the data that comes in front of their eyes, not necessarily the masses of ?invisible? data buzzing in the background; so he encouraged us to focus on the onslaught of data that comes in front of our eyes everyday: emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and so on. Amen to that.
  • On Beauty: Visual design is too often an afterthought in the UX process. The fact is as the market matures the quality of the experience is critical to user adoption. People make lots of decisions based on aesthetics and non-linguistic cues. Design is not just about color or graphics but also about emotion and attraction. It’s time that we start associating aesthetics with quality.

Next year’s IA Summit will be in San Diego, California, one of my favorite West Coast cities. I have no doubt it’ll inspire designers to challenge and understand our surroundings, whether those surroundings be big or small data, how we engage with people and/or places, or how we evolve our own community of practice. I’ll be there, and recommend anyone interested in research, structure, and understanding and solving problems check it out too. This is the one event that all other obligations must be planned around. You don’t need to call yourself an information architect to go to the next IA Summit.