IA Summit 2015: A First-Timer’s Experience

The 15th IA Summit took place this past weekend in Minneapolis, which happens to be my new hometown. Last year a friend mine, and co-worker at the time, went to the IA Summit in San Diego and talked about what a great experience it was. I thought about attending this year, but even taking place in my backyard, I was still on the fence about going. Although I have an understanding of information architecture and it is one of my core competencies and I am getting my Master’s Degree in Information Science, I have never considered myself to be solely defined as an Information Architect. I tend to lean on more of the design crutch as my background is in visual design and for the better part of my career my title has been Interaction or UX Designer. After looking at the speakers and attendees I decided I owed it to myself to check it out.

I knew this was going to be a fun weekend as soon as I arrived as I walked in during an epic board game showdown between Karl Fast, who I had the privilege of meeting previously, and Dan Brown — two people whose body of work I greatly respect. I only wish I remembered what game they were playing because it seemed like so much fun, From there it was off to the opening reception where I was able to meet so many amazing people that if I named them all this would be a 30-minute read. I do have to mention how awesome it was to finally meet Kristina Halvorson in person as she played a huge part in making the weekend such a great experience for me and I can’t thank her enough for that. To top off the night, I attended one of the first-timer’s dinners which was hosted by Misty Weaver and Jared Spool and was full of good food and even better conversation. I highly recommend these for future first timers.

The Friday sessions I attended were great. Jorge Arango’s opening keynote really set the tone for the whole weekend. I enjoyed listening to Emily Witt talk about the cross-over role, Dennis Kardys explain mobile wayfinding, Russ Unger discuss Skunkworks, Sarah Barrett share some of her experiences and I relived some of my past eCommerce experiences with Stuart Maxwell as he talked about making sense of internal politics pertaining to navigation before diving into the world of metrics with Jared Spool. And how awesome was Ted Nelson’s keynote to close the night? I wish I had a chance to attend the IA Slam, as I heard it was even more fun than Chris Chandler said it would be. The conference might have ended for the day but the day was far from over. I spent the rest of my night at The Local, where I made so many new friends thanks to the Brain Traffic crew. Although I didn’t play pool, Kevin Hoffman held his own at the table, fending off the challenge of Paul McAleer. I then stumbled down the stairs courtesy of Crispin Cider’s Honey Crisp Reserve and broke bread with staff and students — both past and present of Kent State.

Saturday was a day that really whet my appetite for the science of information thanks to Robert Neal’s talk about behavioral economics, followed by Marsha Haverty explaining What We Mean By Meaning, which happened to be the buzz of the conference. Peter Merholz explained about how design structures work in organizations and Megan Schwarz and Marti Gukeisen drew me in with their poo emoji slide and the title of their talk, Giving the Right Amount of Shits: Combating Burnout. After sipping on some afternoon tea, I listened to Richard Ingram spoke about the importance of visualization pertaining to maps and Dr. Elizabeth Buchanan closed out the day talking about online ethics. I wish I stuck around for karaoke but at least I have something to look forward to next time.

Sunday provided a lot of great experiences. I learned about the IA Institute and became a member. Adam Polansky, who was my teacher for my grad school intro classes, led a session about speaking which provided a lot of great tips I will use in my next stakeholder meetings. I also witnessed a great panel discussion where Abby Covert, Dan Klyn and Peter Morville took turns answering questions and thoroughly explaining information architecture. One of my favorite sessions provided me the opportunity to watch Jesse James Garrett and Christina Wodtke sit back and have a casual conversation about their friendship, the industry and where they think it is headed. It was like being a fly on the wall while two friends were having a casual conversation over drinks, except there were hundreds of flies on the wall and the conversation was relevant to all of us. Brenda Laurel delivered the closing keynote and the torch was passed to next year’s co-organizers but there was one more surprise, a gift to everyone in attendance from Brain Traffic and Kristina Halvorson. Everyone was ushered into another room that had a bar and a stage. We were then all treated to a set from a Prince cover band. What a way to share the spirit of Minneapolis with everyone to end the IA Summit.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected to get out of attending aside from the opportunity to meet a lot of the friends I’ve made online, in person, and a few tidbits of information that I could bring back to the workplace. If that was all I walked away with, at the very least, it would be worth it for me but I walked away with a lot more. I had the opportunity to learn a lot of new things and pick up some topics I want to research and dive deeper on. I was able to validate a lot of my experiences, learnings and practices and pick the brain of thought leaders in the industry.

I did end up meeting a lot of people I knew from social media but I also met a lot of others, some of which I found out work for the same company as I do. I was able to become part of a sharing and thriving community, more importantly a family who shares the same passion as I do. I found out who I am and re-ignited my passion for what I do.

I am an Information Architect. I want to give back to my industry. I want to be a mentor and supportive family member in the world of Information Architecture and User Experience. Thank you for a weekend that has inspired me to do more and be more. Thank you for accepting into your community. Thank you Jessie, Veronica and Mike for putting together a great event. To the new friends I made and those I didn’t have the opportunity to meet, I will see you all again at the family reunion in Atlanta for IA Summit 16.

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