2015 IA Summit retrospective

It has been a few months since the conference (it was held in April 2015) however I believe I must talk about my experience there. It was very grateful and I learned a lot. Learnings that I’m actually applying on my daily work!

What exactly is IA Summit?

IA Summit has been held for over 16 years and is dedicated to explore current trends, challenges and developments on information environments. It’s mainly for information architects, user experience designers, content strategists, and all those who work to create and manage information spaces.

In this conference I listened and had the opportunity to interact with top influencers in the area, like Jared Spool, Jesse James Garret, Louis Rosenfeld, Ted Nelson, Peter Morville, among many others.

Minneapolis — cold and Mississippi

(Left) Minneapolis downtown; (Right) Very old bridge over the Mississippi

I found Minneapolis a lovely city but very very cold! Less than 10ºC in the end of April?! That’s crazy for a portuguese person! When I arrived it was snowing…

Despite the cold, on the morning after I arrived I took a walk through the city and did some sightseeing. One of the things I couldn’t miss was seeing Mississippi river, one of the biggest rivers in the world :)

Another thing that impressed me was the Skyway System they have there, where you can go from building to building without having to pass a barrier of cold!

The conference — the good, the bad and the ugly

The first 2 days of IA Summit were dedicated to workshops. I attended two half-day workshops. The 3 days after were dedicated to talks about several subjects. Below I provide a brief description of the workshops and talks that were for me the highlights of IA Summit.

The Core Model: Getting to business while making friends (workshop)

This workshop was moderated by a Norwegian duo — Audun Rundberg and Martha Lyngnes — and the goal was to provide a framework to decide on which page to start when developing a website. Shortly, they argue that the approach should be inside out, where we start on the pages more important from a user and business perspective — the cores.

My key takeaways for this workshop are:

  • understand and apply an effective way of addressing business and user needs for a great Information Architecture
  • Seeing website structures as webs and paths instead of hierarchies

Workshop slides can be found on Slideshare and there’s also a very interesting article on A List Apart about the subject: The Core Model: Designing Inside Out for Better Results.

Designing Object-Oriented Experiences with Content Modeling: A Methodology for Creating Elegant Modular Systems (workshop)

As I come from an IT background the notion of Object-Oriented Experiences intrigued me. So I decided to attend this workshop moderated by Sophia Voychehovski.

The content of this workshop was highly driven towards helping producing wireframes and prototypes more efficiently while keeping a consistency throughout the whole UI.

The content was very interesting and it’s been helping me in my daily work, however I believe that Sophia tried to put too much in half a day and we ended up speeding through the all process.

My key takeaways for this workshop are:

  • understanding the importance of modularity in an UI
  • tools and techniques for a modular approach when building wireframes in Axure

Workshop slides can be found on Slideshare and there’s also an article on A List Apart: Object-Oriented UX.

New Fields and Feeled Effects — Ted Nelson

I must confess, I did not know who Ted Nelson was before this talk. I went there because it was the evening keynote and there was nothing else going on at the same time. I’m so glad I went there!

Ted Nelson is one of the big players in information technology since the 1960s. It was him who even coined the term hypertext!

His talk was a bit like those movies where you have no idea what’s happening but you’re amazed at the same time…

Someone was able to kind of summarize his talk:

Luckily there is also a video!

Is Design Metrically Opposed? — Jared Spool

Listening to Jared Spool is always a pleasure! He knows how to storytell and he has humor. At IA Summit I went to his talk about metrics and design where he starts by asking a very important question:

Are we measuring the right thing?

My key takeaways for this talk are:

  • Metrics should helps us improve the experience and for that design must drive metric collection, not the other way around.
  • Customize metrics to match experience objectives. Choosing the right metrics is essential, so don’t focus purely on the numbers but also on the overall experience.
  • Avoid jumping from observations to why we think they happened. Measurements don’t tell us why something happened. Qualitative research does.
  • Quantitative research needs to be enriched by qualitative findings.
  • Data science is becoming an essential UX skill. UX teams need to start managing analytics.

Workshop slides can be found on Slideshare and there is also a video on Vimeo.

Applied Behavioral Economics for IA & UX — Robert Neal

By the time I was at IA Summit I was completely absorbed on the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, that is related with the subject of this talk. I had great expectations but I wasn’t expecting that the talk would be a presentation of the book. Unfortunately there wasn’t much more to it.

Robert Neal did make some connections with IA and UX, showing examples of how Uber handles price surges, or Nest asks about at what temperature you want your house to be, and some other cases he worked on. In spite of interesting I was expecting a bit more controversial talk. Let’s face it! Having this knowledge of human thinking biases and faults is powerful. What about the ethics behind it?

My main takeaway for this talk was how to take advantage of some cognitive biases to improve User Experience.

There is a podcast and transcript of the talk here: http://library.iasummit.org/podcasts/applied-behavioral-economics-for-ia-ux/.

What we mean by meaning — Marsha Haverty

This was one of those talks where all comes down to the basics.

What is information? How we process information? What affects the way we process information? How we make meaning out of things?

My key takeaways for this talk are:

  • seeing meaning as a flow that has properties like: viscosity (ease), texture (facets) and permeability (engagement and control).
  • what we need to take into account to better communicate information with our structures so that it has meaning to users

Slides are available on Slideshare and a there’s also a podcast.

Wrapping up

I had a great time and learned a lot at IA Summit. It opened my mind to a lot other subjects and I had to opportunity to learn more about the roots of my job.

It was also such a well organized conference and people around were so helpful and nice. It’s a pity IA Summit it’s always on the USA.