2011, a Good Summit, by Javier Velasco

15 Apr 2011 5:00 PM | Anonymous

The Information Architecture Summit organized by ASIS&T each spring wrapped in Denver a week ago. On that closing Sunday, and later during the week, there have been many positive comments placing this as one of the best IA Summits we’ve had; with a great lineup and a great community feeling.This year, the Summit had an interesting variety of recurring topics: Data/Statistical Analysis, Content Management, Agile methods, Design. In fact one of the highlights of this event was the variety of interesting topics under discussion, unlike some other years where just a few topics (ie. Tagging) had appropriated the conversation.

There have also been good comments on the quality of the presentations; The IA Summit has always attracted good speakers, and even the most popular speakers see this venue as a special place, where the ante is high. This year, the organization put up a team to help prepare first-time speakers: they gave speakers a series of suggestions via email and set up a mentoring program where they could rehearse by videoconference before making the trip. At the venue, they also had a speaker studio where speakers could give a final dry-run to their talk, with an experienced moderator (thanks Adam Polansky!) giving final moment suggestions. This provided for an interesting mix between accomplished and new coming speakers, and while I was not part of the committee this year, I’d guess that there were an important number of submissions which they had to filter out, and they did a great job at it.

Another difference that worked for many people is that the size of the event cut back; after several years of growing, to where we had reached 650 people, this time we had around 250-300 people, and although this is not the best thing for the organizers, it helps create a sense of warmth between the crowd, and helps newcomers feel better integrated.

By now you all would like to know something more specific about the sessions. Most of the slides can be found on slideshare (http://www.slideshare.net/event/ia-summit-2011) and they were also collected on a blog (http://www.currybet.net/cbet_blog/2011/04/ia-summit-slides.php). Podcasts will become available soon thanks to UIE, although I’m not sure where they will be posted at the moment. The Summit website will surely send an announcement and it’s probably going to make noise on the #ias11 twitter tag.

I was very pleased to see they gave plenary sessions to both Jared Spool and Lou Rosenfeld, these were both excellent talks, as expected: Lou covered the balance between quantitative and qualitative research. Jared made us reflect on what the core skills for UX are and how they can be measured.

Nate Silver’s opening keynote was a great walk through of the power and challenges of statistics. The panel by Arango, Hinton and Resmini did a great job at keeping a continuity of discourse and reminding us of why the architecture metaphor is so powerful and useful for what we do. Russ Unger and Dan Willis took the role of bringing a dose of entropy into the conference with their “UX of Disruption” presentation, where they brought the audience and made a whole dramatization in order to allow participants to feel disrupted, and later discuss the experience. I later peeked briefly into an interesting conversation about building UX communities; I was saddened to arrive late, as I have lots of interest and experience in this subject. Later came my own presentation (http://www.slideshare.net/mantruc/posting-our-hearts-out), where I covered the research project I’ve set up for my dissertation; including problem definition, a large-scale survey I ran last year, a model I’m building with this, and future plans for research. In brief, I’m trying to understand how and why tech-savvy adults – much like the kind of people at the Summit – are becoming used to sharing private information in public online spaces. I received very positive comments and good questions; there was lots of interest in the topic and encouragement to continue with my line of research. We closed the day with Jared Spool’s plenary, full of food for thought.

On the second day I paced down on the presentations although I still caught some very interesting ones. Johanna Kollman did a great job at explaining why the changes we make to websites can be very painful for our users, and how we can make cleaner transitions. Eric Reiss, one of the not-to-miss characters of the IA Summit, delivered a great talk on how to make e-commerce work, with four essential rules of thumb; some very basic principles that seem so hard to follow by many retailers. The day was closed by Lou Rosenfeld’s neat talk about interpreting research data.On Sunday, I saw a very clear talk by Kim Bieler reminding us of the power of the top layer of interface/visual design and how it can improve the user experience. I was unfortunately unable to attend the closing plenary by Cennydd Bowles, who graciously posted the transcript of his talk on his blog (http://www.cennydd.co.uk/2011/fall-and-rise-of-ux/)

There were many presentations I was not able to attend – sometimes for schedule conflicts – that I’m looking forward to catching the podcasts for, these include: Rethinking User Research for the Social Web with Dana Chisnell, The Stories we Construct by Stephen Anderson, Upping Your Game by Leanna Gingras, Peter Morville’s Ubiquitous IA, Nailing it Down by Joe Sokohl, and I also heard great things about the presentation by Belén Barros Pena and Bernard Tyers on Mobile Usability Testing. I’m sure there were other great talks I’ve not even made a note to look at, the Summit was packed with great work.

There is still some good stuff coming out of the Summit site http://2011.iasummit.org/ and I’m guessing the podcasts will be announced and linked to from there as well.

About our guest blogger – Javier has been an information architect since 2000, he’s also been involved in the IA/UX community since. He co-founded his first online community in 1998 – evolt.org – in an experience that would later become a case study in Rosenfeld & Morvile’s IA Book, in a chapter for which he was liaison. Javier has been attending the IA Summit since 2004, for which he has been a reviewer four times. He has been a leading force in the field in Chile and Latin America, starting a strong IA Community in Chile that has its own IA Conference for already six successful years. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Information Science at UNC Chapel Hill, focusing on communication in social media, under the direction of Gary Marchionini, who is also one of the founders of the IA Summit. You can find out more about Javier at http://www.unc.edu/~jvelasco/

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