A few weeks ago I wrote a post about mobile myths which was a summary of a session I attended at this year’s Information Architecture Summit in New Orleans. In this post I will summarize the rest of the sessions I attended during the summit.
No sooner had I checked the #ias12 Twitter conference hashtag on the first day of the summit that the keynote speakers took that stage to discuss designing for experiences across channels. The speakers were Dave Gray, founder of XPLANE and now SVP of Strategy for Dachis Group, joined by cross-channel experts Shelley Evenson, research manager at Facebook, and Ben Reason, Director at live|work. While the three speakers tackled a number of issues, what stuck out for me most was their discussion on designing with the customers and clients vs. designing for the customers and clients. This conversation reminded me of our own practices in trying more and more to design with our campus users so that designing for them is more effective.
The next session had me at The IA of Emergency Response, and to be honest I didn’t get much out of that except learning about all the good things New York City has done in its efforts to make the managing the emergency response information post-9/11 more streamlined.
Being an introvert poses some networking challenges at conferences such as the IA Summit, so I naturally attended Michele Marut’s Networking on the Introvert’s Side of the Room. Marut offered some tips for introverts on how to leverage the networking angle at conferences. For example, she said introverts can build their network by: 1. Engaging in online communities, 2. Attending low key events, such as local UX/IA gatherings, 3. Attending activity-based events at conferences, and lastly, 4. Volunteer at the event, which will put you in close contact with the event’s organizers as well as attendees.
After lunch I tried to pay closer attention to my perception strategy at Stephen P. Anderson’s What’s Your Perception Strategy? (Why It’s NOT All About Content). Anderson argued that perception is not a process of active absorption but of active construction, based on prior experiences and memories, and that, in terms of an experience, it is not all about content. He said content does not exist independent of some presentation form; even type choice and delivery method affects perception of written content. As designers, we are constructing perceptions around content, even though the content doesn’t change. We can profoundly affect our users’ perception by designing for active construction and for context.
At the next session mobile guru Josh Clark, author of Tapworthy, presented The Myths of Mobile Context. According to Clark, there are 7 deadly mobile myths that are really screwing up the way we provide mobile services. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on UX@UW about Clark’s presentation that you can go read.
Andrea Resmini later told an audience during his presentation, Groundhogs in the Source Code, that information architecture will become the language by which cross-channel experiences will be weaved into stories. More exactly, he said navigation is the main vehicle for “sense-making.” He used examples of classic stories such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and more recent movies such as Sucker Punch and Groundhog Day to illustrate the idea of how we can learn from non-literal or abstract patterns of story telling to create immersive cross-channel experiences in our work. I know there were some hidden gems in Resmini’s talk, but I have to admit I only understood about 2/3 of it. Even after going through my notes and taking another look at the slides, much of it I still find dumbfounding. I did, however, take away a great quote: “Place is where we pause, space is where we move.”
The following day, I was bright and early for Emily Wengert’s talk on Beyond Channels: Context is King. According to Wengert, a Vice President of User Experience at HUGE, context is much more important now than it has ever been. Thanks to the rise of mobile devices such as phones and tablets, Wengert advises that IAs and UXers should stop being channel experts and become “context experts”.
To illustrate the importance of context, Wengert defined context in three ways: Place, Mindset, and Social. Place, of course, is pretty obvious: it is related to a physical location. When thinking about place, we should consider where the user is, what goals do they have there, and what other channels are around them? The mindset context, on the other hand, asks “What state of mind will my user most likely be in?” If we can identify what mindset our users will be in when using our digital products, we can design experiences around that mindset. One example of the mindset context is the music app Pandora; Wengert argues that you can “just set it and walk away.” The final context is social, and this context examines the social behavior of users interacting with your product. For example, would you want all your friends on Facebook knowing the size of your pants when you shop through the site? When designing around the social context, keep in mind the level of good or bad peer pressure, the visibility of a user’s actions, and if the user is alone or with others.
After Wengert’s talk on context, I joined Soren Muus’s session on Modeling Systems of Information Architecture. This session was all about mapping the “Customer Journey.” This presentation had many interesting points about how to model a user experience from first contact to conversion. Muus, who works at FatDUX, defined the Customer Journey as “a series of events that leads from first contact to the final conversion. Each event contains a number of Touch Points, both physical and digital, that together make a unique impact, and create a User Experience valuable and useful to both our clients and our customers.” After this session I thought it interesting to put together a model for MyUW’s Student Experience Journey. More on that another time.
Two quick 20-minute sessions followed: Better Cross-Channel Experiences with Metadata and Filtered & Refined: Interfaces for Distilling Data. In the former, Adam Ungstad told us that metadata “enables consistency, context, interoperability in cross-channel experiences by facilitating structured information exchanges” and defined metadata as “information about information objects.” In the latter session, Erin Jo Richey told the audience that it is our job as designers to dissect the vast repositories of data and provide users with the means to access, compare, and find the information they’re looking for regardless of the type of data, of which she said there were four: categorical, ordinal, quantitative and spatial.
After eating a catfish po-boy for lunch, I attended two more quick 20-minute sessions: I’ll Know It When I See It: A Process for Designing Fun by Deb Gelman, and Why and How to Start Sketchnoting by Veronica Erb. In Gelman’s session, she said all clients have a different idea of what a “fun” website should be, so she gave the audience ways to find agreement with clients as to what a “fun” site should be. The process of designing fun, according to Gelman, includes defining what fun means, ranking it, researching it, and testing it.
I’m a fast typist, so naturally I take notes using my laptop. Veronica Erb, on the other hand (no pun intended), takes notes by sketching, and her sketchnotes of many IA Summit 2012 sessions are wonderful and full of flair. I tried to follow the directions she gave during her session that teaches participants how to sketchnote, but my sketchnote of one of the talks later in the day probably was a disservice to the speaker, so we’ll leave it at that.
Deconstructing Delight: Pleasure, Flow and Meaning taught the audience that there is a vast difference between and experience that doesn’t suck, and one that drives engagement. Dana Chisnell’s talk centered around what makes a delightful user experience. She used the weather app Swackett.com as an example of a user experience that not only provides the day’s weather, but made checking the weather kind of pleasurable. If you haven’t tried Swackett, give it a try, it is delightful.
Peter Morville’s session on Ubiquitous Information Architecture was probably one of my favorite sessions out of the entire conference. Maybe it was because Morville is such a good presenter, or maybe it was because he knows so much about IA. Regardless, Morville was able to put into perspective where we are now in the field of information architecture and that the possibilities are endless to create amazing experiences. He said there has never been a better time to be an IA, and that IAs are the bridge builders in an organization. As bridge builders, he said, IAs connect the many disparate aspects that contribute turning a user experience in an organization into a holistic one.
Good thing Morville’s was the last session of the day because my brain was full. After a couple beers and some sleep, I was back in session mode the following day starting with Johanna Kollman’s Making Sense of Messy Problems: Systems Thinking for Cross-Channel UX. Some take-aways from Kollman’s talk on systems thinking include the importance of knowing the worldviews that people and elements in a system hold, the processes that are necessary to deliver value to users, how to gather and visualize information holistically, and how user-centered design and empathy help reduce uncertainty.
Chris Risdon’s Mapping the Experience was another session on modeling the “user journey” through experience maps. Very much like Muus’s session the day before except with many more examples of some interesting experience maps. See example below.
Following a quick coffee break, I was in attendance at Karl Fast’s Information Overload is an Opportunity. Fast, a professor of user experience design at Kent State University, said information overload is a good thing and a great opportunity for designers. Fast explained we can derive meaning from the vast amounts of information by employing three tools: filtering, deep interaction, and welcoming mess (since mess is where creativity happens).
In the last session of the conference, Nadine Schaeffer of Cloudforest Design told the audience to embrace complexity during her session on Designing for Complexity. This last session made me think of our own tools at UW: we have designed some great tools that tackle complexity very well, such as WebQ and GradeBook, and there are many more in the works. Complexity, like information overload, is an opportunity to design some amazing tools.
So there you have it, a summary of my experience at this year’s IA Summit. Did you also attend? What did you think? Tell us in the comments.