Last month I went to World IA Day 2016 in Seattle. I'm based in San Francisco, which also hosted World IA Day event, but every now and again it's good to get out of your little corner of the world and see what is going on elsewhere.
I have a very good friend in Seattle, who is amazingly good at her job and who has been working as an IA for as long as I've known her (nearly 5 years now). She's an information architect based in Seattle and I went to up there to participate in World IA Day with her. I'm glad I did.
First up was Mike Doane from the University of Washington's "iSchool". It's interesting to me to see that information-focused programs are popping up around the country and where they see themselves fitting in. Mike did a great job of describing how they view everything fitting together -- and how all the different disciplines should work together.
For them, UX is in front of the screen, programming is behind the screen, and information architects are the conduits who make sure UX and programming work smoothly together: IA's deal with the data, the content, and they think about the overall information layer. The UW iSchool is developing a new core curriculum and Mike's heading up the effort. I was glad to see what's happening there, especially the emphasis on library science and the benefits it brings to the whole content architecture and strategy discussion. It's something we've been talking about for a long time. (It's also why we, too, employ with a MLIS professional when working on metadata projects for our customers.)
Next up was Pam Green, from Microsoft. The more she spoke, the more I wished she had been given more time to talk. She's an MLIS professional who did the corporate taxonomy for Microsoft - the whole of Microsoft. A huge job that took more than a year to do and it was fascinating to even get a glimpse of what library science can do for a corporate information across a company as large as they are.
On the other end of the spectrum, two teammates from Avvo, Cristin Carey and Kate Kiely, talked about how they started a content strategy governance group that has incredible support and participation within their SMB content-driven company. They brought the coolest visualization tool along with them: a metal board with magnets of different shapes and sizes that they could use to move content units around. I didn't get a picture, but it looked a lot like the investigator's walls in a detective show. All it was missing was the strings:
And it was a lot smaller. It was a great tool. We tend toward using sticky notes and moving them around on the walls of a conference room, but I liked the movability, reusability, and staying power of the metal board.
They also had one great piece of advice to use when you're presenting your content strategy ideas to others: "Everything looks official with tiny leaves around it".
There was an inspirational and motivational talk from Nick Finck at Facebook. And an interesting parallel-driven talk from Nam-ho Park about how lessons and experiences as an Architect (the kind that builds buildings) serves him well as an information Architect.
By far, though, my favorite presentation was by Joshua Walker. He had some really interesting tidbits to share from the perspective of a UX person who works to serve corporate goals. UX is about the user but it's frequently in conflict with corporate goals.
For example, consider this kind of menu system that we've all become accustomed to:
Turns out there are solid reasons for this, despite the fact that it's actually bad user experience design. Good UX tells us no more than 7 options; make things simple (no multi-word, complex concept menu items). This would seem to violate those two rules, at the very least. However, it serves the corporate SEO goals: The more words, the more related concepts side-by-side help to improve SEO statistics and your appearance in search results.
He also mentioned that he continually tries to talk marketers out of popping up the "Sign up for our Newsletter" overlay whenever someone comes to a website. After all, that's bad User Experience. You haven't earned any trust from the visitor, you have no relationship, and yet you're asking for something from them. Good UX would say that this shouldn't be their first view of you. Here again, however, it's a business goal to expand your potential customer list. UX serves business goals, in truth. And now I think about this every time I go to a site and they do this to me.
Josh's presentation had the most content in it of any that day. It had real, tangible nuggets (like the one I've just described), but he also didn't have as much time as other speakers. If you ever spot him at a conference, be sure to attend his session. He's funny and full of solid information that can benefit you down the road.
Besides, anyone who uses "degenerate piece of trash" in their presentation is to be celebrated. Mightily.
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