Key Takeaways from the IA Summit, 2013

Baltimore, MD / April 3 – 7, 2013
The IA Summit is an annual conference that brings information architects and user experience practitioners together to collaborate and build new skill sets in this ever-evolving field. This year the conference was held in Baltimore, Maryland where Nicole, Mike, and I attended four busy days of workshops, talks, and networking events.

Karen McGrane

Karen McGrane gives the closing plenary of the Summit

Andy Fitzgerald

Andy Fitzgerald presents "Taxonomy for App Makers"

Emerging Themes

A collaborative poster captures conference themes

Summarizing the Takeaways

Once back in the office, we joined forces to summarize what we learned from the conference. Summarizing an entire conference is a large undertaking, but we found that common themes emerged in many of the talks, often tackling the same issues from different perspectives. After compiling our notes, we found the following five major themes:

  • Approaching the problem
  • Working better together, remotely
  • Strengthening company culture
  • Improving deliverables
  • IA and UX best practices

Based on these themes, we came up with the following key takeaways.

Approaching the problem

  • Don’t look for answers before understanding the questions
    Take time to define a brand and content strategy at the beginning of a project, and don’t be afraid to “course-correct” when new challenges arise.

Working better together, remotely

  • Mutual trust and good communication are critical for distributed teams
    It’s hard to build trust with a person you have never met. Try to schedule some in-person meetings and events to humanize everyone involved.
  • Provide visibility into progress on projects
    Project management tools that visualize milestones and keep tasks straight are a valuable way to keep people (who only communicate by phone or email) on the same page.
  • Improve communication with video conferencing and instant messaging
    Video conferencing can greatly improve meeting quality and is easier than ever. Instant messaging can also be utilized to foster good remote communication. Create chat rooms for each project and department so that all the right people can connect instantly.

Strengthening company culture

  • Conduct project post-mortems
    Take some time at the end of a project to talk openly about what went well and what you can improve next time.
  • Be aware of the point of diminishing returns in pursuing leanness and efficiency
    Multi-tasking can actually double the amount of time it takes to complete each task; It requires you to shift gears, re-read notes, catch up on new developments and remember where you left off.
  • Keep company values known
    Keeping company values at the top of everyone’s mind helps individuals understand the larger goals at play, and builds a larger sense of community.

Improving deliverables

  • Think beyond lists and spreadsheets
    Create visualizations that convey meaning and add them to your toolbox for future use. Check out Design Document Samples from Awasu Design for some examples.
  • Use a reference sheet to outline a consistent design language or vocabulary
    There is nothing more confusing on a call than using three names for the same thing.
  • Start design reviews with a summary
    Provide context to refresh everyone’s memories and bring new attendees up to speed.

IA & UX Best Practices

  • Taxonomy defines both the expectation and the experience
    If you are expanding into mobile, maintain same argument or rhetoric so your user still understands your product or service.
  • Build a social strategy around dominance, commonality or reciprocation
    When creating a social space for users, think about how you want them to interact. Will they be competitive, fighting for dominance? Seeking commonalities with other users? Sharing knowledge and reciprocating? Look to existing networks that encompass these types of relationships for inspiration (Klout, CircleMe, or Quora, respectively).
  • Think beyond the screen
    Environmental context helps us understand the meaning of individual apps. If you are creating a shopping app, try to capture elements of the real world experience to help users connect with your virtual one.

Have these takeaways been successful for your organization? How do you implement post-conference inspirations? Please post in the comments below!

Categories: Cloudberry, Experience Design
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