Five smart takeaways from World IA Day 2016

Every year, World IA day brings designers, strategists and technologists together for a one-day conference held simultaneously in cities around the world. This year’s theme, “Information Everywhere, Architects Everywhere,” invited participants to consider the ubiquity of information design in both the physical and digital space, and its potential for social, emotional and business impact. Here are five things that struck a chord with us from World IA Day New York and Chicago:

1. Meaningful Innovation Cuts Through the Noise
Jared Caponi, who runs a UX consultancy called Exploded Map, kicked off the morning in New York with “Personalities, Politics, Art and Design,” a talk on the interaction of people and content within the context of museum design. He cited the realization, in 1959, of the groundbreaking and radically expressive Guggenheim spiral as a testament to the power of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s partnership with visionary director Hilla Rebay–despite a complex power struggle between its creators, city officials, the art world and a public whose tastes skewed toward vainglorious Beaux-arts Palaces and sleek International Style Pavilions. Using the enduring popularity of Wright’s innovative form and the museum’s global expansion as a parable for brand experiences elsewhere, Caponi illustrated the value of building strategic alliances, considering context, embracing constraints, and knowing when to challenge paradigms to create experiences with greater emotional resonance. Check out a slideshow of the talk here.

2. The next generation of information architecture is through hypermobile, hyper local materials

According to Anijo Punnen Mathew, an Associate Professor at IllinoisTech’s Institute of Design, we need to start using technology and information architecture to contextually connect the massive amounts of information created daily. Mathew champions this idea through his startup Vamonde, a storytelling app that contains adventures with titles like “Wicker Park’s Best Kept Secrets” and “10 Iconic Chicago Buildings.” The catch? The user can only unlock the adventure’s content when they are physically in a location (say, Tribune Tower), transforming an otherwise mundane walk on Michigan Avenue into a museum-like experience.

3. Contextual Apps, Commercial AIs & Choice Architectures: First, Create a Shared Language

Loren Davie, founder of Axilent and former tech director at Huge and Alexander Interactive, took a more futuristic tact in his talk on contextual applications (that is, applications that respond dynamically to user context). According to Davie, the natural language conversation is the perfect vector for contextually-aware human-computer interaction–hence the voice-controlled, toilet-paper-ordering Amazon Echo. With contextual apps and commercialized AIs like Alexa, Watson and Siri still in their infancy, however, Davie advises technologists and designers to first focus on developing a shared vocabulary and “bootstrapping metaphor” to describe the problem space. Enter CAVE, or Conversational Architecture Visual Expression, Davie’s stab at a a compact, cross-disciplinary and methodology-neutral design language aimed at making the intractables of multi-directional, multi-modal, multi-channel interactions more tractable. Check out a slideshow of the talk here.

4. Information Design Your Information Design

Hana Schank and Kristine Malden of Collective UX brought the conversation back to earth by dispensing practical advice for UX professionals. Mining past blunders for insight, they argued that, in addition to designing information for end-users, UXers stand to benefit from practicing a sort of meta-awareness of how and what they communicate to clients and stakeholders. According to the duo, UX practitioners are confronted with three common challenges: 1. No one knows what you do; 2. No one knows what they need; 3. They’re not entirely sure they want your opinion anyway. To counteract this, the duo advises front-loading projects with clear, candid conversations around the various ways UX can provide value in order to define and align on roles, goals, and expectations for activities, deliverables, and problem and solution domains. In a nutshell, “If you’re going to do a sitemap with no inputs, explain the limitations.” Schank and Malden also illustrated how research may unearth solution domains that clients and stakeholders may not be willing to explore. In cases like this, they offer a concise #protip: “Guide, recommend and move on.”

5. Your client is a user, too.

When it comes to collaboration, the magic word is “relationship,” according to Sam Spicer, Experience Director at Razorfish, and neither a relationship nor collaboration is possible without trust. In his talk “Collaborate Like You Mean It,” Spicer explained that understanding the client—their struggles, motivations and pressures—is just as important as understanding the user. When everyone on the team understands what each other’s world looks like, we can build trust, healthier relationships and collaborate effectively.

All talks can be viewed here.

Above article authored by Nina Khachiyan and Jessica Dillard, UX at VSA Partners.