March 4, 2005 DESIGN IT! Report

Kazuhito Kidachi
Front-end Engineer, Web Development Team

Over the three-day period from February 28 to March 2, I took part in the “DESIGN IT! Pre-Conference 2005” (“DESIGN IT!”) at Gaienmae in Tokyo. Mr. Toshikazu Shinohara, CEO of Sociomedia Inc., the organizers of the event, explained that the title has a number of different meanings. For one, it captures a desire to improve the design of “IT”, which can refer to either information technology or more generally to the environment and everything around us (“it”). The title also represents an attempt to focus on the stages prior to implementation (based on the technical term “IT design”).

Covering a total of six fields ? design management, content management, information architecture, interaction, accessibility and strategy ? DESIGN IT! featured a wide range of talks from invited speakers from all over the world and a large number of panel discussions. Although the timetable did not permit me to take part in each and every session, the following is brief overview of the talks I focused on in the field of information architecture.

First let us take a look at “The Elements of User Experience”, one of the keynote speeches on the second day of the conference. The speaker was Mr. Jesse James Garrett from Adaptive Path, a globally recognized name in the field of information architecture. Garrett explained the individual elements that make up a website, dividing them up into five planes; strategy, scope, structure, skeleton and surface. I felt that it would be possible to apply his ideas to any website regardless of how complex the structure or how large the scale and that, in a sense, he had really touched upon the essence of the Web. With a Japanese translation of Garrett's book “The Elements of User Experience” having just been released, I suspect that this excellent approach is likely to become widely accepted in Japan in the future, which is definitely a good thing.

In another keynote speech on the opening day of the conference (“The Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams”), Garrett talked about the processes and staff issues involved in design and development, an area closely linked to the ideas mentioned above. Here Garrett broke the process of website construction down into nine “pillars”; user research, site strategy, technology strategy, content strategy, abstract design, technology implementation, content production, concrete design and project management. An overview is available online in the shape of the Adaptive Path essay “The Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams”. If you are interested, I recommend that you take a look.

Now let us move on to “Information Architecture for Web Design”, a talk given on the afternoon of the same day by Mr. Atsushi Hasegawa, President of Concent Inc. Having started out by defining information architecture based on a user-oriented approach, Hasegawa went on to discuss the field's role, function and prospects for the future. Although we were unfortunately unable to hear detailed discussion of case studies due to time constraints, I felt that the talk helped me to rethink that most elementary, fundamental question of “what is IA (Information Architecture)?”.

It may be just a couple of letters, but “IA” encompasses a range of meanings. On the one hand there is the most obvious type of IA that forms part of the workflow of website construction (whether it is actually recognized as IA or not), but there is also the type of IA performed by directors and designers, or the type of IA handled by specialists dubbed information architect. In my opinion, the fact that it is impossible to draw clear dividing lines between these areas, meaning that things vary depending on factors such as the scale of the site under construction and the composition of the team constructing it, is one of the key difficulties involved in implementing IA. This is why we need to continue to increase our understanding and experience in the future, something the conference gave me a renewed awareness of.

Incidentally, both Mr. Garrett and Mr. Hasegawa headed off to Canada after the DESIGN IT! conference to take part in the IA Summit 2005. Despite having always known about the existence of such an event, I have not yet had the chance to take part. I hope to put this situation to rights and go to the event myself next year.

As the title “Pre-Conference” suggests, this was not the sum total of this year's DESIGN IT! events but the prelude to the full conference scheduled to take place in November. Although it is still over half a year away, this really is an event to look forward to. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt thanks to Sociomedia Inc. for planning such a marvelous event and providing the opportunity to hear a range of invaluable talks and meet the speakers. Thank you very much.

Moving away from the main topic, I would like to finish with an announcement. As of today we are launching a Web Standards Blog. The purpose of this blog is to provide webmasters and Web designers interested in Web standards with details of a wide range of techniques, know-how and useful resources relating to the use of Web standards.

During a panel discussion on the final day of the DESIGN IT! conference, a member of the audience asked interaction designer Mr. Marc Rettig about initial research and orders for work. This probably stemmed from the fact that Rettig had stated that getting orders depends on the results of initial research as part of his talk at the conference. In his response however, Rettig stressed that, at the end of the day, it is business value you are providing to the customer, not research results.

Although those hoping to make use of Web standards have to determine where best to channel the various benefits on a case by case basis, the overall aim, as stated in the aforementioned Q&A session, is to generate sufficient business value in return for the money spent. There may be a degree of overlap with the contents of the Web Standards Seminar, but we plan to start off the Web Standards Blog focusing on the area of value, before gradually shifting towards the more technical side of things (XHTML, CSS, etc.). We intend to continue to touch upon the relationship between IA and Web standards as we go along. We hope it will be of great help.

For more information on our services, timeframes and estimates, as well as examples of our work, please feel free to be in touch.