May 31, 2016 IA Summit 2016 Attendance Report

Dai Maejima
UX Team, Information Architect

I attended the IA Summit 2016 held in Atlanta, USA. In this column, I will give an overview of the keynote speeches.

About IA, About the IA Summit

IA stands for Information Architecture, a specialist field that encompasses the structuring, design and presentation of information. An important part of information architecture is the organization of complex information into an easy-to-understand format so that it can be more efficiently and effectively conveyed. An Information Architect, also abbreviated as IA, is used to define a person who has the specialist skills to structure information.

The IA Summit, now in its seventeenth year, is widely recognized as the leading global event for UX specialists and practitioners working in the field of IA.

A Broader Perspective, A Broader Range of People

The theme for this year's event was “A Broader Panorama”.

With the development of new technologies such as IoT, voice-activated devices and virtual reality - digital space has been transformed; accordingly there has been a paradigm shift in IA - from consideration of only page-based models to a focus on various interactive fields. In order to structure information in this rapidly changing world, the role that IAs play will only grow in importance. Furthermore, it will become increasingly essential that IA/UX practitioners collaborate with a range of specialists in the wider field.

Designing for Diversity and Inclusiveness

The opening keynote was given by Lisa Welchman, a specialist with a wealth of experience in digital governance and organizational improvement as well as author of Managing Chaos. In Welchman's piece, titled “Inclusiveness in the Digital Maker Community”, she discussed themes related to diversity and inclusiveness (non-exclusivity/social cohesion) in the sphere of digital governance.

Welchman argued that “digital governance is about getting a team to work together toward a shared goal.” She contended that diversity and inclusiveness are indispensable for the creation of successful digital organizations – the initiative would start with the CEO and CMO, as content strategists, and cover a multitude of roles including IA, UX designers, coders, writers, and system developers. Therefore, it is important to intentionally design and integrate teams so that members are working toward common goals.

Lisa Welchman gives the opening keynote

During the second day's evening talk session, blind accessibility engineer Léonie Watson expounded about the importance of accessibility.

“If you lost your vision how would you operate a mouse? If you were unable to freely move your body, how would you manipulate a touch screen?” Watson's words resonated. The core message was that it is the duty of each and every one of us, as humans, to consider accessibility issues and that by ignoring the issues we may be disregarding our own possible futures.

Furthermore, in order to achieve inclusivity in the true sense of the word, Watson argued that accessibility is essential.

Evening talk

I will not mention the content of individual sessions in this column; however, I would like to share a point that resonated with me. Regarding the digital services economy, it was noted that there is an information technology gap that can be distinguished by residential areas and is based primarily on race. We, as individuals and members of society, must realize an environment where all people have equal access to information and services without discrimination.

From User Experience to Human Experience, and the Realization of Humanity

The closing keynote was delivered by Jesse James Garrett, a founding member of Adaptive Path – a world-leading UX design company.

Jesse James Garrett gives the closing keynote

Garrett stated that when we ponder the outset of the human race, a time when phones, cars and large organizations did not exist, then today's world is a very different environment. In the beginning our experiences were shaped by nature; however, over the last couple of millennia, there have been tremendous advances in science and technology and we have reshaped our world and thus reshaped our experiences. We are now living lives of designed experiences – whether they be good or bad.

Garrett stated that in his talk he would focus more on the human experience as opposed to user experience; this is because he had come to believe that use is only part of a larger story and that “the experiences of humans cannot be contained in a bundling of user experience alone”. We, as individuals, are diverse in character, experience, race and gender, cultural background and so on, as the differences are infinite it is therefore essential to comprehend the human experience as opposed to the user experience.

Furthermore, Garrett referenced Lisa Welchman's opening keynote on digital organization theory. Garrett stated the even though organizations and social systems have been created by humans, are managed by humans and staffed by humans, they do not behave like humans – rather, he stated, they behave like “monsters”. These are monsters, despite being made by and for people, seek to optimize themselves; however, by doing so, these organizations can create negative outcomes for humans both at the individual as well as group levels. Garrett argued that we must seek to change organizations – to base their operations on compassion and respect – to make them more human and ensure they think about the human experience.

In Closing

This year's “A Broader Panorama” theme saw IA practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds take the stage to each share their own perspectives and experiences. This provided me with a firm platform of knowledge as well as the motivation to enhance my day-to-day project work.

Incidentally, Jesse James Garrett's presentation consisted of seven sections which he titled “seven sisters”. This reference to the common name for the Pleiades star cluster fitted in well with both the date and the conference theme. The date because the 8 May, the date of his talk, was mother's day and in Greek mythology the Pleiades star cluster is named after the sea nymph Pleione – a mother of seven daughters, a mother of seven sisters. The theme because the Pleiades star cluster is known as subaru in Japanese, and it is said the origin of the name is from the Japanese verb subaru meaning “to come together” or “unite” - as in the stars being together - which was the aim of the summit - to have a broader panorama and bring people together.

At the conference it was stated that information architects must move beyond the management and structuring of information, that they must take a broader societal perspective. By taking a broader perspective, architects will be able to make more complete plans that seek to improve the lives of people around the world. Coming back with this mission in mind, I will consider ways how I can better design the world to improve human experience.

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