The first European IA Summit (day 1)

The Information Architecture (IA) Summit is the premier event for information architects around the world. This year’s edition in Montreal was my first one and is without doubt the best conference I attended. And as of this month, Europe has its own edition: the EuroIA Summit.

The theme of this first European edition was “Building our community”. The share of Europeans on the American summits was not all that large, so gathering European IA’s was a logical first priority. Personally, I was delighted to see many Dutch attendees, some of whom I saw two days earlier on the SIGCHI.nl conference.

As regards content, these are my personal highlights of the first day of the first EuroIA. It took me a while, but better late than never.

Andrew Dillon kicked off the summit telling the audience not to debate over big vs. little IA or over IA vs. UX, in other words: don’t build a too narrow identity for IA. Speaking of terms like User Experience or User Centered Design, the term “user” doesn’t work anymore. When you’re dealing with information, you’re dealing with people. User suggests a passive recipient, nowadays people are more and more participating in (technological) experiences. “People don’t come here to navigate.” Design for REAL (Respect Experience, Augment Life).

Are Halland shared his experience of trying to get media and market attention for usability. He and his wife Mona conducted a Christmas e-shops usability test for two years in a row and a large-scale search research in 2004. Why did one test get much more media attention than another? Their conclusion: the information and findings must be ‘tabloid’, quantification is powerful, keep it simple and seek high-profile publicity. Some tabloid baits and hooks: money (lost sales, lost productivity), people getting lost or stuck and nationalistic feelings.

Eric Reiss made everyone bite their apple at the same time.Eric Reiss left his chili home, but he brought several other items (light bulbs, cola) to illustrate his talk on Shared References. Although I already knew his presentation, it’s always fun to watch Eric perform as a show master. His key message is to think carefully how you present your products online (what information to give or leave out, which pictures to show), because you don’t know to what amount your visitors share your frame of reference. Or better, try and adapt to the frame of reference of your audience.

The BBC is known to pay much attention to their communication channels, but is that true? Today a team of their IA’s presented the lessons learnt from three years BBC online. They experienced that the BBC web strategy had a long way to go. Reason: the BBC has a broadcast mentality: produce once and leave it with that. For the web, this means many single use websites: “We did the website”. The presentation gave a good insight how the presenters got around in the BBC and did IA for BBC’s large content sites.

Some of my notes:

  • Typical user goals for the BBC site are:
    • perform regular tasks (news, football forum);
    • look up specific information (programs, jobs);
    • find out about (soaps, topics e.g. diabetes);
    • give feedback;
    • find something to entertain (games, news).
  • Links at the top tell “This is not what I seek; take me somewhere else”, while links at the bottom tell “Bring me more like this”.

Ambitiously called “The world’s largest IT project”, Kit Lewis’ presentation on how he worked in a project for UK’s National Health Service (world’s third largest employer) provided a very interesting case study. Some of the biggest challenges were shifting from skyscraper piles of paper records to digital records and bringing dozens of similar administrative systems down to one.

Finally, there were several poster sessions that caught my attention. One of them, “Communicating IA Deliverables” got me spending some extra time exploring Visio some more.

Continued: The first European IA Summit (day 2)