IDEA 2010 Conference: Day One

The Information Architecture Institute’s annual IDEA2010 conference, hosted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recently concluded after two pre-conference workshops and two days of presentations. This year’s theme, “Integration: Designing for Tomorrow”,  encapsulated the forward-thinking and motivational goals for this conference. With this in mind, many of the talks were about future trends in technology and how our profession can adapt to meet the opportunities and challenges these trends present. Comprised of both standard conference talks and hands-on breakout sessions, the conference provided opportunities for attendees to learn more from the invited speakers as well as connecting with their peers.

Here’s a recap of the sessions that occurred on the first day.


Ubiquitous Information Architecture and Gamestorming

In the first half of this session, Peter Morville discussed his idea of “intertwingularity.” This term describes integrated technologies as “a place where information blurs the boundaries between products and services to enable multi-channel, cross-platform, trans-media, physico-digital user experiences.”

These increasingly prevalent interaction paradigms are causing our profession to think more strategically about our work. Peter posited that interaction designers need to create ways to capture these intertwingular interactions in maps. Looking to service blueprints and what other information architect professionals are doing in terms of documenting these interactions as inspiration, he worked with Jeffrey Callender to create an experience map.

Experience maps show challenges and opportunities from a user experience prospective. Using a usage scenario to frame the map (in the example above “What do I want to do for entertainment on a Friday night?”), user context, decisions, and interactions with services and technology are explored. How products and services compete across categories and how variables such as time, cost, and location may play into a person’s decision making process are all explored.

Upon reflection and discussions with other information architecture professionals, he concluded that this experience map was a good start, but did not fully meet the objectives of the experience map and could be improved upon. He invited the audience to provide feedback on how to take this to the next step in the day’s first breakout session using gamestorming techniques


Slides of his talk can be found at:


After Peter’s talk, the three authors of Gamestorming came up for a Q and A session with Peter.

Gamestorming techniques allow teams visually solve problems. These techniques help make creative generation work more productive and replicable. Culled from their past professional work and from interviews with creative professional peers, these gamestorming techniques are captured in their book.

Information work is more like craft work where junior practitioners learn techniques through apprenticeship type roles. However, this type of work is hard to observe. Gamestorming helps capture these processes for people to use information as well and encapsulates techniques for people to use. As one of the authors said, this type of work is best learned by doing and trying out the techniques.

Peter invited the audience to use the gamestorming techniques to work with him to help develop the experience map covered in his intertwingability topic.


Going Native: The Anthropology of Mobile App Design


How do you design for all of the mobile operating systems and devices out there? Josh Clark, a developer and designer specializing in mobile technology, covered how to consider the divergent cultures of these various mobile platforms when designing mobile applications.

Culture comprises the following: population, customs, governance, style of dress, and belief. Using this as a framework, he examined how the cultures of various mobile platforms (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and Windows Mobile) are different. His presentation covered the statistics surrounding the users of these devices. He used this information and the advertisements of these devices to inform his summary of these different cultures.

He suggested that given all of these cultures, practitioners should think about the target users, their mobile phone use and then design applications accordingly. For example, if you are creating something for a group that has not been shown to be smart phone users, it may make more sense to design an SMS application instead of a mobile application. This suggestion seems exceedingly appropriate for an audience likely to use bleeding edge technology.

These cultures also provide opportunities for mobile device designers and will change over time. Those who design for mobile devices should pay attention to how these various cultures emerge.

You can check out Josh’s slides at:



(How is This All) Going to Work? What we Teach, How we Learn, and What Employers Want

This panel was comprised of a group of user experience practitioners: those currently in graduate school, recent graduates, user experience directors, interaction design professors, and a recruiter. Each of these people gave quick talks about their professional roles and shared advice about professional development.

Erin Moore – Erin is a student in the MFA in Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City. She outlined how she determined what she was looking for out of a graduate program and explained how the program at SVA is meeting her needs.

Liz Danzico – Liz is the current chair of the MFA Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts. She presented three pillars of learning in the program she leads: experience, behavior observation and empathy, and language. Through targeting these three areas, she is successfully educating students in the SVA program.

Dan Klyn – Dan is a lecturer in Information Architecture at the University of Michigan. He discussed the how the discussion in the field over the difference between information architecture and interaction design is influencing how he is teaching his students. He has his students explore the intersection of these terms (or as he called them “the slash”) as part of their education.

Katie McCurdy – Katie is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan Human-Computer Interaction program who now works as an interaction designer at R/GA. She talked about four things did at school to get the job she has now: 1) learned tools and methods and technology, 2) practiced working through and presenting design challenges, 3) worked on an independent project, and 4) met as many people as possible, especially at conferences.

Cindy Chastain – Cindy is the creative director at R/GA and is also professor at the interaction design program at FIT. She outlined what she looks for when hiring practitioners and how she helps the people on her team grow. She outlined the idea of a t-shaped person who has deep expertise in a few areas and a general knowledge of other applicable areas. Through this framework, a person can evaluate where they are in their career, where they can grow professionally, and how they can work best with the others on their team.

Amanda Schonfeld – Amanda is a recruiter at Sapient. She shared advice on what to do (and not do) when getting a job. Networking a critical part of getting a job and how you present yourself is key. She also stressed the importance of tailoring your application to the company, being appropriately proactive when contacting a company about a position, and being nice to the recruiter when an interviewer doesn’t go your way.

Richard Dalton – Richard is the manager of user experience at Vanguard. He mentioned the three main characteristics of the ideal candidate: talent, cultural fit, and passion. He reviewed the various ways he assesses these three areas.

Trends in the Future of Online Experiences

Forrester Research Senior Analyst Vidya L. Drego presented a summary of where digital services and experiences may be heading within the next two to three years. The talk began with an evolution of motor vehicles to reinforce how early sequential versions of technology are often closely tied to the metaphors and functionality they intend to replace. She then introduced how web sites have mimicked a similar pattern over the last fifteen years.

Her research at Forrester shows how many digital services are finally differentiating themselves from what have been the norm (static information sites read on a desktop) and will continue evolving as customized, aggregated, relevant, and social services (collectively referred to as CARS) experienced on many devices.

Vidya’s presentation included many examples of services now using the CARS framework, and suggested that the coming years will see more and more people gravitating to services employing such a framework. Among her examples of early adopters to CARS, she specified the work of USAA and how their mobile application is a primary touchpoint for their auto insurance interactions with customers, and Though many in the audience are likely familiar with providing customized, aggregated, relevant and social experiences, it’s important to understand these experiences are becoming more mainstream, and thus expected by potential and current customers and audiences.  She also reinforced the importance of aligning the CARS framework with actual customer needs and business objectives to provide services that actually benefit the provider and consumer.

We Are All Content Strategists Now

Karen McGrane of Bond Art & Science closed the first day of IDEA with a rousing presentation mixed with a presentation style and format that had yet to be seen.

Rather than describing what a content strategy is or is not, she showed how content has been neglected throughout many design processes and methods. She also had some good suggestions on how to engage clients who may think content can be left to plug into a content management system days before release. Content is a crucial piece of user experience and it us up to all of us to ensure this isn’t left on the sidelines.

Karen encouraged interaction designers to do three things to ensure content is included in the user experience design process:

  1. think beyond the template
  2. evaluate content quality
  3. plan for content creation

Think beyond the template – Make sure you evaluate not only page templates, but also the content of the pages. Start by taking an inventory of the application’s current content and determine the content gaps. Ensure that this task is done early with your client; this is a large task that should not be done at the last minute.

Evaluate content quality – Don’t just inventory content, evaluate the quality and usability of your content

Plan for content creation – Like developers, writers work better with directions. Include content directions in your screen specification documents.

Karen also discussed the role of a content strategist and how this role relates to information architecture and interaction design roles. She urged us to not fear this specialization. She compared what we do as application creators to TV show productions: TV shows have a lot of people with specialized roles to make a TV production happen. She suggested that our industry is very similar and that having a lot of roles signals a field’s maturity.

She hoped by the end of her talk that we would realize the importance of content, use our newly acquired content strategy tools, and partner with a content strategist person more often. Karen’s talk was very informative and convincing. She argued convincingly that we need to not only analyze and refine content as part of the design process itself, but proactively engage our clients to understand content as more important to business success than simply more features or slick functionality.

Amy Quinn

Amy Quinn is a Product Manager of UX Tools at Infragistics. For the past decade, she has been a user researcher and interaction designer both as a consultant and as part of internal UX teams. She has a Masters of Human Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University.

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