Names and Languages: Eric Reiss on IA and EuroIA


EuroIA is the primary European Information Architecture conference. In 2011 it took place in Prague, The Czech Republic.

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Not an Englishman in New York but an American in Denmark, Eric Reiss has been a leading figure in both developing and evangeling information architecture, but promoting European voices in IA through the EuroIA conference. In the lead up to its sixth event, this time taking place in Prague, Vicky Teinaki had a quick chat with Reiss about UX in Europe, IA back in the age of WAP, and his threatened Wikipedia page.

Given your Wikipedia page appears to be at risk of being taken down*, how would you describe yourself new to the world of IA and UX?

Happily, my career doesn’t depend on a mention on the Wikipedia, although it is flattering that so many people took the time to contribute to the page. Basically, though, I am simply someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how to make things better. Generally, if something doesn’t work well or a procedure is difficult, people just shrug their shoulders, sigh, and accept things. I don’t. I never did, even as a small child.

IA seems to always be under attack from other more interesting sounding terms, be it UX (with nods to Jesse James Garret’s “it’s all UX” back in 2008) or more recently content strategy. Where does IA sit these days?

The individual terms are unimportant. But UX is a good umbrella for a lot of skills, including information architecture, service design, etc. And the term is gaining a lot of attention; Scott Berkun calls this “The Golden Age of User Experience”. The problem is not so much the terms we use as those who promote them. But you can’t build a career by putting old wine in new bottles.

You’ve been organising EuroIA since 2005. Right from the outset that EuroIA has been very strong about its regionality (and specifically not being American). What are the challenges (and rewards) involved with catering for such a wide audience as all of Europe?

The challenge is that Europe is incredibly diverse. The cultures are unique, as are the languages. We have some countries that simply refuse to integrate for a variety of political reasons. But helping to build EuroIA, along with a fabulously talented programme committee, local ambassadors in over 20 countries, and the unswerving support of the American Society for Information Science and Technology has been incredibly rewarding.

When we started seven years ago, there were no IA or UX conferences in Europe. We realized the need to build pan-European relationships and respect the cultural diversity that makes us unique. For several years, we didn’t allow Americans to speak simply because they already had good conferences; we needed to bring unknown local talent to the forefront. And we did! Last year, about 25% of the European programme was reprised at the North American IA Summit in Denver. I am tremendously proud that we have been able to stand on our own feet.

Today, there are local conferences throughout Europe. There is a growing professional network.
We have played an important role in bringing this about.  Conversely, our conference perhaps less about information architecture than one might think. Our scope gets broader each year.

I notice you have country ambassadors (very Eurovision!). Can you give us any more information about how that works?

It’s very simple; we need people who know their local communities and can promote the conference in their local language. This is the primary role of the country ambassador. For the most part, people have simply written to me and asked to do the job. And I let them do it. Of course, we bring in new blood from time to time if we don’t feel the CA is pulling his or her weight.

I recently revisited your book on Practical Information Architecture. While a lot of things have changed since 2000 (I’d completely forgotten about the fuss about WAP!) a lot haven’t.

I’m currently working on a revision, along with a good friend and colleague in Budapest, Judit Ponya. We, too, were surprised at how much was still relevant so many years later. But then again, when I wrote the original book, I tried to focus on the generic aspects of the subject and not get bogged down in technologies. The WAP section to which you refer, was in the very last chapter, which dealt with future perspectives of the industry. Curiously, although WAP never caught on, my predictions regarding the rise of apps and such have proven remarkably accurate.

In your keynote for EuroIA “Users, Experience, and Beyond”, you’re promising to give us a framework for looking into experiences. Without giving the game away, can you give us any hints about what you’re going to be talking about?

Well, at my company, FatDUX, we’ve experimented with various tools to help define and quantify user experience. I’ve already blogged about this, but I thought it was high time to actually do a step-by-step run-through of some of our techniques. There’s no obligation for anyone to adopt these, but they work for us and ought to work for others, too.

Eric Reiss is a keynote for EuroIA, taking place in Prague, Czech Republic from September 22-25 2011.


*Editor’s note: as of going to print, Eric’s article appears to be safe.

Vicky Teinaki

An England-based Kiwi, Vicky is doing a PhD at Northumbria University into how designers can better talk about touch and products. When not researching or keeping Johnny Holland running, she does the odd bit of web development, pretends her TV licence money goes only to Steven Moffatt shows, and tweets prolifically about all of the above as @vickytnz.

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