IA Summit ’09

One of the benefits of being a Student Chapter of ASIS&T is that we were able to send a volunteer (full disclosure: it was me) to this year’s IA Summit in Memphis, TN. In exchange for assisting the presenters at one to two sessions per day, the volunteers’ registration fees were waived. This was incredibly generous of them, and an opportunity that ASIS&T will be pursuing again next year.
Read more to find out about what the Summit was like.

Luckily, the Summit ran from March 20-22, coinciding with Pratt’s Spring Break. My first impressions were of the crowd in general: everyone was friendly, and there was a refreshing lack of ego. It was common to see published authors mingling with old friends as well as new students. And everyone (except for me, I am a luddite apparently) was on Twitter. There was a lot of structure in place to engage the first-time attendees, including a bout of UX trading card exchanges, discussion-topic lunch tables, a mentoring booth, and career boards.

A few rifts within the IA community revealed themselves during panel discussions. There was debate over whether paper prototyping and wireframes remain relevant methods. Also, I had no idea that within the professional community there is a subdued rift between the IA and ID communities – I had perceived these two job titles as different sides on the same coin.

The keynote address was given by Prof. Michael Wesch. If you haven’t yet seen his video, Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us, please watch it (below) now! He made a great talk on the role of IA in harnessing the tools that we have available to foster social change, and his talk was laden with some familiar names to anyone who’s taken one of Walczyk’s classes (McLuhan, Postman, et al). A video of his talk should be posted in the coming weeks on BoxesAndArrows.com.

The closing plenary was given by Jesse James Garrett. You may be familiar with his diagram, the famous Elements of User Experience. This was an interesting talk to attend – it was basically a call to arms to the IA community to get serious and start publishing and sharing their work. (Conveniently, this talk came a mere two weeks before the launch of the Journal of Information Architecture.) Things got a bit evangelical when he addressed the rift between IA/ID, and proclaimed that there is no IA or ID, and that we are all in the business of User Experience Design. People were clapping and hollering, and I may have heard an “Amen!” or two.

Some of the themes that emerged from the rest of the sessions were:

a) A desire to develop as a professional field – many sessions focused on how to play nice with the suits.

b) A fascination with the semantic web.

c) An acknowledgement that designs need to extend beyond the web page – ubiquitous computing is on its way. (Karl Fast of Kent State gave an excellent talk on this, called “Is Interaction Necessary?” His presentation is promised to be up on SlideShare & the podcast should be up on Boxes And Arrows within the next couple of weeks. Also, John Pettengill’s presentation, “The Internet Watered Down,” is already up on SlideShare.)

Many presentations from the Summit are already up on SlideShare, and BoxesAndArrows.com promises that within the next couple of weeks they will have uploaded podcasts from all of the sessions, as well as videos of Prof. Wesch’s keynote and Jesse James Garrett’s plenary talk.

Overall, I highly recommend attending the IA Summit next year (2010 will be held in Phoenix, AZ.) Hopefully ASIS&T will yet again allow us to send a student volunteer or two – keep your eyes on the SILS listserv next spring!


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