Thinking about summit

By Tim Caynes @timcaynes

Back in January, I put in a speculative submission to the 2011 IA summit organisers to talk about the value of thinking time in experience design, including a preposterous proposition for prediction and protection of that pensive period.

I was kind of using it as a way to determine how to submit next time, after they rejected me. However, they accepted my submission (hopeless jokes included), which kicked off a chain of events, culminating in my Saturday morning session: “I’m not just making this up: The value of thinking time in experience design”.

The IA summit is at a peculiar crossroads, in its eleventh year of being curated by a group of brilliant information architects, hosted by a group of brilliant information technologists, and supported by another group of brilliant information architects, user experience practitioners and assorted superstars, there are differing opinions of what direction future summits might take. This is largely prompted by the larger discussion around defining roles (IA, UX, UE, ID, ETC, etc.) and then determining how the focus of the summit should reflect that. You can have your own debate about that, but, frankly, I was just happy to be there.

While they keep the summit fresh by allowing people like me to effectively sandbox their propositions and ideas (hoorah for that), there is also a fair amount of UX scene celebration and gathering around the piano of reminiscence, but, as was pointed out by Jared Spool, or Lou Rosenfeld, or someone else who had been to all previous eleven summits, these events are the time that your UX heroes actually get to spend some time with each other, in the same room.

They do tend to huddle in corners and just talk to each other. It’s not a superstar thing; it’s just an old friend thing. Anyway, if you take Dan Willis’ advice (as I did) and just stalk your heroes long enough, they eventually have to ask you why you’re just standing there looking a bit awkward and then you can have those conversations about method and practice that you’ve imagined in your head, but actually end up being about cheese and motorbikes or something, with a bit of taxonomy thrown in.

The conference officially kicked off on Friday with a kind of interesting keynote from Nate Silver, but what I’d missed out on (because you had to pay for them) were the pre-conference workshops that sounded like they were really quite good. The biggest buzz appeared to be around Samantha Sturmer’s cross-channel workshop, including on-ramps, off-ramps and, apparently, origami. This was of particular interest to me, as it was directly related to a current project of mine and seemed to draw similar conclusions. If you get the chance to attend, it comes highly recommended. In fact, all the workshops sounded worth the money, so I’d definitely look at attending those next time, if there is a next time.

I saw as many speakers as I could on Friday, and, if I’m honest, I liked them all, although the ‘catch me if you can’ award for super-slick delivery goes to Karen McGrane for her content strategy session. I needed a couple of coffees for that one, which, as many pointed out, had run out by the time I got there. Oh, and it was my birthday. Yay.

Speaking of which, on Friday night I had bagged a place on a first-timer’s dinner, which had been set up by the organisers to break us in gently. The dinners were hosted by people I’d heard of, which was nice, and I had the pleasure of meeting Whitney Hess, Adam Connor and Aaron Irizarry, amongst others, as we stood around a Mongolian barbeque watching vegetarian options being thrown gleefully into the raw beef and juggled with 6ft knives as sickeningly young and fit waiting staff shouted things at each other. Unbeknownst to me, Whitney had let slip about my birthday, so I was treated to a ‘singled out and embarrassed’ episode that involved much shouting and pointing and cheering. And a gong. Thanks Whitney!

So, to Saturday and my session. I’d studiously checked out the room I’d be using the day before, only to find that they’d removed a partition and that it was now twice the size. Eek. That did mean, however, that I got a lectern. I’ve always wanted a lectern. You can check out the slides from the session on slideshare, although, I should point out to my account team that you really need to download it to get the speaker notes, because it’s in there that I say I’m joking, you do really know what you’re doing. As far as I can tell from questions and feedback at the time, and in subsequent follow-ups, it was all rather well-received, and was particularly relevant to agency staff, who find that thinking vs. delivering is nearly always an unbalanced equation.

After I’d presented, I took in a much as I could over the next couple of days, and very good it was too. I was particularly taken with the DIY mobile usability testing session run by Belén Barros Pena and Bernard Tyers and Cennydd Bowles’ excellent closing plenary, but I also rather enjoyed entering the strange world of Settlers of Catan, with Stephen Anderson and Nick Finck. Chris Farnum won the game, but I was quite pleased with the longest road on the board.

The consensus, as I understood it, was that this was one of the best IA summits. I can’t really say whether that’s true, since this was my first IA summit. What I can say was that this was a very good IA summit. Whatever it looks like next time, and whatever it’s called, I hope to be able to be able to attend and maybe present.

Tim Caynes

I’m a Principal Designer at Foolproof which means I’m responsible for the integrity of the design thinking that shapes the work that we do.

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