Last week I attended and presented at the 2011 Polish IA Summit. The organizers (the Polish agency UseLab) and presenters did a good job at showing the state of IA in Poland and, by listening to each other, asking the right questions, and socializing, helped promote IA in Poland. My closing keynote, “UX: (still) the next step for IAs?” aimed at doing the same thing; it was a call to look around at others in the field, at nearby fields, and User Experience as an umbrella for their work.
Both days of the program were mostly filled with case-studies, except for the bookend keynotes by Martin Belam, Claire Rowland & Chris Browne, Marianne Sweeny and me. Below are my observations, written down as extremes on different scales.
From Sketches to Post-mortems
Krzysztof Trzewiczek presented his early work on a site where interested citizens could gather and download open data from the Polish government. He walked the audience through his navigation scheme and interaction options, and then asked us for input on what he just showed. It was an honest attempt at gathering feedback in an early stage, but I am not sure if a plenary conference presentation is the best way to take the next step.
The collaborative presentation about Playmobile.pl (about the telephone operator Play, not the Playmobil figurines) by the client and their agency K2, was better suited for the event. The entire lifecycle of the project, as well as the ways they cooperated and helped each other fine-tune the scope of each phase of the project was insightful and a great showcase of client-agency collaboration.
From Research to Implementation
Agnieszka Szóstek showed us how to do early design research and co-design the right way, with an overview of exercises to extract useful information from experts and users. What struck me most (and in a positive way!) was the use of low-fidelity tools: the intermediate deliverables of the research sessions were simple diagrams, skecthes and hand-drawn tables. I was glad to hear her submission to the CHI conference that was based on this work (she convinced the client to do the work “by the book” to ensure it was publishable), was rewarded with excellent review scores.
On the other end of a project, after all the work is done, you can look back at the process. Like the Play case study, the redesign of Filmweb was presented by the client and the agency, and they walked us through approaches, restyles, user feedback in discussion fora (“where are my reviews”), and resulting usage statistics. A solid case study, but with little surprises.
From Hardware to Software
Good use of glasses with a built-in eye-tracking camera was shown in the case study that evaluated ticket machines for public transport. Even though some of the findings would have been discovered by a good heuristic review, it's always good to see the red dots do their panic dance when the user is confused. And, once again, this case study should be an indicator for the makers of the hardware that the physical arrangement of buttons, slots, and printer should be be optimized (or made flexible).
An interesting piece of software that was shown by Hubert Anyzewski from UseLab was the so-called TalentGame that allows children to play a game while measuring the skills that they could use later on in their career. Activities ranged from determining the skills to be measured, to creating a complete virtual world and configurable characters. It was also good to see the EU funds projects like this.
From tech to marketing
UX covers a broad range of fields, and information architects will have to work with professionals from all of them. It was good to see both technology-driven presentations such as Thomas Kopacz' “Quo Vadis IT” and the e-marketing focus in “Engage & Have Fun” by Maciej Kaliciński. Especially that last one was, not unsurprisingly, visually attractive as it featured videoclips showing how the marketing concepts for FMCG brands like Knorr and Dove were brought to life.
From Personal Histories to Recent Events
The opening and closing sessions of both days were delivered by international, invited speakers. Martin Belam, lead UX & IA at the Guardian, delivered the opening keynote by sharing his personal history as an Information Architect, from organizing his own record collection, via structuring those of his employers (from record stores to the BBC and Sony), to his current work at the Guardian. His “5 lessons from an Information Architecture career” contain worthwhile advice for any UX practitioner.
Opening Day 2 was Marianne Sweeny who, I can safely say, knows a lot about search engines and how to design so they index your work in the most optimized way. Her presentation included many aspects of this field and included recent case studies and changes in indexing algorithms, complete with the industry's names for the changes (such as “Mayday” for an update in May 2010 and “Farmer” for an update that decreased the page rank for content farms). She predicted that in the near future, the search engines will start looking beyond the content on a page, but at the placement of that content in the layout of the page, possibly supported by microformats and the use of semantic tags in HTML.
From Old to New
Claire Rowland and Chris Browne from Fjord London showed us the context of their EU-supported, “internet-of-things” themed Smarcos project. They covered plenty of good examples about device-service relationships, interoperability and smart platforms, and how designers can keep the user in control. This is definitely the way that a lot of future UX work will go; reading up on this topic (a mix of service design and ubiquitous computing) is mandatory for UX practitioners.
And, finally, my own presentation was a like the old wedding custom: “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”: I repeated the explanation of the relationship between Information Architecture and User Experience that I presented at the first Italian IA Summit in 2006, using the T-model to show the overlap.
After that, I showed how UX practitioners worldwide organize themselves, and help each other in advancing the field. I encouraged all attendees (and all those reading this) to consider themselves UX practitioners and share their thoughts, ideas, questions and progress with fellow practitioners.
From Sights to Seeing Double
Outside of the beautiful venue, Galeria Zachęta, and the next-door Sofitel Victoria hotel, I managed to explore the city center a bit. It's a weird feeling walking around in what looks like a really old city, but was basically rebuilt from scratch after being bombed in 1945:
On more than one occasion, I ended up in the lovely BrowArmia microbrewery and pub where food, beer, vodka and pleasant company made for good memories of Poland.
All in all, it was great to see the Polish IA community get together and share case studies. During the Q&A after my session, someone suggested that next year we should invite more business types to this type of event and that might indeed be the next step for our community.