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Converging with Curiosity: Defining a discipline

About the Talk

March 23, 2018 3:30 PM

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL

"I don't want to worry anyone. This isn't really another one of those talks that asks 'What is IA?'. I know the quest to 'define the damn thing' treads a well-worn path. But when the theme of IA Summit 2018 was announced I couldn't help but think about my own role and practice. I'm the creative director for user experience architecture at the world's largest public sector broadcaster. I lead an IA team of specialists. I love IA. And yet, my job title describes user experience architecture - not information architecture.

I'll be honest, I inherited the job title and it took me some time to fall in love with it. But I have. In this talk I'll describe why I think some principles outside of the traditional practice of IA make our team more effective. I’m not sure whether this is a re-definition or re-shaping of IA. I’m not sure whether the way I have designed and developed the discipline makes me a traitor? I think we've just now got a better grasp on the skills that surround the specialism when we're at our most effective. I think I’m still an IA. I hope I’m still in the club. But I’ll let IA Summit decide.

Perhaps it's down to the maturing of the digital industries. Or perhaps it's just that I'm getting older and less unwise. But it feels like there are different ways of protecting and developing a discipline. One selfish way is to prioritise our needs as experts, provide the oppositional viewpoint and try to 'win' for IAs everywhere. This is when we see IA as needing defending - it sets us in opposition to those around us.

I work in a team of over 160 UX professionals. IAs are always the minority. If we're in opposition then we're likely to lose. But we're so valuable because our mindset and skillset is different to other areas of UX. But by accentuating difference we usually over-stress separation. How do you build an IA discipline in a major, global corporation?

Great IA is the balancing of connection and separation. Connecting to other disciplines and expanding our practice brings more coherence, efficiency and resilience to our teams and ourselves. This talk will be a defence of a more integrated approach to IA-ing – a sort of converged discipline where we make the most of the IA-mindset by finding strategies and tactics to connect our specialism to other areas of UX.

That's the theory. I'll share how I have defined and built the discipline at the BBC. I'll describe how IA is at the core of our practice - and what surrounds and supports it. I'll talk about the dynamics in the IA team, the UX team and the larger division of over 2,000 people.

From theory I'll move to talking about how those decisions practically impact what we do. I'll share 3 case studies where IA's have had to extend their comfort zone to ensure their effectiveness - what we've learned from other disciplines and invented to extend our own. After each case study I’ll offer attendees the chance to vote online (because live software-dependent interactions and demos always run smoothly) which adds to the fun and interactivity of the session.

One case study will focus on our work with voice interfaces. How have we defined the role of a UX architect for a project where the interface is language - but the project space is highly contested - both internally and externally? How do we stake a claim and recognise our own limitations? How do we learn from others and make space for other perspectives while earning a seat at the table? And what concerns should IAs take responsibility for voicing?

With information sources being aggregated and voice being an area of innovation, what does this mean for information-related behaviours? I'll describe how we've underpinned our work in this area through careful and extensive design research - another area I'm responsible for. I'll share a behavioural model we've been using to ensure that our work on voice is truly user-centred. Insights from research have then underpinned a stage of work more reliant on traditional IA skills.

I'll talk about the methods we've used for scoping the strategic objectives to focus on for voice - alongside how we've remained nimble to exploit opportunities as they've emerged. I'll also talk about how we've tried to incorporate Standards for voice into our Global Experience Language. Design systems are a natural home for IA. The definition of patterns and their parts is an IA's dream - we really do get to define a thing. Atomic design principles have given us some guidance on how IA might connect to the definition of design systems and patterns. But how do you do this for new and emerging platforms and interfaces, including voice?

I'll stress the non-IA-ish behaviours and competencies that we've seen are most important in delivering great IA work. I'll also talk about the frustration of finding abbreviations when visual user interface and voice user interface both share the same initials."

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