People, UXPaul McAleer

IA Summit 2017: Watering the Seeds

People, UXPaul McAleer

Note: this article reflected my feelings on IA Summit at the time of attendance. As of 2018, I've learned of serious safety violations at the conference over many years. Please consider that when reading this, as my experience may not be typical. Until further notice, you should not attend the IA Conference (which is what IA Summit is now known as) or support the IA Foundation. – Ed.

Something was different this year.

Last year I shared a concern I feel every year at IAS on whether the conference, this one that I've now attended for five years with a community of people I love, will not feel special.

I echo the sentiments expressed by the great Dylan Wilbanks, whom I met at IAS this year after the polite prodding of everyone we know. Our field, and this conference, is now feeling the effects of a generational shift. When I started in UX, there was no playbook on how to do the work and what was expected; it arose out of the “webmaster” term (as did dozens of other practices) as we learned that our work was more complex and needed more purpose, more focus.

And so I didn't feel the same this year as I did the prior four, not quite. Instead I felt more invested in other people. I wanted to ensure that my first timers (the group that came with me and Andy Fitzgerald to dinner the first night – and the informal group that came with me and Bibi Nunes the second night) were having a good time, and getting the most out of it. I wanted new speakers to know that they were respected, heard, and that the community had their backs. I wanted my friends to know I was there, in presence and in spirit both.

Now. Talks and keynotes were, again, solid. I particularly enjoyed Amber Case's keynote on calm technology and the way we approach tech in general. It, to me, held the strongest connection to the overall theme of Designing for Humans. I can't believe I got to hear Susan Kare talk – such a profound influence on so much of our digital culture. I got a ton out of Dan Ramsden's talk asking what the point of IA was; he's an easy favorite speaker for me. Kyle Soucy challenged my assumptions on KJ analysis and its most practical applications. I took big ideas from Elissa Frankle's talk on the hierarchy of needs in museum experiences, and thought on how they apply to non-physical experiences too.

A favorite moment: on Sunday, a speaker inexplicably missed their speaking slot. The topic was voice UX & UI. A room full of people sat and waited, assuming there would be no session. But there was! Andy Fitzgerald, Shelley Cook, and I started suggesting an impromptu panel and moments later, Amber Case was leading a discussion, recruiting the sole person from the audience who knew voice UX. It was a fireside chat that later turned into a small panel, all on-the-spot without any prep, and pulled off without a hitch.

You Get What You Give

That moment to me symbolized something significant for me this year, something it took me years to absorb: this is a community-run event, with backing from ASIS&T as always, and the community helps design the direction of the event. Mind you, the co-chairs are the leaders – that's not in dispute. But there are so many parts of the conference that sprung up organically. Acoustic Jam, Polar Bear Yoga... these things happened because people just put it together and recommended them.

Thus I'm publicly sharing that I am hoping and planning to have a more significant role in what happens at IAS next year. It's all at the “Hey, I'd like to do these things...” phase with the chairs, but I have a clear idea on what those things are and what needs to happen in order to make them go. And anyone who knows me can guess what they're about. (I am trying to avoid an Osborne Effect here.)

But the rationale isn't just self-serving. I have found my community at IA Summit, and these are the people I learn from, the people I respect. I want and need this conference to be a welcoming, diverse space that continues to bring in new voices – with the wind at their backs, ready and eager to share – while respecting the work of the giants in our field. I want IA Summit to be that place where all of these people come together, sharing and learning and taking exciting things back to work and then sharing and learning again. I want IA Summit to continue to be special for people who attend, and I now want to help see that through from a content and experience perspective.

On Next Year

IA Summit is in my hometown of Chicago in March. Big ideas are in my head: how will I get Kevin Hoffman to enjoy Lou Malnati's? How can we get everyone out into the neighborhoods to explore? What will the influence of the city be on the program? Can we indeed have buckets of giardiniera at the snack breaks? How can one compress the Chicago experience and culture into just a few days in March?

I'm excited to see what happens. I'll see you there next year.

Prior years' posts, for reference: 2013, 2014, 2016. I also spoke at Five Minute Madness this year.