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IA Summit 2012 Recap – Ask Better Questions

Posted on April 2nd, by Brad in Blog. 3 comments

This year I made the return to the IA Summit (http://2012 NULL.iasummit as just an attendee and volunteer. Over the last year and a half I haven’t had the chance to simply attend a conference. Of the ten plus conferences I’ve been to in that time, I’ve spoken at all of them. I don’t mean this to boast, but attending a conference as a speaker puts you in a very different mindset than going as an attendee. Bottom line, it was refreshing just to sit back and enjoy the festivities and take in some needed learning. Coming back to the IA Summit after a year off was like coming back home for me. I’ve seen several different formats used for conference scheduling, and met different types of communities. It’s only at the IA Summit where a true sense of unity exists. I think I hugged, both friends old and new, more people during the IA Summit in New Orleans than I have in a long time. And I’m a hugger; hugs just happen around me. As solely an attendee at this year’s conference, I was able to sit back and let the “Message of the IA Summit” develop around me. For this year, that message was “Ask Better Questions. This is based on the talks I attended, the hallway conversations, and the always active twitter back-channel. We, as a profession, need to ask more meaningful and deeper questions of our community and working teams, but also of our employers and clients. This message was present from the very beginning with Dave Gray’s opening “Conversation (http://2012 NULL.iasummit NULL.html)” with Shelly Evenson and Ben Reason, continued across the various sessions, and was very present during the closing keynote delivered by Harry Max (http://2012 NULL.iasummit NULL.html). Below are quick recaps of the sessions I was able to attend, and how they tie back to this them of “Asking Better Questions.”

Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content

Karen McGrane (http://karenmcgrane showed us how to ask better questions about the content we design around and how content should be crafted in an adaptable way. She encouraged us to ask another profession how they have already solved similar problems. We have much to learn from the news organizations around the creation, curation, and management of produced content, and it’s time to open up that dialog. Presentation Link (http://www NULL.slideshare

What’s Your Perception Strategy

We were encouraged to question the misconceptions of our very reality by Stephen Anderson (http://www NULL.poetpainter How can we create more meaningful experiences that align directly to how our brain function as an organ. By understanding and questioning how we process information, designers are better equipped to create more meaningful experiences that play directly to our senses. Presentation Link (http://www NULL.slideshare

Collaging: Getting Answers to the Questions Your Don’t Know How To Ask

Through the art collaging, Kyle Soucy (http://www NULL.usableinterface NULL.php)instructed us on how we can bring to light questions that would never have been asked in a normal field study. Sometimes, the best questions we could be asking are never thought of during the planning stages of user research. By using the activity of collaging, these questions get discovered in a natural and informal setting, that provides a deeper understanding and stronger empathic link to users. Presentation Link (http://www NULL.slideshare

It’s Time to Learn the Business Behind Our Business

Thanks to Lis Hubert (http://www NULL.elisabethhubert, we now know that clear and articulate questions to the business side of design is needed to be more involved in the initial planning and budgeting of projects. It’s not good enough for designers just to have a seat at “The Table”, we need to be prepared to participate once we get there. This involves asking questions of the product managers and senior business stakeholders that speak directly to the act of making, or saving, money for the company. Presentation Link (http://www NULL.slideshare

10 Things We Learned from Shipping Our App

Providing a detailed retrospective of their launch of Reframer (http://getreframer App, Todd Zaki Warfel (http://zakiwarfel and Matt Ventre (http://matthewventre encouraged us to question the process we follow during our past projects and what lessons could be learned when moving on to our next project. Every project is different, and expecting the same process to produce the same result time and time again is foolish. It’s important to look back as ask ourselves “What did we do wrong?” and “What would we do differently?”

Discussing Design: The Art of Critique

One of the best questions I heard at this year’s IA Summit was “What do you think of X?” Aaron Irizarry (http://www NULL.thisisaaronslife and Adam Connor (http://adamconnor not only explain why this question is important, but provide attendees with a framework to ensure that feedback received is both meaningful and actionable. Giving, and receiving, critique is hard, and attendees walked away from this session with the necessary tools begin to critiquing sessions of their own once they get back to work. Presentation Link (http://www NULL.slideshare

Mapping the Experience

The creation of an Experience Map is the natural outcome of getting answers from asking better questions. Chris Risdon (http://chrisrisdon delivered an excellent description of how this artifact is created and the level of detailed needed to make the artifact actionable on a project. Having an artifact like an Experience Map also provides you with a baseline of evaluation to utilize as a project progresses. Questions like “Is this the correct interaction or process for our users?” or “Is there something we could remove that people may not even want?” can be answered using the information found on the map. Presentation Link (http://www NULL.slideshare

So What?

At this point, the phrase “asking better questions” may seem cliché, but I took it to heart and begin doing it on my first day back following the conference. After another night of very little sleep (damn late flights), I made a two-hour drive to a client site for a round of usability studies. In the past, I’ve followed a “deep enough” approach to conducting usability sessions. On this day, I phrased my questions more carefully and ensured that the goal of the question went deeper than usual. Needless to say, I’m convinced! The feedback I collected was richer and more meaningful. I can’t wait for my next project to take this approach during the kickoff phase and stakeholder interviews. Each IA Summit starts with a focus, and has a different message that develops over the course of the conference based on the content delivered by the presenters. This year encouraged us to be better inquirers. Who knows what next year will bring. IA Summit 2013 (http://2013 NULL.iasummit is scheduled next April in Baltimore, MD. I cannot encourage YOU enough to attend, volunteer, or speak. Please check out next year’s site and sign up for email notifications so you can keep up to speed on the development of the conference over the next year.

3 thoughts on “IA Summit 2012 Recap – Ask Better Questions

  1. I agree 100%.

    This year’s Summit was a call to become better practitioners, and to push our discipline to out of its comfort zone. We are crossing channels, and not just in our design work, but in the way we operate within the business world.

    I also agree with your characterization of our community. We had 685 attendees, and half of them were new, but many of us keep coming back because of that sense of belonging that the IA Summit generates.

    That and the IA Summit just simply rocks.

    • Hi David,

      It was great news hearing that the IA Summit got sold out this year. Hopefully that’s a sign of the times and next years will be just as big if not bigger.


  2. Pingback: My Thoughts on IA Summit 2012: “Why Is the Sky Blue?” « Eating Elephant: A Publication about Content Strategy (http://eatingelephant

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