(Here’s the fourth post on the 2007 IA Summit. You can find the first one that introduces the series and describes the first theme ‘tangible’ here, the second one on ‘social’ here and the third one on ‘web of data’ here.)
Like other design disciplines, IAs are typically brought in to solve a problem. The extent to which the design problem is defined and explicated is a huge determining factor in the success of their undertaking. More often than not, an IA would take a problem and run with it, not thinking whether this is the right problem to solve, or even a problem at all!
This has always seemed like a silly situation to me. Some of the most enjoyable sessions at the summit therefore were the ones that discussed ways in which IAs can join in on strategic thinking. This way, we can help discover the actual problem that needs solving, which gives us a better chance of actually delivering a successful and valuable solution.
Gene Smith and Matthew Milan discussed conceptual models (which I’ve been playing around with for a while) and the more involved rich mapping, from soft systems thinking. Key takeaway for me was when modelling a system we should also describe its context (including the project itself). Other good stuff by people of Critical Mass (Milan again together with Sam Ladner) was provided in the form of ‘backcasting’, a very visual brainstorming method to be used in a workshop session with a client in order to envision desired project outcomes and map paths from the current situation to those outcomes (notes at The Chicken Test).
People from Avenue A Razorfish (Garrick Schmitt, Marisa Gallagher) talked about their framework for tying together lots of different user research such as click stream analysis, search logs, eye tracking and others. This reminded me of Jared Folkmann’s excellent talk at last year’s Euro IA Summit in Berlin.
Finally, I attended one nice talk (by James Robertson) on the value of contextual enquiries, which if nothing else has made me all the more determined to try this myself the next time an opportunity presents itself.