Another IA Summit is over, everyone packed up and gone back to wherever they go. The 2014 Summit was my third. I was nervous at my first Summit, in 2011. Not only did I know exactly one person, but I was speaking to more than a table-full of people for the first time. No sooner had I finished the first-timer orientation where Dan Willis told us to just walk up to people and talk to them (yeah, right, dude!) and met the person I knew for dinner – which ended up being a group of people – than I was comfortable with myself and felt like this was going to work out OK. I met a lot of people at that conference, and I did actually walk up to people I didn’t know and talked to them!
You see, I’m a shy extrovert – I like being around people I know, but am deathly afraid to talk to people I don’t know. As I look back to 2011, the reason I was able to talk to so many people was because just by virtue of being at the IA Summit, I was among friends. I made connections with people I would later work with, present with, and otherwise look forward to seeing at events far and wide. I had found my tribe, as people say.
I wasn’t able to go back until 2013, and very much looked forward to the event. It did not disappoint. Old friends, news friends, more connections, more knowledge, more inspiration. When the time came to decide about whether I’d attend the 2014 Summit even if I didn’t get picked to speak (thankfully I was; more on that in another post), I didn’t have to think very hard – I would go. This would be my conference of choice in 2014. Why? Sure I’d learn about all aspects of IA, content, design, team, process – things that aren’t covered at any other conference in such depth. But, most of all, I’d get to see my people and be a part of the community that 3 years ago was so welcoming. And so a couple days before I left, I found myself writing this:
I am excited to get away to the magical place where I am not shy, where I can talk about anything and there is someone who gets it, where sharing your passion about your work is the norm, where people come to talk about ideas.
And so it was. At no other conference are the people who literally wrote the book on the subject walking around like anyone else, leading morning runs, taking their clothes off on stage, and inviting other attendees to join them in the hot tub after the closing plenary. Everyone is accessible, everyone has something to offer, no one feels silly for asking a question or offering an idea.
The uniting force is that we are all excited about new ideas in information architecture or the related disciplines. I am not an IA, but I do IA. I also do strategy of all stripes, content, management, design critique, change management, and lots of other things as part of my job as web director. Some would seek to narrow the scope of the conference – it is the INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE Summit, after all. But as Karen McGrane illustrated last year, IA is the discipline that connects so many others. I’d guess that there are more people who do IA as part of a multi-disciplinary role than who are pure IAs. But IA is the scoffolding that holds everything together. And everyone who attends the Summit gets that. Just as generalists need to better understand aspects of information architecture, so information architects need to understand the things they are holding together. As Peter Morville said in his closing plenary: “Generalists and specialists need each other.” It’s the sharing and caring that make the Summit special.
And it couldn’t be done without us! Each year the co-chairs – volunteers all – keep making a better experience. Listening to comments during the conference, reading blog posts and tweets after the conference, and generally doing their best to make the IA Summit the best damn conference of the year. The conference where people are positively giddy about going, sad about leaving, and enriched for having attended. And so I send huge thanks to Abby Covert, Aaron Irizarry, and Johanna Kollmann for this year. Veronica Erb, Mike Atherton, and Jessica DuVerneay are embarking on a journey of their own to create an experience in 2015 that we will all enjoy just as much. I’m looking forward to next April to see what they cook up!