Cigarettes, Wine and Design: a reflection on Euro IA 2010

Posted on October 2, 2010.

September 24-25, 2010 found me in Paris, France attending the 6th installation of the Euro IA summit. I hadn’t been to a design conference in a while and it had been nearly 5 years since I’d been to a professional event in Europe (last one was the ERA World Design Congress of 2005 in Gothenberg and Copenhagen).  The biggest difference this time around was that I was presenting at this conference.

I have to admit I was nervous. I was the only American on the bill and was curious how my presentation on Lean IA would be received. In addition, I was curious as to the state of IA thinking in Europe. I have a lot of exposure to US-based practitioners but was less clear where things stood in Europe. Would my ideas be way behind the times? Are designers across the pond already practicing these techniques? Would my talk be perceived as pedantic?

But, first things first, drinks. Thursday evening before the conference saw us meeting at Le Chambertin in the Bercy area of Paris to reunite, introduce and get to know each other. I was thrilled to finally meet Eric Reiss, the conference chairperson, in person along with James Kalbach and Andrea Resmini. The informal vibe of the conference started becoming very clear to me.  This was a good thing in my opinion. The ideas, theories and practice were taken seriously but the event was meant to share these ideas and reunite “the family”, as Eric called it.

Friday’s sessions started off with Oliver Reichenstein’s keynote asking if information could indeed be architected. I found his talk a bit arrogant and empty during his prepared remarks. He focused primarily on how he and his company work with their clients and the success of their software products. However, the question and answer sessions that followed proved far more insightful. Day 1 continued with a talk from Grant Campbell (a Canadian, as he made sure we knew) about metaphors and clarity in IA structures – frankly, I got a bit lost in the abstract nature of the talk. Perhaps, it’s just me but the practical application of ideas is the real “meat” of a conference and what I seek out as an attendee and student.

Matt Roadnight and Jane Austin did a fantastic job discussing their experiences in the trenches of IA and Agile – a very relevant topic for me these days. I enjoyed Martin Belam’s talk about how he gets his IA work done at The Guardian as the lone IA in an archaic setting. Impressive and inspiring.

Day 1’s highlight for me was was Koen Claes’ talk about “Why We Should Not Focus on UX.” His core message was that people make decisions based on memories of experiences, not the actual experiences themselves. Design should focus on those memories. James Kelway mentions in his blog post that this talk, while interesting, was a tough sell to the CEO. I sold it to mine in one tweet. 🙂

Day 2 kicked off with an entertaining presentation on mobile usability testing. Belen Barros Pena showed an array of techniques, construction gear and inspiration in getting insight into how people user their mobile phones.

And then it was my turn. Presenting my Lean IA idea for the first time to a European audience went even better than I’d hoped. I believe strongly in the concepts I presented and it seems like they resonated well with the audience. The Q&A session following my talk showed the audience was engaged and intrigued. It all hit home for me when, immediately following my conclusion, Eric Reiss described Lean IA as “the future of IA.”

Day 2 closed strong with Johanna Kollmann and Franco Papeschi describing interesting new ways to co-design with teams, stakeholders and customers at Vodafone. The keynote with Paul Kahn was rather dry but the post-conference drinks ensured we didn’t end up with cottonmouth :-). Naturally other sessions were held which I did not attend and several other blog posts cover them in more detail.

I should mention that the food at the conference was phenomenal (this was Paris, after all) and the wine flowed before, during and after the conference. Again, this is Paris. The only downside of the host city (and perhaps this is true in most of Europe) the smoking is out of hand. Seriously Europe, that shit’ll kill ya.

Overall I was thrilled to be a part of Euro IA 2010 and to be inducted into “the family.” I met many folks I interact with on Twitter and grew my network well into Western and Eastern Europe. I felt welcomed and enjoyed the debates, conversations and friendliness of the hosts and attendees. Congratulations to the organizers on a successful conference. I look forward to seeing everyone in Prague next year.