World Information Architecture Day @Vicenza

Last Saturday I was at WIAD – World Information Architecture Day in Vicenza. WIAD is the annual celebration of information architecture: it is a global event that celebrates information architecture as a community of practice, and is held in many different locations around the world. In this way, it exploits and fosters local connections while having a global impact. This year, 61 different locations around the world participated. In Italy, WIAD was organized in Milan, Rome, Palermo, Cesena, and Vicenza thanks to the active contribution of motivated volunteers.

Information architecture is at the intersection of content, users, and context: it connects people to the content within a certain context. It deals with designing how to organize and connect the information so that it is easier to find, understand, and exploit. It is a foundation of user experience design.

WIAD is the annual celebration of information architecture.

This year, the morning talks in Vicenza were outstanding, as well as the afternoon workoshops. Maria Cristina Lavazza with her talk about “Better take action!” cleverly led us throughout a reflection about the negative consequences of the mainstream economic model based on the take-make-consume-throw away pattern, and proposed to apply circular design to the design of technological products and services. She talked about the butterfly model by Ellen MacArthur and how we can possibly apply it to (UX)design only by taking a step backwards, broadening our view and looking at the bigger picture. To do so, we must stop focusing on single features of a service, or even single services, to take into account the broader user experience and even the broader context in which this eperience takes place.

Stefano Bussolon explaining the semantic approach to conceptual models in UX design.
Stefano Bussolon explaining the semantic approach to conceptual models in UX design.

Dario Betti and Stefano Bussolon were inspired by the Italian poet Ungaretti in their thoughtful reflection on the semantic approach to UX design: “Sugli alberi le foglie: attività, concetti e user stories”. I particularly liked how they structured their talk in a “pars destruens” and a “pars construens” (cit. Dario Betti), first showing how Agile as-it-is, and particularly Scrum, doesn’t get along very well with user experience design, and then proposing a novel, holistic approach inspired by the work on conceptual models by Johnson and Henderson (2002) and by the more recent work by Dan Rosenberg, UX magic (here’s a useful article explaining his approach).

BARTT measures people’s association between chosen concepts and a brand.

Christian Caldato and Elena Toniolo talked about how they borrowed a well-known technique from neuroscience and applied it to UX design. They used BARTT (Brand Association Reaction Time Task) to measure how fast people respond to different concepts in association with a particular brand. The technique combines response latency with free association protocols and scale items to provide a quantitative and objective measure of how strongly customers associate different concepts to a brand (for more details about how to apply this technique, here’s the original paper published in 2011 by Till, Baack and Waterman). I particularly like this kind of task because they provide actionable and strategic insights about how people perceive a brand. They provide a quantitative measure of subconscious associations. Take for instance the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and try out one of these tests by Harvard University on subconscious biases – you may be surprised by the results!
Elena Toniolo then talked about how she applied a modified version of the Delphi card sorting by Celeste Lyn Paul, asking people to sort the information cards individually, but iteratively, and interviewing them ahead. In the past, I used the traditional card sorting technique, in which people individually performed the “sorting” and then with cluster analysis the final information architecture was derived. But I definitely want to try this one in the modified version by Luca Rosati because it seems both time-efficient and effective.

After the coffee break, two insightful talks helped us to look at things from a broader perspective. The first, by Marco Calzolari: “Umano a sufficienza. Architettura del non riproducibile” was a reflection on the role, the opportunities and the limitations of artificial intelligence. Through the opposite perspectives of singulitarians VS atheists, Marco reminded us that the complexity of our brain cannot be easily reproduced, and that human experience is not linear, but strongly intertwined with our emotions and social systems, and that making mistakes (and ultimately, learning from them) is key to it all.

On the other hand, Andrea Resmini with “Marginalia: termites, dinosaurs and hot water” guided us through an engaging journey between the past, present and future of information architecture, starting from its etymological and historical roots and the need for continuity with the past (websites), its current perspectives and the need for depth (eco-systems) and the future directions and the need for awareness (up to us).

The afternoon offered a difficult choice between five amazing workshops:

  • Workshop 1 – Architettura della gentilezza, with Alessia Musi
  • Workshop 2 – Padania (non) classic: metodologie per la creazione di narrazioni non convenzionali, with Marzia Battaglia, Alessia Tosini and Mattia Mori
  • Workshop 3 – Lightening Decision Jam: un antidoto contro il brainstorming, with Marco Dussin and Ivano Masiero
  • Workshop 4 – Card sorting individuale-iterativo, with Andrea Resmini and Elena Toniolo
  • Workshop 5 – Mastering user interviews, with Giulia Calvinato and Manuele Forcucci

What the duck! Or, not all ducks are the same!

Here I followed my interest in the methods presented in Design Sprint by Jake Knapp and my love for structured methods, for details and focused sessions, and went for the workshop by Ivano Masiero and Marco Dussin “Lightening Decision Jam”. Do you know those endless and unfocused meetings, deceivingly presented as creative brainstorming sessions, where you spend hours discussing ideas, comparing ideas, pondering ideas, and you exit the meeting exhausted and without any idea at all? I do. Here’s an antidote. A focused and structured session, thoughtfully organized, that takes into account the power of marginal gains and experiments, of play and creativity, and elegantly overcomes many known biases of collaborative unstructured brainstorming sessions, like the bandwagon effect (group think), anchoring, or authority bias (which results in your boss’s ideas being always better!). It presents a method to detect problems, organize them, redefine them in terms of potential change, produce ideas, prioritize them and make a plan to execute them. Real change. We worked in groups and pretended to be a team in a company. Here’s how we worked:

  1. What’s right. We thought about what was working well in our company, and individually wrote one idea per post-it (10 minutes).
  2. Wall. We attached each idea on the wall, clustering them in meaningful groups in silence, without discussing (this keeps the clustering efficient and maintains the focus).
  3. Tags. We assigned a “tag”, or title, to each cluster. We also separated them with coloured tape to make the clusters visually evident.
  4. What’s wrong. We did the same process for what was not working well in our company.
  5. Stop & think. We stopped a while, asking ourselves “from 0 to 5, how well did I understand the clusters on the wall?”. If we realized we needed to clarify something, we briefly discussed it.
  6. Dot-voting. Each of us had 3 colored dots, and used them to choose the problems that, if solved, would bring the best change in our company (3 minutes).
  7. Pyramid. We formed a pyramid with the problems with most dots, placing the top-ranked problem on the tip (3 minutes).
  8. “How might we…?”. We chose the highest problem and rephrased it in terms of a “how might we…?” questions (3 minutes).
  9. Solutions. We chose one “how might we…?” question and individually wrote potential solutions on post-its, going for quantity over quality.
  10. Wall. Again, we attached our solutions on the wall, without discussing them.
  11. Dot-voting. With 6 dots each.
  12. Pyramid. We formed a pyramid with the top-ranked solutions.
  13. Prioritize. We placed the solutions in the pyramid on a diagram with two axes: effort and impact. The solutions in the top-left corner will have the highest priority.
  14. Make. The next step is making experiments, using for example this Experiment canvas by Design a better business.

All in all, WIAD was an enriching experience, different from what I’m used to in a “good” way, and I’m glad to have been part of such an active community. Can’t wait to be there next year as well.

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