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Summit 2014 March 26-30 in San Diego

The Path Ahead Lovely San Diego

Peter Morville Reflects on 15 Years of the IA Summit

Photograph of Peter Morville

Peter Morville

Three questions with our closing plenary speaker

The year 2000: no tweets, no pokes, and you could still watch TV without hearing the word hashtag. That same year, Lou Rosenfeld, Gary Marchionini and Vic Rosenberg convened a group in Boston, MA, to take a stab at “Defining Information Architecture”.

Fifteen years of debating, defining, learning, and exploring together later, our community convenes for the 15th time to continue the conversation in San Diego. Who better, we thought, to put this conversation in context than the man who introduced many of us to the very idea of information architecture: Peter Morville.

Peter will present the closing plenary, a special keynote presentation, at the conclusion of the Summit—continuing a tradition begun at the 2005 IA Summit in Montreal. Among his many contributions to the discipline of information architecture, Peter has authored a number of bestselling books: Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Ambient Findability, and Search Patterns.

We asked Peter to share his advice for new and established IA’s, as well as a preview of his thoughts on where we’ve been and where we’re going.

How has practicing information architecture changed in the last 15 years?

Many of us who participated in the first IA Summit thought information architecture would become a standardized practice like medicine or law. That hasn’t happened. Today, there’s sufficient diversity (and drift) in how IA is defined and done, I can’t fairly characterize the practice as a whole.

Clearly, the environment in which we practice has changed. In Y2K, the web/world was far less corporate. We talked about usability but not user experience. And we hadn’t yet been gobsmacked by mobile, social, and SEO. Today, IA has multiple realities. In industries obsessed with ads and eyeballs, IA gets less attention than it deserves. In organizations that serve a higher purpose, and in businesses that value user experience and customer satisfaction, IA is more interesting and important (and valued) than ever. As a consultant, I enjoy being able to experience both extremes.

Fortunately, the dramatic changes in our environment have provoked information architects to struggle for timeless, medium-independent ways to describe what we do. It’s not just about websites, information, and findability. IA is also about cross-channel strategy, experience planning, and the architecture of understanding. If you come to the Summit in San Diego, you’ll see we’re still defining the damn thing. This is good. It means our practice is still alive and kicking.

What advice would you give to someone just entering their career who has an interest in information architecture?

If you’re interested in information architecture, dive right in. Come to the IA Summit, join the IA Institute, read articles and books, find a mentor, and get some hands-on experience with user research, stakeholder interviews, analytics, sketches, wireframes, and prototypes.

If you’re interested in becoming an information architect, read so you want to be a writer? by Charles Bukowski. Seriously, if you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it. If you’re doing it because you want women in your bed, don’t do it. If you’re not in love with information architecture, don’t do it.

What advice would you give to those of us who have been working in the field for years, what should we be preparing for next?

Take a break. Go for a long walk. And ask yourself three questions. What’s interesting? What’s important? What am I really good at?

When I asked myself, I realized that I love research, synthesis, and planning. I do all three for fun when I prepare for a triathlon or plan a family vacation. And I do all three for profit (and fun) when I help my clients imagine the future of their systems and services.

Also, I’m increasingly intrigued by the relationship between information and culture. I’m a big fan of Edgar Schein. In my work, I’m exploring ways to reveal the unconscious beliefs and values that shape (and are shaped by) our information systems. I have a hunch this strange connection will turn out to be a bigger deal than agile UX, lean analytics, and responsive design all put together. I’ll talk more about this in San Diego.

See you at the Summit!