12 October 2017
Peter Bogaards
Peter Bogaards
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The Stockholm edition of EuroIA

A retrospective by a loyalist

EuroIA (@EuroIA) is the leading information architecture and user experience conference for Europe. For over 13 years, the three-days conference has traveled throughout Europe. So, if you want to see the cities of Europe, just follow EuroIA. Last year, the conference had its second Amsterdam edition and this year Stockholm was the place to be. Attending 10 editions of the EuroIA, I have made great friends, always had inspiring conversations and learned from leaders in the field.

Like all EuroIA’s, the Stockholm edition would not have been possible without the longstanding support of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T). EuroIA 2017 was co-chaired by Raffaella Roviglioni, Francis Rowland and Angus Edwardson, doing a great job. Visual memories were collected by Peter Vermaercke and our own Xander Roozen created the digital buzz (#euroia17).

At the conference, I attended many keynotes, workshops and presentations of which I will cover a few.

Keynotes from the architect, the philosopher and the publisher

ARCHITECTING INTERACTION: HOW TO INNOVATE THROUGH INTERACTIONS — Stephanie Akkaoui-Hughes

Architect Stephanie Akkaoui-Hughes (@stephanieakaoui) presented her perspective on designing buildings with the inhabitants, their activities and behaviours in mind. Her designs are characterized of being incomplete, imperfect and impermanent. She creates a ‘living space’ with a focus on what it does, not on what it is. Like many have said of experiences, according to Stephanie we cannot design interactions, we can only facilitate them. What we do is designing contexts in which interactions can take place, as emergent phenomenons. Stephanie recently wrote a book explaining more in-depth her architectural thoughts. Dive further into her concepts and ideas with other speeches by Stephanie.

THE AGE OF DESIGN — Luciano Floridi

Oxford philosopher Luciano Floridi (@Floridi) is a significant contemporary thinker on information, the information society and the ethics of information. In his presentation (which required some hard mental work by the audience), Luciano described the consequences of digital transformation for our society, creating the infosphere we live in. He framed the digital age as the age of (hopefully good) Design. With its cleaving power (‘cut and paste’), digital connects and at the same time divides distinct domains. It connects online and offline (‘onlife’), atoms and bits, information and identity, production and consumption, authenticity and memory. But it also splits presence from location, law from territory, ownership from usage and agency from intelligence. He positioned Design as the fourth leg of the stool of human endeavour and progress, besides innovation, invention, and discovery. The core of design is a perspective on a future. A future which needs governance, not only capitalist markets. Luciano critiques the current concept of capitalism as only an engine of wealth, without governance of this wealth by politics. He stated that current politics has no idea of the new type of governance digital needs. For me, this talk was one of the highlights of the conference.

BEYOND USER RESEARCH — Louis Rosenfeld

Co-author of the seminal book on information architecture, UX publisher and event organizer Louis Rosenfeld (@rosenfeldmedia) provided his take on moving from user research to insights into users, their contexts and behaviours. Balance, cadence, conversation (Tip: Don’t use words like ‘focus group’, ‘information architecture or ‘usability test’), perspective, and operations are Lou’s themes to insights. Especially operations was connected to Lou’s new area of interest: DesignOps. He thinks that to be successful in organizations, insights in any domain need to be translated into operations, hence ResearchOps, InsightOps and CreativeOps. Operations seen as a platform of tooling, processes, systems, infrastructure, and principles to enable and amplify the ‘talents’ in organizations which maximises efficiency and makes sense of the unknown. But design is all its forms will only be successful when it scales. An observation of Lou stuck in my mind: the predicted death of the design agency model, because design in all aspects, practices and variations is moving ‘in-house’.

Workshops on discovery, container models and diagramming

CRAFTING THE DISCOVERY PHASE: STARTING DESIGN PROJECTS RIGHT — Dan Brown

Dan Brown (@brownorama) provided the workshop he has also given at the IA Summit 2016 in Atlanta. He defined discovery as a set of activities that yield shared knowledge to structure and inform design decisions about a particular product. During the workshop, participants worked their way through his discovery activities matrix. Dan concluded with the insight that discovery is not a single phase in the design process, but is in fact a mindset (based upon curiosity, skepticism, and humility). To read more on Dan’s ideas regarding the discovery process: Practical Design Discovery (A Book Apart, 2017).

RAPID PROTOTYPING OF ADAPTABLE DIGITAL PLACES WITH CONTAINER BASED INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE — Konstantin Weiss and Koen Peters

Konstantin Weiss (@KonstantinWeiss) and Koen Peters (@2pk_koen) started the workshop explaining the differences between spaces and places, a well-known distinction in the digital domain. The concept of the container model is based on the history of physical containers, as Konstantin explained and has applied in projects for The Guardian and the Swiss bag manufacturer Freitag. The workshop integrated the container model approach with concepts from Object-Oriented UX (Sophia Voychehovski Prater, 2015). The workshop participants worked on the case of a new ebike shop. Design teams separately focused on parts of the site, such as a rent shop, support for maintenance and repairs or a hiking journal. The objective of the workshop was to apply both the container model and the OOUX framework to a specific case. In this way, participants became familiar with these two information architecture and content design approaches.

DIAGRAMS, MAPS AND MODELS — Dan Ramsen and the BBC UXA team

A large group of participants learned how to visualise complex ideas and concepts through different types of design artefacts. With five workshop facilitators, the BBC team explained how they use visualisations to map various types journeys for radio listeners, TV viewers and on demand users at the BBC. Unfortunately, the workshop attendees not always understood clearly what was asked from them, which made the process a little chaotic. On the other hand, as digital designers we must be able to handle many types of ambiguity, insecurity and vagueness.

Highlight presentations

THE HIDDEN PERSUADERS OF THE DIGITAL AGE — Per Axbom

Per Axiom (@axbom of UX Podcast fame) made a passionately plea to be critical of what digital designers are actually designing. Mantras like ‘Keep it simple’ turn out to be a fallacy in many cases. It stops people from thinking and numbs them down. The idea of ‘frictionless experiences’ often results in mindless actions. Per stressed the fact that designers think they’re doing good, but in fact they’re doing the opposite. He suggested to start thinking about the impact of design decisions. So, instead of ‘Don’t make them think’ focus on ‘Do make them think’. Per concluded with the fairy tale of the lollypop as the incentive to enter the candy house, which in fact is run by a witch. The audience seemed in agreement with this presentation, addressing real concerns and doubts many have in their work.

HEARD AND NOT SEEN : EXPLORING A TRANSITION FROM GRAPHICAL TO LINGUISTIC UI — Jennifer Williams

Poke’s Head of UX Jennifer Williams (@anavrin_uk) talked about a popular technology in our industry: voice interfaces, conversational UIs or chatbots. She presented a few interesting observations and noticed a big difference between the promise of this technology and the current reality. Applications which seem to work using significant platform technologies (such as Apple Siri, Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Microsoft Cortana) are setting a timer, managing shopping lists, selecting and playing music and using calendars. More complex tasks are much harder to get working. Jennifer labelled the current age of voice interfaces as the Wild West, with lots of hype and very few valuable services. She suggested much needed disciplines and research to involve in design for this interface paradigm, like linguistics (narration), sociology (conversation analysis), art (as a conversation), and conversation theory (gladly mentioning the seminal works of cyberneticians Gordon Pask and Paul Pagano explicitly). Jennifer told us that we have to move beyond scripting conversations most chatbots currently deliver (mostly unsuccessful).

ESCAPING THE ECHO CHAMBER: THE USER EXPERIENCE OF DATA-DRIVEN PERSONALISATION — Mathias Wrba

UX designer Matias Wrba (@screaminhias) showed how implicit and explicit personalization depends on large sets of data collected by third parties on our behaviour, interests and spendings. It was troubling to read his overview of data being collected and up for purchase (slide 21). The example of Spotify’s recommendation engine seemed to be a positive exception, because many recommendation engines, suggestion algorithms and content snippets result in a filter bubble, leaving no room for any kind of serendipity. Marketing has made ‘conversion’ their religious term. A practical example how far society is shaped by big data and machine intelligence can be seen by the activities of Cambridge Analytica. Matias urged us to look into the work of @katecrawford on data ethics. He suggested that UX thinking must be based on shared understanding, bricolage, more critical thinking and taking design responsibility. The presentation of Mathias made us all realise how critical designers must be on the forces in design contexts, pushing towards features of which the ethics can be questioned.

Lighting talk(s)

TIPS FROM AN IA NEWBIE: 7 THINGS I LEARNED — Rob Scott

As one of the first-timers at the EuroIA, UX architect and IA practitioner Rob Scott (@robscottsays) provided us in an entertaining Lighting Talk a set of tips any upcoming information architect can apply. His practical tips were sketch until it makes sense, show something wrong to make it right, embrace your imposter syndrome, make sure the project can pivot, there is no single, personal source of truth, and find a way to do things in ANY order. His best one “If you show a quote, people will take pictures” was applied immediately by attendees.

Unfortunately, the 5-minute madness wasn’t as popular as in previous years or at the IA Summit in the US. A European versus US thingy I guess.

All in all, EuroIA 2017 was a memorable event, bringing our communities of information architecture and user experience a big step further. Like always, keynotes, presentations and workshops were of mixed quality (with highs and lows), depending on one’s interests, knowledge and background. Like previous years, I made some new friends and had inspiring conversations with old ones. This years social event (a boat trip by night through the waters of Stockholm) did wonders.

EuroIA 2018, the Dublin edition

For your calendar, the 2018 edition of the EuroIA will be co-chaired by Oana Secara (@oanasecara), Alberta Soranzo (@albertatrebla) our information architect and content strategist Xander Roozen (@Shuggie). As usual, the event is planned for the last weekend of september and then travels to Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. Hope to see you all again at EuroIA 2018.

About the author

Peter Bogaards (a.k.a. @BogieZero) is digital design educator and the editor-in-chief of our blog BiRDS. Peter also works as a curator and coach at Informaat experience design. He has been an online content curator avant-la-lettre in various UX-related fields for almost three decades, choosing what he thinks is interesting, relevant or remarkable to share.

Events (21), Information architecture (6), User experience (47)

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