Tomorrow marks the first day of the pre-conferences for the 2007 IA Summit. I arrive Friday afternoon, before the main program begins Saturday morning.
I have been to every IA Summit (the first was in 2000), and I’m going to this one with more trepidation than any I have been to before. While I don’t accord with the sensationalist notion that “information architecture is dead,” I do fear that it is in a deep sleep. And I’m concerned that the leadership within the field of information architecture are doing little to nothing to really advance the field.
For me, an acute sign of this, and the particular cause of my trepidation for this summit, was the cancellation of “Learning Interaction Design from Las Vegas” pre-conference session. This was to be given by three leaders in the field of user experience — Steve Portigal, Bill deRouchey, and my colleague at Adaptive Path, Dan Saffer. It was a brilliant concept — using the location of Las Vegas as material for a day-long workshop on user research and interaction design.
Sadly, it fell victim to market forces. Up against 18 other pre-conferences, it didn’t get a critical mass of attendees. I take some blame for this — I was seriously considering signing up for the class, but didn’t get around to it before it was cancelled.
But I also feel that the leadership of the IA Summit deserves some blame for this. I find it appalling that visionary sessions are being cancelled because of market forces (I know there were enough people signed up to make it an interesting workshop — just not enough to warrant the costs). Shouldn’t the main conference for a professional organization take the occasional loss in order to advance the field? Why on earth is it playing it safe? It’s not like this should be a money-making venture.
My fear, going into the summit, is that the field of IA, while not dead, is moribund. That it’s becoming insular and isolated, and unwilling to take conceptual leaps, to take the methodological risks that are necessary for it to not stagnate. IA is having a remarkable time freeing itself from its early successes in a web 1.0 world, when the ability to organize and classify static information was new and valuable. In my closing plenary last year, I encouraged the IA community to both embrace the challenges of a web 2.0 world, and to advocate for the practice of IA within physical spaces. However, whenever I read about IA, all I see is more of the same.
I really hope I’m wrong in this. I’m going into the Summit with a critical, but, I hope, open mind. This is a crucial year for information architecture (and I use “crucial” precisely — IA is at a crux), and we’ll see if the community is willing to open up and embrace new challenges, or circle the wagons and simply do those things it has always done.