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About With and For Part 1: A Great Conference

The IIT ID’s About, With, and For conference was my second favorite conference experience this year, after the IA Summit.

The success of the conference was largely due to the focus of the topic — methods for synthesizing user research to provide insights and concepts that lead to better product design. The specificity meant a deep look at what is perhaps *the* essential step in the user-centered design process. No matter how expert you were, you couldn’t help but learn something new.

I missed the pre-conference workshops (I had to make my pilgrimage to Quimby’s), but heard they went brilliantly. 6 different workshops took place simultaneously, each offering a different approach to synthesizing user research. In conversation afterward, Steve Portigal captured the experience as such, “It was like one of those comedy movies or television shows where you open the door and something that you didn’t expect is happening. About half way in to the workshops, I visited each of them, and in one room you had people analyzing 30 sec videos, in another was a whiteboard session you’d expect at a consultancy, another featured arts-and-crafts with scissors and paper, in yet another a room was silent as people were writing their thoughts…” If nothing else it showed the remarkable range of approaches to making sense of what we observe.

The conference itself was a single day. I had the fortune of kicking it off with my talk, “Then a Miracle Occurs…”, which I presaged in a prior peterme post, and which I’ll write up more completely at some point in the future. The title comes from the following Sidney Harris cartoon:

Which for me, captures this notion that we get user data, and through some mechanations, produce something that directly informs the design. How do we do that?

[Note: I *just* now discovered that my business partner Jesse James Garrett uses the same cartoon to illustrate a similar, but different, point in his rumination on the practice of information architecture.]

A later presentation by Michael Winnick, a student at ID, labelled a similar mystery in the product design process. How we get from business requirements (often captured in a marketing requirements document) to a spec. He labelled the void in between as “Terra Incognita,” which made me think of unchartered waters. If I give my keynote talk again, maybe instead of the cartoon, I’ll do up some cartography with “here be dragons.”